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You Say “Problem,” I Say “Polarity”

The next time someone says, “This is problem,” say back to them, “Or is it a polarity?” (Warning: you may get an eye roll)

Polarity Management is not a new concept, but it was new to me and I LOVED learning about it.

Let’s look at two examples to illustrate this concept:

1. You have a partner who contributes a lot (time, work, money, resources, etc) yet is extremely difficult to work with

2. You have a patient who is in poor health yet refuses any advice from you

Are these problems – or – polarities?

Do they need to be “solved” or “managed?”

Polarity Management is the concept that:

· Dilemmas are usually unavoidable and unsolvable

· Often there are two or more ways to address them

· We should think of “both/and” instead of “either/or”

· Some problems will be ongoing and will never be solved in a traditional sense

· It’s not about choosing one side and neglecting the other side

· Any tension between the two poles can and should be managed

For our 1st example, if we accept that our partner for who they are, then we can lean into how to manage this relationship so that we don’t waste anymore energy asking, “Why do they behave like that?” and “I wish they would just do it this way.” Instead we can manage our reactions to their behavior, try to set up ways prevent fires, and highlight what they do bring to the table.

In our 2nd example, we know we have the tools to help this patient. “If only they would just listen! Or try this one thing! Why does their health fall to the bottom of their to-do list?” Polarity management is showing us a 3rd space – a space between full acceptance of our help and giving up hope that they will ever listen. How do you want to manage this 3rd space? How do you want to show up, with a little bit of hope and new strategies to cross this bridge?

Leaders who show how to lead between two contrasting views or two opposite ideas are showing us that their energy will not be wasted trying to convince us to take sides. There is a space in between that needs their management. Their leadership. Let’s help them.

What can you turn into “both/and” instead of “either/or?”

Until next week,



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