We live in polarizing times. Increasingly it seems there are those who will try to push you, and your organization, to take a stance “for” or “against” something, as if those are the only two options that people have . . . all in or not at all . . . which side are you on? In my experience, most issues are far more nuanced than the extremes by which they may be defined. Because of that, when you try to force people into an either/or position, you may actually cause them to back away from the conversation altogether, thereby limiting your possibilities for finding a path forward.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t be “all in” on some issues. You should be. I am suggesting that opening your mind, rather than digging in your heels, may be a more effective way to arrive at an effective solution. There are a few things you should be prepared for, however, if you choose the path of solutions rather than sides:
- This approach is likely to aggravate people on both “sides” of an issue. You may simultaneously be accused of being too outspoken and too understated. Ironically, this “double pushback” probably means you are well-positioned to serve as a bridge between opposing viewpoints.
- Don’t expect easy or obvious answers. Polarizing issues develop one layer at a time. Differing beliefs, values, experiences, and the fact that there is rarely a straight line between cause and effect, all contribute to wicked problems that defy simple solutions. It takes thick-skinned, open-minded leadership to navigate a collective path forward.
- You have to walk through the tough stuff. This is easier if you set clear guidelines at the outset . . . We are going to assume positive intent on everyone’s part . . . We will remain curious and seek common ground . . . We recognize that uncomfortable conversations are often required for progress.
- There are LOTS of rabbit trails. The more more specific you are about the solution you are seeking, the less likely you are to be distracted by “what abouts”, “and alsos” or impassioned rhetoric. “Sides” tend to be driven by emotion, “solutions” by thoughtful consideration. Leaders acknowledge feelings while still focusing on the end goal.
- You are playing a long game. In spite of the “instant everything” world in which we live, finding long-term solutions takes patience, and a recognition that there will be days when you will take two steps forward and one step back. Progress often happened one small step at a time.
And one more thing . . . as a leader, it is your responsibility to choose the best position and path forward for your organization. Actions speak louder that words. So what are yours saying?
Sides or solutions?