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Conflict in the Trustscape: How Polarity thinking Can Help


Conflict in the Trustscape: 

How Polarity Thinking Can Help

By Neesa Sweet

Frank was nervous.  Anticipating retirement, he and his wife were revising the trusts they’d set up for their children and grandchildren.  Frank always valued education.  He wanted to reward the grandchildren who graduated college, but his youngest granddaughter had her heart set on an acting career and had moved to California right out of high school.  Carrie worked hard and had some success but was mostly waiting tables.  His wife and daughter were saying how she would be the grandchild who could use help the most; her father, on the other hand, wanted to discourage her and point her on a more traditional career path.  Frank wasn’t sure how his other grandchildren would react although they all had graduated college and were doing well. He just wanted to be fair and he didn’t want to reward what he considered poor choices.

Throughout his career, Frank had prided himself on always knowing the “right” way to do things.  People followed him and that was how he became CEO of his company.  Now, in this very personal matter, he wasn’t so sure.

Then one day he was having lunch with an old friend who was one of the firm’s consultants and he shared his dilemma.  “You’re trying to make a decision between things— trying to be true to your beliefs OR take care of your granddaughter,” the consultant said.  “The thing is, this may not be a decision between things.  You may need to leverage the best of both”.

“Here, let me show you,” the consultant said.  He consultant took out a sheet of paper,  then drew a line across the middle of the page. On the left side of the line he wrote the words: “stick to my beliefs”.  On the other he wrote “individual needs of grandchildren.”

Through some questioning, Frank affirmed that for him, the benefits of sticking to his beliefs were that he could be “fair to all” and “reward what I believe”.    The consultant wrote those benefits above the phrase “stick to my beliefs”.

While the consultant didn’t share this right away, he had drawn something called a “Polarity Map TM” which is part of a system called Polarity Thinking ™   developed by OD consultant Dr. Barry Johnson.

Polarity Thinking describes something that often happens in conflict situations.  People think they have a problem and need to make an either/or choice when what they actually have is a polarity which can be leveraged to get the “best of both”.  In fact, when attention isn’t paid, and there is over focus on one of the pair, the situation deteriorates and the result is exactly what the decision-maker was trying to avoid.  In this case, what Frank wanted to avoid was Carrie living a life on the edges of economic security.

As Frank and the consultant filled in the quadrants on the maps, the very act of creating this visible tool began to suggest new ideas and lift his spirits   He decided to make a special provision for Carrie as long as she continued to actively seek out acting work, which upheld both his values and what he anticipated as her needs.  This seemed to satisfy her father and he had the map ready to show his other grandchildren if they voiced objections.

To help the process of leveraging polarities, Polarity Maps include spaces for “warning signs” and “action steps” for each pole.

Besides dealing powerfully with many conflicts, Polarity Thinking can also be helpful in the trustscape to deal with Complexity, Change, Chronic Issues, and Cross-Cultural Divides.