Polarity Balance

A fresh way to reframe ongoing tensions.

Ab Brightman
3 min readMar 27, 2019

Polarity Balance is an incredibly helpful way of reframing ‘problems’ and ongoing tensions in our lives and in our organisations.

Typically when we see that something in our organisations, or inside ourselves, is a tension, we think if it as a problem that we need to grit our teeth and fight, and eventually we will push through with a finite solution, or negotiate a lasting compromise.

Life is often a lot more complex and interconnected than A or B though, and Polarity Balance has been one of the first proper methods I’ve seen to actually accepting that and figuring how to proceed constructively.

Polarity Balance is actually know as ‘Polarity Management’ and I learnt about last year thanks to some excellent training from JHub’s Shoshana Boyd Gelfand. However, ‘Management’ is a somewhat dry name for a concept so useful, so I’m gonna try and call it Polarity Balance instead for my purposes.

If you google polarity management it comes up with a lot of over-complex diagrams and leadership articles, but really it get a flavour of whether its going to be a concept that you can vibe with I’ll run through the general concept of balancing polarities below.

Step One: Could it be a Polarity and Why Balance it?

  1. Is the difficulty at hand ongoing? Much like the cycle of exercise and then resting after exertion.
  2. Are there are two alternatives where you can only focus on one alternative (pole) for so long, until you are required to focus on the other? For example, you cannot just run and run and run, you need to let the body rest between sessions, but likewise you cannot rest indefinitely else you will destroy your health.
  3. Is it necessary over time to have both of the identified upsides to the alternatives (poles)? The positives of both physical exertion and of rest.
  4. Will focussing on one upside, to the neglect of the other, eventually undermine your efforts to move towards your higher purpose? Focussing too much on working out and not on resting after exercise will undermine your effort to gain health and fitness.

Step Two: Map the positives and negatives of the two poles

Basically just fill in the little chart below.

Step Three: Early Warning Signs

Now you’ve identified your two poles and your positives and negatives of each, its time to get constructive thinking about you can figure out whether you’ve been spending a little too much time hanging out in the positive quadrant of any one pole… and are starting to come down into the negative quadrant. These are called Early Warning Signs.

These are the signs from your own behaviour, mental chatter, or the behaviour of your organisation that symbolise a fall. You can either write these on a completely different paper, or at the side of each pole on your above diagram, whatever works for you.

Step Four: Action Steps

Once you can understand how to identify when you have been spending too long on one pole, you can use this to plan how you can take action to swing to the alternate pole before dropping down into negativity. These will be your Action Steps.

Through this the idea of polarity balance is to reach a point where you only have the positives of both poles, and can intentionally switch between the poles in a flow before letting any of the negativity of either side creep in. Below is one of the completed polarity maps which is a little overcomplicated, but just focus on the flow of the arrows.

For further watching I would recommend Shoshana’s TED talk on the subject. It was fun to work through in a team workshop too (we focussed on our local — national focus polarity), as well as reflecting by yourself.

As ever let me know any thoughts in the comments or at www.abbrightman.com/contact