The Value of Paired Opposites

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 2b
June 15, 2018

By Dan Coughlin

Over the past 30 days I’ve had about 35 Executive Coaching sessions. One thing I love about my work is I’m constantly learning from a very diverse group of people. One theme that is emerging for me is the value of paired opposites.

Here are examples of what I mean:

  • Feminine Traits – Masculine Traits
  • Introverts – Extroverts
  • Conscientious – Care Free
  • Intuitive – Data-Driven
  • Values-Driven – Logic-Driven
  • Loosely Scheduled – Tightly Scheduled
  • Loud – Quiet
  • Slow Thinker – Fast Thinker
  • Strategic – Tactical
  • 30,000-Foot Perspective – 300-Foot Perspective
  • Do It All Myself – Delegate it All to Others

Know Your Strengths, And Your Weaknesses

I have a client who is extremely conscientious. Consequently, people throughout the organization trust that this person will do everything possible to do the right thing. However, because this person is so conscientious this person will step in with other people outside of a private confidential conversation to solve the problems and “make everything right.” If someone shares a concern with this person, this person will go and meet with the other parties involved in the story and try to solve the problem. This drives people crazy. They just wanted this person to listen and offer a perspective, not get involved with the other people to solve the problem.

I have a client who displays so-called masculine traits. This person has a dominant personality and forcefully makes decisions and focuses on the star performers to get the job done quickly. However, this person invests little to no time in listening to non-star performers, in getting to know the employees on any type of personal level, and is not interested in nurturing people to open up about their professional dreams and what it would take for them to develop their skills to achieve those dreams.

I have a client who is a master at big picture, broad strategic thinking. This person can describe the breadth and the depth of the business with ease, and explain the markets the business is considering on entering. However, there is not a detailed plan as to which specific customers the business should pursue or who they should specifically call on inside of those organizations.

I have a client who is excellent at letting an idea stew for a while until it becomes a really good idea that can help the business. Then this person gets another idea and lets that idea stew for a while until it becomes another great idea. And then this person gets another idea and lets it… However, most of the ideas are still flying around in the air, and none of them have landed.

See the Value in Moving Toward Your Opposite

Go to the volume button on your computer. You will probably see a sliding scale. Slide it to the left and it’s completely quiet. Slide it to the right and it’s extremely loud. You might naturally like the music softer, but in certain situations and for short periods of time you might decide you want it louder. Or vice-versa.

Now visualize my paired traits at the beginning of this article. What would each of them look like for you on a sliding scale?

I’ll make up two people and describe them by these traits.

Person A has feminine traits, is extroverted, conscientious, data-driven, logic-driven, tightly-scheduled, loud, a fast thinker, and tactical, has a 300-foot perspective, and does all the tasks involved in the work.

Person B has masculine traits, is introverted, care free, intuitive, values-driven, loosely scheduled, quiet, a slow thinker, and strategic, has a 30,000-foot perspective, and delegates every task to others.

Each of these people bring value. I would encourage both of them to stay true to themselves and leverage their many strengths. However, I would also encourage each person to selectively choose when it would make sense to move the sliding scale a bit toward the opposite direction for short periods of time.

The conscientious person can become a bit more care free and not feel the need to step in and solve the other person’s problem by meeting with the other people in the story.

The dominant person who wants to get results quickly can think about the long-term value to the organization of engaging with the non-star performers and developing them for future projects.

The strategist who sees the whole organization clearly could invest time in developing a one-page tactical plan with the names and contact information of prospective clients to pursue and a timeline for pursuing them.

The big idea thinker could invest time in landing the ideas that have been stewing for a while.

You Can Keep Your Greatness While Expanding Your Impact

You don’t have to give up who you are in order to improve. You do need to be willing to see the value in selectively and intentionally moving toward your opposite trait.

An introvert does need to speak up at some point in time. An extrovert does need to stop speaking in order to hear other perspectives.

A values-driven person does need to think about how all the pieces of the decision are going to fit together logically, and a logical person does need to determine if the values of the organization are being considered before moving into action.

An intuitive person could benefit from looking at some data, and a data-driven person could benefit from trusting his or her gut.

Slow thinkers do need to move into action, and action-driven people do need to slow down.

The Holy Grail of effectiveness is to know yourself in detail, but also be willing to shift when you feel it’s necessary. This doesn’t mean that you try to be all things to all people. It means you know where you normally are on the sliding scale for that trait, and you determine when it needs to be moved in one direction or the other.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

Back to Newsletter Page