I was first introduced to this idea of “binary thinking” when a friend was explaining how simplistically men view sex (!!!)…which wasn’t exactly new news, but I just hadn’t heard it framed that way before. And then I started to notice patterns in my own leadership clients. Interesting concept. Remember the wonderful world of 1’s and 0’s from Computer Science 101? On. Off. Yes. No. Good. Bad. I began to observe this same simplistic pattern of “on” and “off” -ness in their communication style. My client leaders who had a binary communication style or view, were more prone to communication challenges…aha! At a minimum, on one end of the spectrum, leaders were reporting being overlooked/overshadowed, not heard, or not speaking up, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, they were causing fear and withdrawal in others, and the shutdown of ideas – getting things done but leaving dead bodies in their wake.
If you do not see yourself fitting this description, good for you, but I know you know someone who does! This is (unfortunately) quite prevalent, especially in the leadership ranks. I can separate my clients into two categories related to binary thinking/communication. The first being those who have grown up building up their “bossy/dictatorial muscle” leaning on formal authority or practicing intimidation to get things done, sometimes even getting labeled “bully” or “overbearing”. The second being the “quiet/nice/introverted” leader who is prone to not speaking up, but wanting to climb the corporate ladder, learns to become “assertive”. Although opposite starting points, the same end result, 0 or 1.
Over time, two basic skills (muscles) get used: (I know you’ve heard these terms…) 1. Passive – “If don’t say anything I’ll avoid conflict” (I don’t like conflict or I’ve been told I come on too strong or I’m trying to be nice and therefore will not speak my truth); 2. Aggressive – “Hey, at least I’m getting results…what else matters?” (this is my go-to strategy to get things done or I’m tired of not being heard, I’ll make sure they hear me this time! or I’m not being aggressive, they just don’t understand me ). Usually it’s a combination of the two. Hence binary thinking/communication! It’s time to build new muscles!!
BINARY Leaders (belief/view):
0 = Silent/say nothing = GOOD
1 = Speak and create conflict = BAD
…but COMMUNICATION IS NOT BINARY! Please consider another scale – a 10 point scale. To achieve the goal of my favorite mantra: Honoring Self while Respecting Others, optimally you’ll be in the 3-7 range…the finesse zone (courageously speaking your truth (honoring self) deliberately, intentionally, and mindfully, while being respectful (respecting others) and sensitive to the other person’s perspective and viewpoint – taking care to balance)
1 = Silence
2 = Passivity
3 – 7 = the FINESSE ZONE
8 – 9 = Assertiveness
10 = Aggression
This is a pretty simplistic model that leaders understand…in theory anyway. It is much more difficult to implement effectively in the workplace. FINESSE takes practice. And it probably won’t yield perfect results the first few times as you stumble and fumble your way through. Keep at it. It’ll happen and you’ll be shocked (and thrilled!) by how much non-conflict-causing authentic truth you’ll learn to speak! Maybe collaborate and practice with a friend or colleague (they could probably benefit from it as well)? You could also hire “a trainer” to build that muscle…or an executive coach 🙂
Honor yourself while respecting others by shifting out of binary communication!