Sometimes opposites attract. Sometimes opposites repel. In organizational teams, families, and neighborhoods, we end up needing to work with our opposites whether we attract or repel. And, it can be challenging to work with those with whom we repel. This calls us to expand our leadership skills and practice the polarity of teaming.

If They’d Just Do It My Way!

When working with our opposites, it can be easy to focus on the negatives and get frustrated with each other. Sometimes we’re frustrated because they’re not taking on enough of our load. Other times they aren’t focusing on the things we think they should be focusing on. And, we might just be flat-out annoyed because they don’t do things the way that we do them.

Consider some common opposite work styles:

  • Big-picture vs. detail-oriented
  • Fast-paced vs. methodical
  • Process-driven vs. outcome-driven
  • People-focused vs. process-focused
  • Logical vs. emotional

We’ve all probably had to work with our opposites throughout our lives. Unfortunately, we sometimes end up getting frustrated by our differences instead of finding ways to complement them. These missed opportunities result in wasted time, power struggles, and a lack of focus. Alternatively, if harnessed, they could be leveraged to create even more powerful results compared to working with people who are just like us.

Aligning Opposites

When opposites align, our collective capacity increases. Picture two halves of a circle. Halves that are identical overlap and only form a half-circle. Yet, halves that are opposite complete a whole circle. They offer much more because they’re bringing two completely different things to the table. Now put this in the context of a team and how many types of opposites are likely working together. Yikes!

Now, imagine two detail-oriented people working together compared to a detail-oriented and a big-picture person working together. The former might feel more familiar and comfortable, but it limits possibilities and potential. The latter, however, doubles your skillsets even if it might be more outside of your comfort zone. Together, it has the potential to create something greater than the whole.

To begin to tap into this potential when working with your opposite (or opposites when on a larger team), practice the following strategies:

  1. Notice your differences and name them, both to yourself and your opposite. This helps make it easier to recognize and talk about them.
  2. Recognize the value in your opposite. What can they do that you can’t? What’s easy for them that’s hard for you? What do they bring that adds more value compared to what you could do on your own (or with people who are only like you)?
  3. Leverage your styles. Make a plan for how you can work effectively together while focusing your energy on your strengths. If you’re detail-oriented and your opposite is big-picture and you are working on a project together, have them focus more on the goals and objectives while you focus more on putting together the plan to get there. Get creative around how both of you can contribute towards the bigger goal.
  4. Make light of your differences. Finding humor in your styles, such as by giving names to your opposite styles or outing yourself when you are getting too caught up in your style, can reduce the tension. Look for ways to appreciate your differences instead of anyone’s style being right/wrong or good/bad. This also helps to not take your differences too seriously.
  5. Serve each other. Much like my teasing in the previous strategy can be a way to serve the other person to find balance, so can finding ways to contribute in ways that they can’t. For example, if you’re people-focused and they’re process-focused, offer to step in more to handle customer meetings, networking, and getting buy-in. Support them to do what they do best instead of expecting them to handle those types of situations. Connecting back to #3, make this part of an intentional plan between both of you instead of making assumptions or overstepping your bounds.

On a larger scale, these polarities can show up in systemic issues individualism vs. collectivism, liberal vs. conservative, or people vs. profit. I recommend checking out Barry Johnson’s work around Polarity Management for ways to navigate these types of polarities both in your organization and within your collective team.