Managing Polarities

Sections of this topic

    I was recently introduced to the work of Barry Johnson and his book, Polarity Management, in my professional coaches group. Johnson distinguishes between having a problem to solve vs. a polarity to manage. Most of us are familiar with problems- budget reductions, cost overruns, pressing performance goals. Johnson defines problems as those things that are time bound and have definite completion or end points. Polarities are those things that are continual and don’t have definite endings. They are often competing but equally important values or priorities. For instance, you may want to perform well at work and be home with your family. These will be continual struggles that don’t need to be resolved or completed so much as managed well.

    I’m guessing most working mothers know this dilemma. You work with the polarity of being home with the kids while they are young and also being a contributing employee or fulfilling your professional dreams.

    Have you struggled with any of these polarities?

    listening and speaking tasks and relationships
    planning and remaining flexible patience and action
    controlling and allowing faith and doubt

    What about your spiritual life and your professional life? Do you feel they are a polarity for you, perhaps separate but equal? Separate and unequal priorities? Do you strive make these interconnected rather than mutually exclusive?

    The Yin and Yang symbols represent the Taoist understanding of polarities as natural flows of life. The poles or competing opposites aren’t so much tasks to be managed as life qualities to be recognized and appreciated, both being integral for life.

    If you are feeling stuck now in some course of action at work, it may be that the polarities of two opposing desires, goals, values or commitments are pulling at you simultaneously. Knowing when to shift from one side of the polarity to another takes discernment, experience, and sometimes just plain trial and error.

    Think of some aspect of your work where you feel torn between two values or commitments. Here are some clues as to when you need to shift attention to the other side of your polarity:

    1. Are you feeling strain from going so far in the one direction?

    2. Do you feel out of balance by what you are doing/what’s going on in your life?

    3. Do you feel tired or irritable from what you are doing/your current focus?

    4. Have you forgotten what it was like to be connected to the other polarity?

    May you find peace in the shifting between your polarities. Let balance and flow be your guides.


    For more resources, see our Library topic Spirituality in the Workplace.


    Linda is an author, speaker, coach, and consultant. Go to her website to read more about her work, view video clips of her talks, and find out more about her book “Path for Greatness: Spirituality at Work” available on Amazon.