Uncertainty leads to differences of opinion because we don’t have all the information when something has not been done before. We’ve never led through a global pandemic before, so everyone has a different view on how to handle it.
In the absence of hard data and with confusing information, we form opinions based on our values, beliefs, skills and experience, which are all different. Once someone forms an opinion, they look for information that backs up their position.
Polarisation is therefore a fundamental part of uncertainty – not just during the pandemic but in any disruptive change. We need to be able to work through our differences and be open to new approaches.
Create clarity without control
With uncertainty comes perceived chaos as things rarely progress in a linear form. Uncertainty can feel uncomfortable so there is often an urgency to want to resolve it quickly. The desire for clarity may cause people to become controlling and coercive as they want to resolve the discomfort quickly and reach consensus.
Yet clarity is fundamentally different from control. Relinquish control and relax into flexibility and adaptability, trusting that you can create clarity as you lead through it.
Where can you create more clarity?
Accept differences without attachment
You can create clarity by making time for everyone to express their differences without attachment to the need for one answer and without jumping to conclusions or trying to force alignment quickly. Innovation arises from exploration which requires openness and clarity to create understanding.
Understanding is different from agreement. Making time to understand other points of view leads to greater connection, even though you may fundamentally disagree.
Where can you be more understanding of differences of opinion?
Be curious to build relationships
Polarisation provides an opportunity for dialogue, discussion and collaboration, but it’s uncomfortable and you need to stay engaged through the discomfort.
We can increase creativity and innovation, and build deeper relationships with other members of the team, once we know how to hold them with curiosity.
Polarised views can be destructive so we need to continually develop the skills of holding them, without resorting to blame, judgment and criticism.
Whose behaviour are you judging and what happens when you replace judgment with curiosity?
Use dialogue to create understanding
Dialogue can only occur when you are clear about your own needs, values, beliefs. It is important to let go of being attached to being right because values are not right or wrong. Everyone holds different values and beliefs, and we can hold multiple opinions to be true at any one time.
Dialogue requires greater listening, the willingness to seek understanding of others and empathy for different points of view.
Where are you shutting down dialogue in the haste for a decision?
Stay with the challenging opinions
I‘m often asked: “How do you know when to be curious and when someone in your team is just problematic?”
We’ve all been in a team with someone who appears to be disruptive. It may even have been you at some point. Nobody gets out of bed wanting to be the difficult person in the team, even thought it might appear that way. There is always a reason.
Challenging people are often shut down and avoided, leading to greater disconnection and a greater belief that their opinions and needs are not being met.
More than ever, seek to understand them. When uncertainty is uncomfortable and views appear to be polarised, explore the values and boundaries of others whilst being clear about your own values and boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. When you seek to understand what is important to others, you can co-create solutions that could not be considered previously.
Whose needs are not being met in your team?
Above all, listen
Uncertainty is an opportunity to do things in collaboration. The desire for certainty means we often seek to have our own view made clear, without allowing others to articulate their needs. Part of the discomfort of uncertainty is the ability to stay through heated discussions and polarised views, letting go of the attachment to being right or wrong.
Above all, the most important thing you can do in polarisation is to listen and let go of needing to be right. It takes time and humility – something in apparent short supply but essential for your leadership at this time.
Jude Jennison, Founder Director of Leaders by Nature Ltd