Yin Yang and Paradox Management

Yin Yang and Paradox Management

Yin and Yang, 

Paradox & Systems Management

Eliza Quek


Traditional Chinese Medication (TCM) is predicated on the need to balance cooling (the Yin) and heaty elements (the Yang). Good health is believed to come from a balance of Yin (negative, dark, and feminine) and Yang (positive, bright, and masculine)*. For example, believers balance consuming heaty durians with cooling mangosteens.

Taoism advocates that “humans and animals should live in balance with the Tao, or the universe”; highly relevant to sustaining biodiversity and fighting climate change, in line with Sustainability and ESG goals.

Like Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism points to the wisdom of adopting the Middle Way and avoiding extremes – a geo-political strategy that South-East Asian countries are adopting in attempting to balance interests of China, Taiwan and the U.S. 

In ballet, Savannah Walton from Charlottesville, Virginia set the world record (World Record Academy) in Nov 2019 for standing in an en pointe position for 1 hour 21 mins; displaying the perfect balance.

How long can one be in perfect balance in life? 

Is balance the same for everyone?

Paradox Management and Systems Thinking

Paradox theory emerged in the 1970s and ‘80s as an approach to resolve tensions stemming from interdependent and conflicting demands when making short Vs long term decisions. One has to survive the short term before being able to make it in the long term. This is the argument that corporations and countries have made in pursuing economic growth at the expense of the environment. There was no ‘Third Way or AND in dualistic thinking. It was Or – Win or Lose and the concept of Triple Bottom-line and Planet was not in most leaders’ consciousness, decades ago. It has led and continues to lead to the threat to our existence.

Like Savannah, achieving the perfect balance is sustainable only for a short time. Ballerinas need to move and constantly adjust their body weight to different positions, deploying options like plier (to bend), etendre (to stretch), relever (to rise), sauter (to jump), tourner (to turn), glisser (to glide), and elancer (to dart).

Coachees and Coaches need to hone diagnostic skills – determine when to change, adapt, and invent new positions in order to creatively manage tensions between two or more legitimate and seemingly conflicting goals; knowing the inherent limits and associated risks of focusing on the extreme (one goal e.g. costs) and recognizing Early Warning Signals (at the detriment of quality and safety). When undue attention and focus are given to only one side of the picture, it results in decisions which are tunnel vision and out of kilter. We are unable to adopt a holistic, systems-view – seeing only parts of the elephant, not the whole.

Problems can be solved. Paradoxes or polarities, dualities, dilemmas are life-long challenges which need to be continuously balanced. Helping clients differentiate problems where there are solutions Vs paradoxes, is the first step. 

Like Savannah, we need to change the lens through which we view life and adjust our vision accordingly. By widening our lens and adopting a 360 view, we can be more sensitive to ecosystems and the impact of each link, especially the weakest one, on the entire chain. If unattended, weakest links flip Virtuous Circles into Vicious ones.

Balance is NOT the same for everyone.

Every one of us has our own unique bio-rhythm so balance is not the same for everyone. Energy flows vary through the day with individuals and among them. Helping coachees identify their unique patterns and the extent to which these patterns serve their purposes is a first step.

Coachees can decide whether to break and/or build new habits by managing their focus and energy. These variables will enable them to be highly productive and effective. The key to breaking and building habits is motivation – the extent to which the individual feels a compelling need, wants to be and is committed to change – the Grit they possess. Many people say they do want to change but when the rubber hits the road, are not motivated to do so nor are they totally convinced that they should.

Crises, although reactive measures, stand greatest chance is getting individuals to make drastic changes. Nothing changes one’s unhealthy habits than cancer scares! Crises trigger re-evaluation of values, priorities and balance in life – it is one of the challenges leaders face in trying to attract and retain talent post-Covid. The new workforce have discovered work life outside an office setting and for some, hybrid is a way of providing balance.

The next lever of change is making it EASY for individuals to take baby steps towards the change, building in triggers in daily routine e.g. hitting the floor to exercise the minute feet touch the ground. PQ Reps which Coach Shirzad Chamine recommends in his course on Positive Intelligence. 

Celebrating the small wins of low hanging fruits is important to recovering balance.

Re-balancing is always needed

A natural phenomenon which forces review and re-balance is ageing. It is normal for some individuals to face a number of ‘mid-life’ crises – reflecting on what really matters, who they are, being comfortable in their skin and settling on their philosophy of life and hopefully, wisdom.

Disruptions are the norm in a VUCAH (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous and Hyper-connected) world, forcing constant re-evaluation and the need to re-balance. Life skills include agility – the speed of recognizing the need for change; the willingness and ability to change beliefs, assumptions and mind-sets; the appetite and capacity for unlearning and learning. Transition management skills are key in enabling the re-balancing process and like paradox management, requires mastery, life long.

For coaches, balancing the forces and pressures of life is intrinsically challenging and satisfying when we can model the competency and help others cope.

*Source: Li CL. 

We would love to hear your views on this. Please write to mentors@terrificmentors.com 

20 January 2023