A Coaching Power Tool Created by Kimberly Parrott
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
When I designed my logo over a decade ago, I was inspired by the chambered nautilus as a symbol of natural perfection. Its equiangular spiral is based on the Golden Ratio where a straight line drawn from the pole to any point on the curve intersects the curve at the same angle. It is also an extremely adaptable organism able to travel 1000 feet up and down the water column on a daily basis. The nautilus is considered a living fossil because it has remained unchanged for millions of years. Elegance, adaptability and an enduring design seemed like sound guiding principles for my new business.
I was also drawn to the ancient Chinese Yin-Yang concept and all that it implies:
a process of harmonization ensuring a constant, dynamic balance of all things.
By circumscribing the nautilus in a circle I was able to incorporate the Yin-Yang symbol into my logo as a metaphor for the harmony and balance I aspired to achieve through my work. Not until recently did I realize that my logo also embodied a visual representation of both my approach to coaching as well as one of my most powerful coaching tools: Both/And vs. Either/Or.
Origins of Either/Or
Western thought has been significantly influenced by Aristotelian logic, the aim of which is to establish
a coherent system that allows us to investigate, classify and evaluate good and bad forms of reasoning.
By definition, this form of logic is binary. In the simplest of terms, this line of reasoning is developed to determine whether something is true or false through affirmation or negation. In other words, Aristotelian logic follows an Either/Or decision-making tree.
Because of its predominance in the western world, many of us view the Either/Or dichotomy as the only path of logic. However, there are other less known modes of reasoning that existed prior to Aristotle.
Multiple Roads to Reason Either/Or is a two-value form of logic presenting a yes or no option that excludes the middle ground.
Both/And provides a third value: yes, no and both. The Yin-Yang symbol illustrates the Both/And concept: while the circle is technically half black and half white, all parts are interrelated through the white dot embedded in the black and vice versa. Therefore, everything contains both Yin and Yang.
Everything can be a ‘that’; everything can be a ‘this.’ Chuang Tzu, Taoist Philosopher
Buddhist logic as introduced by the Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna, circa 200 BC, presents a fourth value of neither/nor, or non-existence. Nagarjuna is generally credited as the founder of the
Middle Way School.
To show an even earlier and more expansive modality, Jain philosophy, with roots in the Jainism religious tradition from India circa 600 BC, offers seven values.
- in some ways it is
- in some ways it is not
- in some ways it is and it is not
- in some ways it is and it is indescribable
- in some ways it is not and it is indescribable
- in some ways it is, it is not and it is indescribable
- in some ways it is indescribable
For the purposes of my power tool, I am focusing on the Both/And approach as a symmetrical counterpoint to Either/Or. If my client can think of one alternative to yes/no, they probably have the capacity to generate even more possibilities.
The Both/And power tool can be used to gently probe the assumptions that underlie the dichotomous mental models we carry around with us: head/heart, left brain/right brain, introverted/extroverted, male/female, east/west, micro/macro to name a few. Is it truly a forced choice between two opposites? Is there a third way?
Loosening the Grip
Over time we tend to establish hardwired ways of thinking and reacting that are often unconscious. By looking beyond the black and white of Either/Or to the technicolor of Both/And we stretch our minds in new ways and loosen the grip of habits that may not serve us. What wants to happen? What advice would the future you have for yourself now? What else?
Letting Go of the Fear
Sometimes we are paralyzed by the fear of not being right. Being right or wrong falls into the Either/Or framework. Entertaining the possibility that there might be an alternative reality releases us to explore options more freely. What else could that mean? What do you really want? If you knew the answer, what would it be?
One of the simplest and most powerful applications of Both/And is semantic. At some point we’ve probably received the following feedback:
You did a nice job on this but…
That insidious word
negates everything that came before it. Instead I coach clients to substitute
You did a nice job on this and here is a way you could perform even better…
In terms of feedback, the shift from
is a transition from a polarized right or wrong to a spectrum of continuous improvement.
Both/And also shows up in some widely used contemporary leadership models.
The Myers-Briggs (MBTI) Functions Zig-Zag model demonstrates how value can be gained in decision-making through drawing on the perspectives of all four of the interior functions: Sensing-Intuition-Thinking-Feeling. The best solutions come from the interplay of all the personality preferences rather than the predominance of one over the others, which would otherwise lead to blind spots.
Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model is based on the premise that as managers we need to use different leadership styles depending on the task-specific needs of our people. These needs will change over time as our people gain competence and confidence. There is not a one size that fits all. Rather, we respond to where our people are in any given moment. They may simultaneously need one leadership style on one task and another leadership style on a different task.
The Both/And concept is certainly useful in coaching clients and has found credence in mainstream professional development. However, I have discovered the greatest gain to be in re-configuring my own thinking. As a westerner, I am a product of western culture and therefore a student of Either/Or logic. Venturing down the Middle Way continues to open up doorways I never knew existed.