What are examples of polar opposites

Polarities. The unity behind the opposites

The polarity principle is part of the primal knowledge of human societies. Dealing with the topic can give us a more holistic view of the world and provide useful suggestions for everyday management.

As managers, we have to make decisions about people on a daily basis. We hire and deploy people, make decisions about promotions, assess work performance, potential and suitability of employees. In order to be able to make such decisions, we have to form images of people and grasp their personalities. As a rule, we do this on the basis of intuitive human knowledge by observing their behavior and inferring certain properties from this.

In this process we look for clarity and find it in the judgmental distinction: This quality is a clear strength, the other a clear weakness. This behavior is good, this is bad. We call this type of thinking either-or thinking. Although it brings clarity, it is dividing and obscures the view of the whole.

What do we mean by polarity?
The alternative, perhaps more mature way of thinking and looking at things is polar thinking. We know the concept of polarity from the natural sciences, philosophy, psychology and religion. According to Wikipedia1 the term polarity is an expression for the relationship between mutually dependent quantities that are in a complementary relationship to one another.

The basis of polar thinking is the knowledge that our consciousness, with which we experience and grasp the world, is polar. We experience opposites like me and you, above and below, inside and outside, male and female. We symbolize heaven and hell. We know plus and minus poles in physics and have a spatial orientation to the north and south poles.

The example of breathing can make it clear to us that life arises through the interplay of opposites. Inhaling and exhaling is a basic human experience. A polarity, a rhythm like the psychotherapist T. Dethlefsen2 who only appears when the two poles work together. One pole determines the other and liveliness is only created through interaction. Our rhythm of life is nothing more than an interplay between two poles, which are mutually dependent and, precisely in their entirety, make up our reality.

Polarity as a category of character studies
The principle of polarity is directly addressed in the psychological literature, especially by T. Dethlefsen, but also by F. Riemann3 and C. G. Jungrefer in their reflections on the human psyche to thinking in complementary opposites.
In the area of ​​personality appraisal and development, polar thinking has only been given further attention and application for a few years5, especially with F. Schulz von Thunand W. Eberle7. The polarity thinking is illustrated here in the figure of the "value or development square". This illustration makes it clear that human values, inner strivings and orientations, which are referred to as personal characteristics, are complementary to one another. Therefore, according to Eberle, it makes little sense to speak in isolation about a character trait of a person, because, willingly or unintentionally, the complementary twin trait (sister virtue) is always taken into account.

An exampleto clarify these thoughts: A central requirement criterion in the world of work is the preferred way of working and living a person. In the square of values ​​you can take an associated character trait as a starting point and easily develop the opposing trait through linguistic transformation and addition to the root of the word.

In our example, the opposite term "dependent" arises from the property "independent". You only need to find the positive front of dependent and the negative back of independent and you have completed the square of values. Thus, on the back of independent, the exaggeratedly independent person emerges in his or her idiosyncratic manner and on the front of dependent, the group-oriented person emerges who prefers to work together or undertake something together.

The square of values
The full characterological content of the polarity principle becomes even more accessible if the principle is presented in the form of a behavioral continuum.

▶ Link to the graphic value square

The behavioral continuum
In the behavioral continuum it is made visible that the more pronounced a characteristic is, the more the opposite characteristic will wither away. Every strength as an expression of a one-sided orientation therefore always contains a potential weakness at the same time. And every weakness that appears as a deficit of the underdeveloped twin trait has a latent strength that cannot be recognized at the moment. So strength and weakness are like light and shadow.

▶ Link to graphic behavior continuum

Man needs both sides for his existence, because they are demanded of him by the different demands of life. Never both at the same time, but often in short succession and rapid interplay.

Implications for leadership
A polar view of human characteristics prevents us from perceiving and describing the opposite pole only in its shadowy aspects. We look at people more holistically and learn to demonstrate their personality with a positive point of view. This strengthens self-esteem and opens up the opportunity to work constructively on personal development.

With the value square, leaders have a tool that shows what happens when we overemphasize a property or show it inappropriately in the context. The excessive one-sidedness turns a positive quality into a handicap and a weakness. The weakness lies in the fact that the employee can no longer meet the requirements on the other side due to the associated underexposure and stunting of the complementary twin property and then acts inappropriately.

Schulz von Thun speaks in this context of “too much of a good thing” and makes it clear that a polar view of human characteristics opens up the possibility of communicating constructively about personal development instead of stopping at censure and eradication. His example is the subject of how people compare different interests and ideas. Instead of reporting back to a person: “You are selfish”, the message can be: “You have a clear view of your interests and needs and an enormous ability to enforce them! However, there is a risk that you will achieve too much of the good here and that this can be at the expense of the ability to also have a fair view of the needs of your counterpart at the same time «[9].

This constructive feedback based on the square of values ​​contains three components: the appreciation of the personality, the warning of danger in the case of one-sided overemphasis and the indication of a constructive direction of development. This three-step process, which is only possible in polar thinking, opens up the possibility for people to expand their behavior in a context-appropriate manner.

Implications for Personality Development
Discriminatory thinking in the sense of "either or" prevents our development and maturation because it leads to an inability to transcend our present position. The map of polarities, on the other hand, invites one to examine the wisdom of those who may lie in something undesirable, to examine the possible downsides of something desirable, to grasp those aspects of reality which are excluded, denied or not in favoring a pole were fully recognized.

Our life challenges lie on the polar opposite side of our personality. To mature in this context means to integrate the opposite pole; that is, to dismantle our inner enemy image and to see and train the complementary, complementary qualities of the opposite pole.


(1) Wikipedia de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polarität
(2) Thorwald Dethlefsen. Polarity and unity - primal knowledge of humanity. Aurinia Publishing House. 2015
(3) Fritz Riemann. Basic forms of fear. Reinhardt publishing house. 2009
(4) C. G. Jung. Psychological types. Rapid publisher. 1921
(5) Fritz Westermann. Development square. Theoretical foundation and application. Hogrefe Publishing House. 2007
(6) Cf. Friedemann Schulz von Thun and others talking to one another. Communication psychology for executives. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag. 2000
(7) See Walter Eberle. The KEH system and its interview procedure for recruiting. In Fritz Westermann. Development square (pages 45 - 57)
(8) Taken from: Walter Eberle. Erwin Hartwich. Focus on leadership potential. FAZ publishing house. 1995
(9) Quoted from a manuscript by Friedemann Schulz von Thun: Who did the value and development square come from?