A client in Western Australia recently called regarding a work preferences profile we had provided for a candidate. When shown the report, the candidate had questioned its validity because some of the traits listed appeared to be contradictory.
We notice contradictions because we are conditioned to thinking in terms of opposites: good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. The reaction to Tiger Woods' off-course behaviour is an example of this at work. Our conditioning leads us to want an explanation of how, for example, someone so brilliant and talented (at golf) could be so stupid ….
The elusive ‘and’
A more realistic approach is to view individual characteristics in terms of complimentarity rather than contrast. Instead of ‘either A or B’, make room for ‘both A and B’.
Let’s explore what this means in the real world
When you look at the people you already know well, are they always one thing or the other? Or are they more complex, able to show a range of behaviours in different situations?
What about yourself? Have you ever been told that you are, for example, an introvert when you know you can also be an extrovert? Was there any value to you in being labelled this way?
You are an infinitely complex being. We all are! Imagine how boring and predictable life would be otherwise.
The power of paradox
So what was going on with our candidate mentioned above? Why did his profile show he possessed some traits that we expect to be opposites of each other?
It is possible to take the apparent paradoxes in our make up and use them to predict behaviour.
Most behavioural assessments fail to provide this insight because they rely on a traditional bipolar approach of measurement, which assumes an either/or relationship between traits by placing two related positive traits on either end of a scale.
Communication, for example, typically looks at Diplomatic and Frank as traits. By placing Diplomatic and Frank on either end of the same scale, the bipolar approach assumes that the more Diplomatic you are, the less Frank you are and vice versa.
This is a false assumption.
When you want insights into behaviour, will measuring communication in one dimension give you all the information you need?
What is important is not whether a person is Frank or Diplomatic, but the extent of their frankness and diplomacy to understand how these traits compliment each other.
This is just one example of how the power of the paradox can predict success and inspire performance.
NOTE: There is a workshop on in Sydney on 14 March 2012, where participants will learn more about 'the power of the paradox' and how to use it to develop leadership potential in themselves and their teams. Click here to learn more.
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