I know you are saying…I know this word, but what the heck is Jeff talking about! Let’s start with a definition and then we will dive into our regularly scheduled blog.
Dictionary.com define polarity in the following way—
a. the property or characteristic that produces unequal physical effects at different points in a body or system, as a magnet or storage battery.
b. the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic, electric, or other field.
2. the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies.
a.(of words, phrases, or sentences) positive or negative character.
b. polar opposition.
We will be discussing Polarities which are interdependent pairs that need each other over time to maintain and gain performance. Since polarities are unavoidable, they are present in every individual, team, and organization.
Here are some examples—
Inhale and Exhale
Rest and Activity
Notice, I say and not or. We need to rest or else we would end up stressed out and in the hospital due to exhaustion. However, if we only rested then we would stop learning and grow rather large! We need to be able to do both things. Let’s look at some polarities for you that might show up in the workplace.
Task and Relationship
Candor and Diplomacy
Encouragement and Analysis
Analysis and Intuition
Planning and Implementing
Coaching and Directing
Notice that each word is either positive or neutral. You do not want to frame one word as a negative because then you would not want to choose this word. Ex. Negative Feedback and Encouragement-who would want to pick negative feedback.
What words resonated with you? Did you find that you are attracted to one more than the other? This is natural. I will give you an example for me. I am more to encouragement than analysis. Thus, I can see the upside of encouragement (better morale, good ideas are developed, etc.) When I look at analysis, I tend to see the negatives (might take too long, might discourage brainstorming, etc.) However, when I am coaching people I ask them to look at the upside of both sides of the pole. Thus, I would ask me, what is the upside of using analysis for you? We might make fewer mistakes, we might choose better ideas, we could mitigate risks, spend our dollars appropriately, etc.
This also applies to teams and organizations. We often see teams that might desire to be:
Agile and Quality
Innovative and Stable
Encouraging and Challenging
Organizations might desire to be:
Centralized and Decentralized
Innovative and High Quality
Structured and Flexible
Okay, there is a lot to learn and understand about polarities. If you want to learn more, please listen to "Mastering Polarities to Achieve Greater Performance". Cara Wilson and I discussed polarities and how they impact the people and organizations we work with. I encourage you to start seeing the polarities in you life. Take time to notice which pole you are more attracted to. Who can help you see the upside of the other pole? What would happen if you challenged yourself to look at the downside of your preferred pole (too much encouragement might keep us from critically assessing ideas; might avoid conflict, etc.) Good luck and remember to look out for the polarities in the world.