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:

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