How to Set the Right Goals and Make Them Work for You
3 Approaches to Culture Change: What Works

Manage Your Polarities



Do you ever hear a little voice in the back of your head saying things like: look before you leap … or … two wrongs don’t make a right … or … if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

We all have tapes running in the background that guide our actions. If you pay attention, you might notice you’re often listening to sayings you learned as a child.

Many of these sayings contradict each other, lying at opposite ends of a pole. The pole you listen to depends on the family and cultural values you learned and the temperament you were born with.

                    Haste makes waste. <–> He who hesitates is lost.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. <–> You’re never too old to learn.

Ask for forgiveness instead of permission. <–> It’s better to be safe than sorry.

At which end of the pole do you hang out?

Most of us tend to hang out at one end of a pole or the other. You either prefer action or you prefer to plan. You are either results-oriented or process-oriented. You like to adopt new practices or prefer tradition and routine.

And, most people have little patience for those at the other end of the pole.

Where do you hang out on this pole?


There is an upside to each end.

If you are at the doing end, your “to do” list isn’t long because you get things done.

If you’re at the thinking end, you don’t make a lot of mistakes.

The problem is, there’s also a downside to each end.

If you’re at the doing end, you’re juggling a lot of balls. You might feel the weight of taking on too much, and some balls might get dropped.

If you’re at the thinking end, you might worry about all the things you haven’t gotten done, and you might miss opportunities.

Are you polarized – stuck at one end of a pole? Staying at one end of a pole too long surfaces the downside. It’s stressful and ineffective. If you don’t manage your polarities, they will manage you.


Bouncing reactively between the two ends is not the solution.

When the downside of hanging out at one end becomes too uncomfortable, many people flip to the other end.

But bouncing back and forth reactively, driven by stress and anxiety, can be crazy-making.


Finding balance is not the solution.

It might seem that the solution is to find balance – to hang out in the middle. But actually, not much gets done in the middle. You’re not taking action, and you’re not planning.

How can you get the upside of each end of the pole?

Learn to dance on the pole.

The solution is to move fluidly and intentionally on the pole.

How do you know when to move? Barry Johnson, author of Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems, says to identify the early warning signals from the downside, and use them as an alert that it’s time to shift positions.

The place to start is to see the bigger picture that both ends of the pole support and to value both ends.

Try having a conversation with people hanging out at the other end. If you start with the assumption they have something to offer, you might not agree with everything they say, but chances are you’ll find something new that’s worth considering. You might discover some commonalities that are greater than your differences. And they might help you learn to dance on the pole.

Are you polarized?

If you are stuck at one end of the pole, blaming “them” for being unreasonable… remember, in the view from the other end of the pole, YOU are “them.”

If you're at one end of a pole...

How to Set the Right Goals and Make Them Work for You
3 Approaches to Culture Change: What Works

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