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  • jeffreystec

Polarity thinking + human connection = civil conversations

During strategic planning, groups will often identify two valid but opposing solutions. In most groups, people argue that one approach is better than the other and should be the only solution chosen. Because both are valid approaches, these debates are unresolvable and can go on ad nauseam. Problem-solving, however, often requires the simultaneous application of two opposing ideas. By framing these opposites as a polarity rather than conflict, people will see that success depends on our ability to balance competing ideas.


For example, in post-pandemic budgeting, a local community college debated whether to expand online learning options or improve the on-campus student experience. The argument didn’t stop until we saw that there was no point debating between two right answers; framing this as a polarity shifted the conversation from “What is the right answer?” to “How can we collaborate?”


Importantly, these conversations happened in person during a facilitated retreat. Of course, we began the retreat connecting people – not by asking silly icebreaker questions, but by asking why common goals were important to individuals and why different strategies mattered to them personally.


These human connections grounded people in personal safety as they stretched their minds to hold the intellectual polarity. We start with connection because it’s easier for people to “hold” a connection with a disagreeable person than it is to accept the truth of their competing idea. Our hearts are more easily opened than our minds, so by first holding a human connection, people can more easily hold onto the polarity -- the "both-and" -- embedded in the best solution. By designing meetings for connection and framing competing solutions as polarities, leaders will help the public remain in community despite their differences.


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