Working Together

from Duncan Smith, ADC Associates

Welcome to this monthly newsletter, in which we explore topics relating to leadership and organisational culture, global diversity and inclusion, gender, culture, bias, and more.

In this issue:

  • Both/And 1: Working with Polarities
  • Both/And 2: Gender and Men
  • Herman Melville on Globalisation, Culture, and Race

I hope you find these sharings interesting and useful – and whether they are new to you or reminders, that they stimulate your thinking and your practice.

If there are topics you would like to see explored here, feel free to contact me.

Best regards,
Duncan Smith

Problem Solving: Both/And – 1

Working with Polarities

It’s been said that the world is divided into people who think they’re right. In what seems to be a time of increasing polarisation, it’s easy and natural to see polarities in oppositional terms – as adversarial. It is therefore increasingly important in these times to see polarities as complementary and interdependent (thanks to Ilene Wasserman – see below).

How often, when hearing a different point of view, do we immediately seek to share our own perspective? Is it possible that there is a solution that incorporates both perspectives? To find such a solution, we must move from either/or to both/and.

Think of an issue of concern to you. It could be social, political, environmental – or it might be a situation at work where you disagree with a colleague, boss, client or customer, or team member. Rather than picking something that seems impossible to solve, start with something you think might be possible to create – such as a more harmonious and engaged work team.

Have an issue or problem in mind? Try these steps:

  1. How could you describe the issue in such a way that both of you would agree to what you’ve said? (Thanks to Jonathan Foust for this idea.) What is the fundamental common ground here: do you both want to feel safe? To be at ease and at peace with yourself and others? Find this before moving to the specifics of the issue.
  2. Try to imagine, even for a few moments, being in a place of pure inquiry – put yourself next to the other person and look at the issue or problem with them.
  3. Try going a step further and describe to someone else how the other person sees the issue or problem.
  4. Can you imagine or envision a future in which these perspectives can co-exist, even be mutually beneficial?
  5. Now describe how this future could work from the perspective of the other.

We all have limited perspectives. Our ability to solve problems – whether in the workplace, or globally – is only enhanced when we work together. It’s possible — indeed necessary — to address issues of power and privilege and equity and inclusion, environmental sustainability and economic sustainability; global disarmament and global security……if we have the courage to let go of being right, and step into the possibility of both/and.

With thanks for the work of Ilene Wasserman in Appreciative Inquiry:; the work of Jonathan Foust in Body-Centered Inquiry:; and the Centre for Global Inclusion’s DEI Futures Project:

Inclusion : Both/And – 2

Gender and Men

How often when we hear about gender equity or gender diversity do we automatically think that gender = women? Recent and ongoing work for the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation found that while a majority agreed that gender [in]equality is still a problem, a majority of men agreed that “political correctness means I cannot openly say what I think about gender equality.”[ ]

If many men have the sense that gender is not about them, but only about women, then as a man:

  • when you hear gender diversity, do you switch off?
  • do you feel a sense of anxiety or struggle about needing to “get it right” in what you say, and what you do, regarding gender diversity?
  • can you acknowledge the deep socialisation/conditioning not to show insecurity or vulnerability as a man?
  • is it hard to admit that you’re struggling with how to engage with the topic of gender equity, even when you think the goals of gender equity work are positive?

Gender equity involves shifting our perspectives on and understanding of workplace roles and social roles — shifts that can be deeply unsettling even as we embrace the changes. If as a man I am committed to dismantling the patriarchy, I may have many complex — even conflicting – responses. My intellect and my emotions may seem to be at odds with each other.

To navigate these responses requires deep inquiry, deep and attentive listening, and compassion – beginning with oneself. It’s easy – as a man or as a woman – to think that “men are biased, and that’s the basis of the problem.” The reality is that around gender – as with all aspects of difference – we are all biased, women and men equally (if sometimes in different directions). To inquire with care, compassion, openness, and vulnerability into our biases requires a safe and supportive environment and skilled facilitation to hold the space. To make real progress, both women and men must be engaged – and we must create such environments for both women and – crucially – for men, where we can do our work both separately and together.

Globalisation, Culture and Race

Herman Melville's Perspective

It can be useful – even comforting – to remember that current issues, and their solutions, have been with us for some time. As a reminder that globalisation — and resistance to it – is more than a recent phenomenon, see the entertaining summary of Hermann Melville’s views at

Plenty of 20th and 21st century research and experience tells us that one important and effective way to reduce racism and cultural prejudice is to simply spend a lot of time with those who are different. The more time we spend together, the more we come to see the similarities – the common humanity that connects us — and the less the differences matter.

Another is to have common goals. Working together towards a mutual goal with the ability to use both/and thinking leads to what Melville describes as an outcome where “neither was wrong, but both right.” The article quotes Melville as promoting travel as a way of reducing bias: by experiencing “several hundred millions of people of all shades of colour.” The more we step out of our bubbles – whether as 19thcentury sailors, or 21st century citizens – to meet, spend time, and work with our fellow travellers on this earth, the better we will bring the benefits of all perspectives to finding solutions for our workplaces and our planet.

Upcoming Events

Virtual HR Roundtable – September 17, online

The Story Conference – 27-29 November, Melbourne Australia

ADC Associates helps people work together more effectively, make better decisions, and create more inclusive cultures. We facilitate conversations that strengthen working relationships; our methods are especially useful for handling challenging topics or emotionally charged situations, for gaining clarity and awareness, and for team and organisational alignment.

For more information see

Many of the ideas discussed above are addressed in the book Foundations of Diversity, available online or at

If you have any questions or comments relating to this newsletter, please feel free to contact me directly. Please note that I will not be responding to online comments.

We’ll be back next month with more.

All the best,


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