How do you help team members see the upsides and downsides of seemingly opposing views, to find a solution
Whenever your team members hold conflicting opinions on an important business issue, how do you ease tension and come to a decision? The ways of resolving such situations I hear about include trying to reach a consensus through voting or by accepting the most reasonable point of view. Yet, when an issue seems unsolvable, organizations may end up asking a senior executive to step in and impose a solution or postpone decision-making altogether. However, leaders with good conflict management skills often see a bigger picture at play. They see both the upsides and downsides of each side of the conflict and try to find solutions that leverage both upsides.
This conflict-solving strategy is the most effective as it looks at problems through the lens of polarity thinking. Polarities are seemingly opposing yet interdependent energy systems supporting each other. For example, light & dark, change & stability, individual freedom & common good are equally important in life. When leveraged well, those energies create harmony.
Yet, we’re only human and tend to get stuck in a binary way of thinking – “Should we do X or Y?”, “X is good while Y is bad”, etc.
What comes out of it, and how can we navigate the challenge of great dilemmas?
Barry Johnson, the author of And: Making a Difference by Leveraging Polarity, Paradox or Dilemma, says that tying effort to one polarity almost guarantees failure because of the inevitable problems arising from focusing on that polarity alone.
For example, by focusing on cost only within the interdependent pair of “cost efficiency” vs “service excellence”, we are likely to lose customers because of poor service.
Therefore, it’s crucial to make a shift from “either-or” to “both-and” thinking. Teams should acknowledge the opposing view and be open to the fact that the other party has something to offer. However, when one is at odds with another, we often see only the downsides of the opposing view. It takes an open mind and a level of leadership maturity to engage with the opposing party & the bigger picture.
To leverage polarities, Johnson provides the Polarity Map™ – a tool that allows reframing problems.
To fill out a polarity map, teams put down the seemingly opposing views – representing two poles. In the upper quadrants, members write the positive results made possible by focusing on each pole. In the lower quadrants, they come up with the negative outcomes that happen when over-focusing on each of the poles.
For great results, companies need to go after the benefits of both poles and minimize the downsides mentioned under each of the poles – instead of focusing on whose opinion is better.
How often do you get caught up in “either-or” thinking? How do you come to an agreement when faced with opposing views at work or in family situations?