6 Ways to Embrace a Both/And Leadership Mindset and Communication Approach

Both/And Leadership MindsetA both/and leadership mindset invites all paradoxical and contrasting points of view to the table, all voices to be heard, and all ideas to be considered. When you welcome and embrace both views on either extreme, you can use all of the conflicting, complicated, and complex beliefs and let them lead you to what will ultimately be a more informed decision or strategy. But first, you need to let go of your idea of what is right and what is wrong.

If you are a leader and often find yourself in sticky disagreements with your team or have been told you have a tendency to be condescending, defensive, or never “lose” arguments, you may fall into the right/wrong thinking trap in leadership. You can learn about what the right/wrong thinking trap is, why it is dangerous, and what the consequences are in part 1 of this article here. 

Interested in learning how to avoid the right/wrong trap by embracing a both/and leadership mindset? Keep reading for six ways you can practice loosening your grip on being right and communicating more collaboratively.

1. Listen to Understand

When you enter into a conversation, try to detach from your point of view and go in open-minded. Even if – especially if – you think you already know the right answer. The key is listening to understand the other person’s perspective.

Focus on hearing and listening to the other person, not on proving them right or wrong. When you listen with an agenda to pick apart their argument or side of the story, your ear is filtering out important information, which is critical for collaboration, connection, and problem solving from an open place. If you enter the conversation with the genuine intention to try to understand their point of view, you will come across as more collaborative.

Try these “Swap out/Swap Ins”:

2. Identify and Focus on Your Ideal Outcome and Goal

What is your overarching goal for the conversation or project? Certainly, your high-level goal is not to be right. If you are leading a team or project of any kind, it is likely that you want to accomplish something as a team for your organization. To meet this goal, you will have to enroll everyone on the team into that mission and foster collaboration, among other things. What is your goal, how can you enroll your team in it, and what will you need from your team to achieve this goal?

If you can focus yourself and your team on your higher-level goal, you will be able to stand on common ground throughout the path to reaching your goal. If you are focused on the ideal outcome, you will also see how you will sometimes need to withhold what you want to say, in favor of doing what is more effective to reach your goal – which is often asking questions, gathering information, and exploring possibilities from multiple perspectives before making a decision. Often, the most effective step you can take as a leader is to withhold your opinion, advice, or judgment so you can open up a discourse for your team. This means you speak last, and give others the floor to voice their POV before opening your mouth.

Try these “Swap out/Swap Ins”:

  • Swap out the need to have all the answers; Swap in leaning on your team to problem solve and fill in details for you.
  • Swap out focus on and adherence to micro goals; Swap in focusing on the higher-level objectives and empowering your team to meet them.
  • Swap out your tendency to jump in with the right answer or path forward; Swap in invitations to consider multiple ways of reaching the ideal outcome.

3. Avoid Using “You” Language in Disagreements

“You” phrases can sound accusatory and therefore trigger someone on the other side of a conversation to be defensive. Problem solving and debating with a defensive person on the other side isn’t exactly productive, so you want to talk with them, catalyzing a sense of “we,” or openness.

Even when you know the other person is wrong, the best way to phrase it to disarm them is to use an “I” statement that places emphasis on how you feel, rather than placing judgment on the other person.

Try these “Swap out/Swap Ins”:

  • Swap out, “You are wrong,”; Swap in, “I disagree,” or “I have a different perspective.”
  • Swap out, “You are making me mad!”; Swap in, “I am frustrated (or mad).”
  • Swap out, “You are making it hard for us to move forward”; Swap in, “It seems we are at a standstill.” This is not to be confused with, “I feel like you are making it hard for us to move forward,” which is just a blame statement masquerading as an “I” statement.

4. Remain Non-Judgmental and Curious

Curiosity is a beautiful antidote to judgment. When you find yourself disagreeing with someone at work or wanting to point a finger or judge an idea, try practicing curiosity, instead.

Asking questions in a curious way — without attachment to the outcome — can disarm the defensive, and can also invite opportunities for quieter voices to emerge. On teams that have psychological safety, all voices are heard from with relative equity. If you want to welcome all voices, you can’t judge ideas as they flow in. To create an environment that welcomes diverging views and ideas, a leader must create the conditions where all team members share ideas and speak up – especially those that may not normally. The most important ingredients here are curiosity and a both/and leadership mindset.

Inherent in curiosity is an openness that requires you to remain non-judgmental of new ideas and adaptable to what might emerge. You can’t be judgmental and curious at the same time, which is one reason curiosity is so powerful. Imagine if your team meetings require all attendees to remain non-judgmental of ideas that are shared. This is a powerful ground rule to establish and model for your team, and the mood of curiosity is the ideal attitude to support that ground rule.

Try these “Swap out/Swap Ins”:

  • Swap out finger pointing and judgmental comments; Swap in curiosity and questions.
  • Swap out being the first to jump in with advice and solutions; Swap in asking your team to begin the conversation with ideas.
  • Swap out a closed-minded attitude to others’ ideas; Swap in an experimentation mindset, where trial and error invites new ideas, learning, and innovation.
  • Swap out your attachment to being right; Swap in the habit of identifying and connecting with the 10 percent that is right on the other side of your argument to find some common ground.

5. Practice Putting Down the Idea of Right/Wrong and Agree/Disagree

Notice when you are tightly grasping onto your need to be “right,” and practice putting it on a shelf so you can initiate collaborative conversations. Notice where and with who your need to assert your “rightness” comes up. When you become more aware of your tendencies, you have more of a choice in what you do with them.

Sometimes your need to be right might be coming from a need to simply be heard and respected. Explore ways where you could get this need met, without necessarily being right.

Try these “Swap out/Swap Ins”:

  • Swap out defaulting to “no” and “wrong” in your judgment of ideas; Swap in open brainstorming ideas of all shapes and sizes.
  • Swap out reacting immediately when you are triggered; Swap in a pause to step back and notice when you are triggered, what you are feeling, and how that is impacting you in the moment.
  • Swap out any need to outright agree or disagree; Swap in welcoming diverse opinions and listening to and respecting all voices.
  • Swap out viewing disagreements like a war; Swap in viewing disagreements like a dance, where both sides are coming from different places with different viewpoints, and you come together to use the strengths of both to create something even better together.

6. When Faced with a Decision to Choose A or B, Choose Both

Leaders are faced with decisions every single day. What is your typical decision-making process? Some leaders look at the pros and cons of each alternative, and choose from there. Those who embrace a both/and leadership mindset can see the benefits of each option, no matter how contradictory they might seem. Those with a both/and leadership mindset see possibilities that incorporate the disparate points of view and find value in the paradox. They are open to changing their mind and creating an entirely new path forward, incorporating the tension between opposites.

Try these “Swap out/Swap Ins”:

  • Swap out the need to make a quick decision; Swap in the opportunity to sit with possibilities for various outcomes.
  • Swap out the need to find resolution; Swap in the ability to hold uncertainty and discomfort.
  • Swap out the tendency to go with your first choice; Swap in curiosity for learning about alternatives.


When the opposites are realized to be one, discord melts into concord, battles become dances, and old enemies become lovers. We are then in a position to make friends with all of our universe, not just one half of it.”
Ken Wilber

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Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler, MA, PCC, is an ICF certified executive coach. She partners with leaders to develop their systems thinking, resilience, strategic communication skills, and executive presence in order to reach individual, team, and organizational goals. She blends more than 15 years of experience in leadership positions in the corporate world, with her master’s degree in organizational leadership and extensive background in mindfulness to help her clients master their leadership skills and steer their teams through challenges and change. Learn more about Melissa here.

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Melissa is the founder and executive coach at Wide Lens Leadership and a Partner at Evolution. As an ICF Certified Executive Coach with a Master's degree in organizational leadership, Melissa has coached hundreds of leaders ranging from C-suite to entrepreneur, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, and across diverse industries. Her work focuses on helping high-performing senior leaders and their teams magnify impact by building trust, collaboration, accountability, and healthy communication skills.