Poles apart? How to find the in between.

We’re halfway through an election campaign in Australia and I’m wondering where the grey has gone.

Politicians take up more positions than a ballet class and they reverberate loudly in the echo chambers of social media.

Red or blue

Green or Yellow

Right or left

Who’s talking for the inbetweeners?

I often find similarly strongly held positions when I’m helping groups collaborate.

Sometimes, people’s positions are held so strongly that they need two chairs. One for them and one for their position.

It’s supposed to be a collaboration but can feel like a competition.

Rather than an opening welcome, it can feel like you’re firing the gun at a starting line.


My way or the highway.

Win or lose.

Black or white.

It can take quite a bit of effort to find the grey. But you need it if there’s any chance of moving from diverging to converging views, and maybe even reaching consensus.

You’d think it would be a really easy colour to mix. Just a bit of black, a little white et voilà!

But no.

Getting to the grey in between takes time and practice.

It’s the same with painting.

You need to understand the strength and tone of the primary colours you’re mixing on the palette. That acrylic, oil and water colour behave differently.

And then it’s all about proportions.

Judging when to pull back takes experience.

You can’t include every colour otherwise you end up with a muddy, murky mix that won’t work. And you have to start again.

It’s nuanced and absorbing. No wonder time flies in my studio. I reckon it strengthens my work helping people to collaborate.

So when we find ourselves trying to help a group find common ground, perhaps we can think of opposite positions as colours. They could prove to be psychological complementaries.

Remember in primary school? The teacher told you to stare at a red spot, look at a blank piece of paper, and green slowly emerged.

Red or green won’t mix. Red and green make grey.

Same with blue and orange.

A simple shift of the words in between.

Next time we encounter people holding firmly onto for or against, perhaps explore how might we work with for and against. What’s in between them?

Find out by walking in another’s shoes, exploring values and learning what each person brings to the discussion. Their strengths, interests and passions.

Whether it’s with community members working with technical experts to find a way through vexed planning issues, people who use health services and those who provide them or academics and industry finding ways through their different cultures to work together.

Like the young women choosing to embrace grey hair, either a la natural or dyed, it’s not about fading to grey (with apologies to Visage).

Grey might be neutral but it’s not dull. It brings out the best in brighter primary colours.

So, while it might initially seem like a choice between me or you, black or white, green or red, look for the greys.

me and my position_small.jpg