“Black Or White” Thinking is Lazy Thinking!

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It shouldn’t be difficult, at a time when we are opening ourselves up to the concept of  gender fluidity, to explore how to adopt a more fluid thinking approach.

Your brain tend to default to the negative, and clearly to “either-or” thinking, so if you build a pathway to curiosity (it takes work to embed a new pathway in the brain so buck up and get to work on it), you will see new ways of doing and being and create great possibilities for yourself and those who work for and with you. Ready? Today we deal with one problem: your thinking patterns. To be specific, I chose polarized thinking as the focus.

Critical thinking and systems thinking are much sexier topics but polarized thinking, in my experience, is the Achilles-heel most of you face down meeting by meeting, conversation by conversation.

Listen to Episode 102 for my definition for thinking and polarized thinking. This post will focus primarily on three things to start doing to change your brain – to move from “either-or” thinking to curiosity.

  1. Start noticing. Pay attention to when you find yourself or a team or group conversation comparing two extreme options or landing solidly on one extreme or the other. What if there’s some interesting polarization happening within your own head like: you think in “should I do this or that” OR “which is better, this or that” OR “what’s the right way to approach this” OR “the way to handle this is” OR “the worst thing I can do is”. Do you see how all of these, in one way or another, represent polarized thinking?
  2. Now that you are starting to recognize polarized thinking you can choose your response; you may choose to gently moderate yourself or conversations in which you participate. In Episode 102 I offer a few different ways to adjust; I actually offer you some words to shift the conversation, challenge the thinking and open options up. Essentially, once you notice, you are in a position to gently shift the thinking of a team. One example I’ve noticed in teams I coach is how department’s bond by creating a false competition with another department even though both serve the same company. As a leader, you may find you serve the larger organization more effectively by breaking this lazy habit. What you think is bonding your team, may be limiting their thinking and yours. (More on that in next week’s story).
  3. Now you are ready to lead from a more curious thinking pattern rather than reacting to and moderating the polarized thinking. You can try-on invitational questions. You are more skilled and aware of the limited thinking now that you’ve completed suggestions 1 and 2, so you’ll be noticing lazy thinking readily, preparing you and your team to move past the gentle moderation into serious and open questions that invite the group or team to explore and choose options. When the team moves into a debate on two options or digs in to one side, you shift their thinking by asking something like: before we discuss the merits of these two options or land on a comfortable conclusion, I want to know if anyone can offer another way we can look at this? AND as your team gets more acquainted with your unwillingness to accept polarized thinking you can add “we won’t move on until we’ve explore at least two very different options”. If the team is not ready for the push yet and is still stuck on one extreme, you can invite them to explore where next steps on the extreme choices may take you. This exploration may be enough to shift their thinking – I love using an exercise of “Double Reversal”. You could also ask if there is anyone at the table who has any experience or information that may provide another way to see the situation. Get creative here to uncover possible ideas that haven’t surfaced either because people feel silenced or locked into a pattern of thinking. (Don’t forget you can use these strategies to challenge your own thinking as well, although it’s helpful to have a coach to support your thinking.)

The more invested you are in your point of view as being right—morally or intellectually or practically superior—the more difficult it is to listen to another’s point of view. The more invested you are in viewing the other person as wrong—silly or ridiculous or stupid or bad—the more difficult it is to compromise, change, and find a way out or a way through.

Next week we’ll examine polarized thinking with a story of one of my clients who got stuck in it soon after accepting a senior position. Once he was caught in it, it was difficult to navigate his way out.


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