Polarisation is a phenomenon where 2 people (or organisations) who actually hold similar views end up having a problem with each other on something where they largely agree!
Here’s an example.
A boy and a girl decide to go out with each other. He wants to see her 4 times a week, and she wants to see him 3 times a week. What happens is that in the first week, they see each other 3 times and all is well. Then he phones her to arrange the 4th date that week and she declines.
He still wants to see her 4 times so he phones her the next night and perhaps they go out. She has spent more time with him than she wanted so doesn’t phone him to invite him. He keeps calling so they can go out and she does go out with him again.
By this point, the girl (who still likes the boy) doesn’t call him- she has other things she needs to do. The boy starts to feel paranoid- he always calls her, she never calls him, and she often turns him down. The girl is starting to feel chased and not able to have free time.
This situation can get more acute (including the girl refusing to come to the phone!), with the guy feeling unwanted and the girl feeling chased... all because she wants to date the guy 3 times a week and he wants to date her 4 times a week.
The relationship is now at risk of the boy dumping the girl because she “obviously” doesn’t like him or of the girl dumping the boy because he is harassing her. All because they had a slight difference!
There are lots of instances of this kind of problem- learn to recognise polarisation in all kinds of circumstances. Another example:
Two guys laying concrete: One guy likes finishing the concrete a bit neater than the other and will often “finish off” the work of the first to be helpful. The first guy may be upset that the second guy isn’t concentrating on laying more concrete and the second guy may get upset that the first guy isn’t doing a good enough job.
What might then happen is that the first guy habitually does the first bit of the job, leaving the second guy to sort out the rapidly setting concreate. The first guy is trying to get the second guy to take less time and care over the finish. The second guy, on the other hand, feels abused and uncared for. He’s working really really hard but it’s never good enough for the first guy.
The solution to polarisation is unbelievably simple. Yes, it is difficult to do, but when you see it working you’ll fall in love with the technique.
I can’t tell if it’s easier to fix polarisation if both sides consciously work on it- there are other dynamics that come into play... so here is how to resolve polarisation on your own: Do the opposite of your current behaviour.
The more thoroughly you do it the quicker you’ll get a result and change things around. In the examples above:
- The girl can resolve the polarisation by phoning the guy every night for a date for as long as it takes for him to start turning her down.
- The guy can stop phoning the girl for a date for as long as it takes for her to invite him out (phoning might be okay but he must not ask for a date)
- The first concreting guy can stop getting new concrete poured and just work on the finish. The second guy will then start getting new concrete poured.
- The second concreting guy can move towards getting more concrete poured and leave the first guy to finish all the poured concrete.
If you decide to depolarise there are some things you should know:
- Don’t depolarise spitefully- do it kindly or it will backfire.
- Don’t say anything of what you are doing- that is counterproductive.
- Depolarise passionately- any relapses stretch out the timescales.
I’ll give you an example from my own life. My eldest son kept asking me if he could come to the office to play computer games. This became annoying and I started turning him down as my default reaction. He spoke to his Mum and she advised him how to depolarise. My son then didn’t ask me for permission to go to the office. After a week or so I spontaneously invited him... and I didn’t even know he was depolarising!
Polarisation is a real effect and depolarisation can be achieved quickly by reversing the rules of the game.