Adulthood is the ability to hold two opposing ideas or feelings at the same time.
The ability to hold two opposing ideas or feelings simultaneously is especially important when managing or leading others. In our work as coaches and consultants, we have seen that individuals who have the ability to hold opposing ideas and feelings comfortably are more successful in getting the best out of others. Now, when we say they can hold opposing ideas and feelings comfortably, we don’t mean that it always feels good. It sometimes means holding significant anger with solid compassion at the same time.
Let us tell you about Justin. He is a COO at a large corporation on the east coast. He contacted us because he had heard from a colleague here in Portland that we are “people whisperers” (more on that in future posts and video trainings). He called and said what we have heard many, many times—that he would be a great leader if it weren’t for the dang people.
He described working with an amazing and brilliant CEO. Someone he respected, admired—but also sometimes hated. He spent about 10 solid minutes angrily describing how furious he was with his boss and how devalued he felt. He then switched back to describing the same man as inspiring and inspired in his thinking and recounted how privileged to work with him he often felt.
It wasn’t people whispering to help Justin shift his relationship with his feelings. We told him about our definition of adulthood as the ability to hold two opposing ideas or feelings at the same time. We pointed out that he was doing that quite well with his boss while not understanding the power of his ability to do so. It was actually quite impressive that Justin hadn’t shifted to making his boss “evil” but could see him as a mix. He could say that he actually believed that the very things that made his boss inspiring and brilliant were what made him difficult. As he changed his relationship with his feelings about his boss and started to have respect for what an adult he was being, he also started to relate differently to his boss—being less afraid that his anger with his boss meant he needed to leave and more confident that as long as he worked with him, he would sometimes feel furious with him.
In everyday life, there are situations that occur in which there are two points of view that are equally important. You can be sad but optimistic; you can be angry but inspired. You can feel hurt by someone you love deeply. Of course, as with any situation, it is important for you to decide if a relationship is ultimately good for you or toxic in some way; and the ability to hold two points of view can help you gain clarity to make those kinds of decisions.