How (and Why) To Hold Conflicting Thoughts

409601105_e9120b4cde_o Have you ever tried to consciously hold conflicting thoughts in your head? There is the famous one of the image of a vase – or is it the profiles of two faces? One of the characteristics of executives is that they are able to hold conflicting thoughts while finding another way to deal with those thoughts without destroying the validity of either. From my experience and observation, mothers do this a lot, too.

Being able to do so makes us so much more effective – we break through ‘log jams’ more easily. It makes us more creative – we are more attuned to finding the new solution rather than justifying the old or fighting the new. We become more effective and creative – not a bad return for a little skill enhancement.

So, how can you learn to hold conflicting thoughts with greater ease and maybe even delight? Can we hone this skill? Here are three actions you can take to do so. They are listed in the order of difficulty.

Turn things upside down. Really. Take a familiar object, turn it upside down and look at it critically. Do it every time you think of it. This will enhance your curiosity – your ability to discover something new.

Read different topics than you usually do. I have been a gardener for many years. I love to read about varieties of plants just to learn what they like, how they perform, what challenges them to produce more and better fruit. My daily reading now is about leadership. The topic is rich, producing over a hundred books every year. Yet, as I read through them, I find I automatically test the premises I encounter with my knowledge of plants. Another time, I began reading about architecture. Suddenly, I could see new relationships between space and how people interact in various spaces, an entirely new insight for me. Reading in other areas frees us from our assumptions for a moment– just long enough to see a new perspective on a familiar topic.

Engage in conversations with those you may not agree with. This is a very different kind of conversation. This is not an exercise in argumentation or winning or convincing the other. This is an exercise in probing until you understand their perspective so well, you can explain it back to them to their full agreement. If you do this well, you will have enhanced your ability to see different sides of an issue. (More than likely you will also enhance your friendship with this person. People truly appreciate being listened to.)

Deep curiosity, freedom from assumptions, and seeing the other side more clearly – three great skills that help you to not just hold conflicting thoughts, but to enjoy doing so.

Photo by Cristian V