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The Attraction of Opposites


The most exciting attractions are between two opposites that never meet. – Andy Warhol

At a dinner party the other day, the general chatter was directed to the subject of how opposites attract. Since most of the guests were either married or in committed long term relationships, there followed a lively exchange of how they each were different and the ways in which it contributed to either strengthening or exhausting the relationship dynamic.

We are surrounded and held by the relationships we forge with those around us.

Whether in a personal context, or a work related one, the same principles apply – we want sameness, people like us, yet are attracted to opposites. We seek people with complementary skills and end up with people just like us!

How can we make sense of this Attraction of Opposites without letting it drive us completely insane?

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. – Niels Bohr

Here’s what some of the dinner guests had to say:

“I am a planner and like to make to-do lists and plan in advance and need to know where i stand and where I am going. He is not – he will lounge around until it absolutely has to be done , and then he will spring into action driving me absolutely crazy in the process! He is content to only live in the moment, and takes each day as it comes with all its surprises”.

“I am extroverted and approach relationships a lot more easily as I am outgoing, gregarious and have more of an overall social streak. She is shyer, quieter and the classic introvert, taking time with relationships, entering them cautiously after much deliberation. As a result I have many friends of a casual nature that last for the duration , hers are fewer, but lasting”.

“He can watch sports endlessly with his beer cans and buddies and I am just supplying food and snacks without a backward glance! Drives me insane. On the other hands when I watch a TV show of my choosing , whether it is a chick flick or a historical drama- he leaves the room to do other things. What’s worse, if I cry over a movie, he says it makes him want to stick a fork in his eye”!

Sound familiar? And yet most of these relationships appear to work very well!

The very same couples report that they are also alike in a lot of ways, in the ways they viewed their family life and the world at large,  in the way that they liked to laugh and joke around a lot, in the way that they don’t push people around and don’t like to be pushed around either. It appears  that if you have respect for your partner, then it is almost easy to respect  the differences and accept each other for who they really are.

At work, you will sometimes hear these comments:

“There is no new thinking or initiative or innovative ideas around here- everyone sits around waiting for me to tell them what to do! ”  – Thats a troublesome situation as it appears to be loaded with multiple Leadership issues that need to be addressed.

Or , “This team is in constant chaos- everyone seems to have an idea that is in direct conflict with someone else’s. It is exhausting to always be trying to move the team to consensus” – indicating a vastly different set of issues to be diagnosed and  corrected.

What it all boils down to is this. Most people are naturally drawn to people who are like themselves. It is what John Maxwell calls , the Law of Magnetism.  This happens at an almost invisible, subconscious level, without our realizing it. Who we are is who we attract.

And although, outwardly, we look for people as unlike us as possible, because we find them entrancing in their dissimilarities, these relationships usually do  not stand the test of time.

And as the saying goes, Opposites may attract, but similarities endure.

Couples who are a combination of opposite traits, do not grow apart when they eventually morph into this combined identity of similar traits. It has often been suggested that long standing couples almost begin to look like each other. Rather likes pets and their owners!

In a work context, too much sameness would kill growth. We need complementary skills in order to thrive. We therefore have to be mindful during the hiring process, not to hire too many people who are just like us.  That is the Cardinal Rule for Instant Failure.

Instead, we must encourage the different traits in team members that most complement each other and ensure that they work harmoniously together. There is nothing worse than having opposite skills and not work well together!

The bottom line is,  in a professional context, we should seek people who think and solve problems differently than us, but who have the same values and vision- so that, like a good marriage, we respect each others differences, yet build something that will last, by having a common outlook.

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Categories : Relationships


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  3. atoru says:

    Nice topic – respect !

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