Conflicting demands and either/or tensions are the norm for many managers. They don’t get resolved by tackling one demand at a time, or by making a “final” decision.

Paradoxes — also described as polarities, and sometimes mislabeled as problems — are dilemmas that seem to defy common sense and business acumen. They can be overwhelming, difficult to understand, complex, and seemingly impossible to address.

These tensions show up in all facets of organizational life, including leadership (control vs. empowerment), teamwork (tasks vs. relationships), strategy (competition vs. collaboration), structure (centralized vs. decentralized), and within ourselves (work vs. home).

As our white paper notes, the research is clear: Organizations, leaders, teams, and individuals that manage paradox are better performers than those who do not. Here are 2 tools to help you and your organization better understand and manage paradox.

2 Techniques for Managing Paradox

Common business models and tools are not very useful in managing paradoxes. Instead, CCL suggests mapping paradoxes through Polarity Mapping®, a concept developed by Barry Johnson, and Duality Mapping, a new approach developed by CCL.

Polarity Mapping to Manage Paradox

Polarity Mapping® is a concept introduced by Barry Johnson, author of Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, and founder of Polarity Partnerships LLC., in 1975 as a means for managers and organizations to think about the larger value, or purpose, of balancing two polarities, as well as to determine specific action steps. You can use Polarity Mapping to:

  • Articulate two “poles” that are competing or at odds.
  • Look at the potential positive results (as well as the negatives).
  • Explore the drawbacks or fears related to over-emphasizing one or the other.

Here’s an example of an Innovation and Efficiency polarity map:

How to Manage Paradox or Polarity

Yin-Yang-Symbol-for web

Duality Mapping to Manage Paradox

Duality mapping draws on the concept of yin and yang. Yin and yang in the Chinese classical philosophy originates from two of the oldest books in China, I Ching (or Book of Changes) and Tao De Ching. The philosophy is based on the premise that everything in the world consists of two opposite elements that are partially conflicting and partially complementary.

The yin-yang symbol stands as a reminder that paradoxes are interrelated and interdependent. Often the yin-yang symbol is viewed as showing unity-in-opposites, balance and equilibrium. But there are variations of the yin-yang symbol. The proportions of yin and yang may vary widely, interacting with each other and working together dynamically. The ancient philosophy reminds us that paradoxical forces are not only opposed, but also cooperate with each other.

Duality Mapping incorporates the yin-yang balancing philosophy. It also highlights the existence of both extremist and moderate groups within each of the two opposite elements and explores harmonies and tensions as they co-exist.

Without the ability to hold competing interests in mind, organizations risk losing sight of the wisdom and opportunities that emerge when leadership pursues paradoxical thinking.

Polarity Mapping and Duality Mapping are both practical and thought-provoking approaches to managing paradox.

By blending Eastern and Western philosophies, organizations may find the most effective, transformative solution to handling complex, paradoxical demands.

How do your leaders handle the tension and conflict around conflicting demands? What is your organization doing to cultivate people who can think in terms of both/and? Develop leaders who can manage paradox by investing in leadership development. Learn more about our virtual leadership training programs or how we can work with you to design a custom talent development solution tailored to your unique needs to help grow your organization into the future.

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