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Fall 2024 Course

Polarities: Harnessing the Power of Opposites to Lead and Negotiate in a Complex World

Prerequisite: Students should enroll in this course if they are curious to learn how to engage more productively with strongly held beliefs and conflicting values. Polarities is the study of opposites that need each other over time to succeed. In today’s complex world, the ability to see, navigate and incorporate multiple perspectives is essential.

Exam Type: No Exam
No final paper. See details below regarding weekly assignments.

Lawyers must be skilled at advocacy and inquiry. We must discuss hard truths with candor and diplomacy. We have a duty to follow the law and a calling to evolve it.

We all face situations where our choices feel diametrically opposed, yet neither option is sufficient on its own. For example, should I prioritize my own needs or the needs of others? As a leader, is it more important to focus on action or reflection? Should we agitate for change or honor tradition? Do I want a job that gives me flexibility or provides structure? Is it better for society to value justice or mercy?

How do we deal with situations like these, where the choices seem diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive? Our default is to choose one or the other. But the examples above are a special type of opposites, called Polarities. With Polarities, the opposites are interdependent, and the path to success requires us to pursue both. Some Polarities are simple to see: Our bodies require Rest and Activity. Our lungs must inhale and exhale. But many polarities are harder to navigate: We should find ways to focus on our own needs and the needs of others; effective leaders take action and spend time in reflection; it is useful to promote change and maintain stability; professional workplaces should provide flexibility and structure; and high-functioning societies honor the principles of justice and mercy.

The instinct to “choose” is natural. In fact, it has been key to our survival. The human brain evolved to help us make decisions quickly. The impulse to make Either/Or choices works when faced with a dilemma, but it is limiting when faced with a Polarity. Polarities are all around us – at the law school, in the workplace, in politics, and in society writ-large. Being able to see and leverage Polarities is a critically important leadership and negotiation skill, because it will help you to understand and incorporate competing values.

What you will learn and experience:

In this interactive seminar, we will work as a class, in small groups, and individually to:

  • Understand and apply the Polarities framework to challenges of Self, Leadership, and Society.
  • Learn how to identify, map, and navigate core polarities and apply this new awareness in our own lives, organizations, and the larger world around us.
  • Engage with Case Studies and Role Plays to navigate Polarities in negotiation or conflict situations.
  • Interact with guest speakers selected from the judiciary, law enforcement, and the Foreign Service (Note: guest speakers are subject to availability).
  • Take the Key Polarity Indicator, a leadership and coaching tool that provides customized insight into your preferences and identifies areas for action and reflection going forward.
  • Receive a confidential debrief session with the Professor to unpack the results of your KPI and make an action plan forward.
  • Build the capacity to identify and manage conflicting values with curiosity and respect.

The result of this course will be enhanced leadership and negotiation potential, professional maturity, and a greater ability to unlock the increasingly complex world that awaits after graduation.

Workload: Students should expect approximately 60 minutes per week on class reading, and approximately 90 minutes per week on short reflection papers (2-4 pages) and / or Polarities exercises.

Note: This course will begin on Thursday, September 26 (after the conclusion of TAW). The class will run on Thursdays for the duration of the semester, except October 10 (no class). Students will be asked to reserve one additional date in the event a make-up class is needed. Attendance at all classes is required.

The Polarities course meets the Negotiations class requirement. The Polarities class is complementary to, not redundant of, the Negotiations Workshop. Interested students are encouraged to take both courses.