Nuanced thinking is always better. Well, almost always
Method A is ridiculous!
Approach B is the way to go!
Things should be like this! Or like that!
We’re surrounded by strong opinions. That’s not surprising, since nuanced thinking can be a struggle. And it often gets less attention—on social media and in real life.
But nuance not only makes working together easier and far more pleasant, it can also help you get more done. (In the interest of nuance, I have to add that there are of course situations you can think of where nuance can be counterproductive.)
Our brains are on the lookout for shortcuts, to conserve energy. That can make us favor easy takes or think that ideas we like are also the best ideas. Here are some of the many ways our brains can mislead us:
The stronger an idea is communicated, the easier it is for us to mistakenly think “Huh. Must be something to that.”
Few things are clear-cut
Oversimplify matters, and they’re easy to follow. Make a nuanced case that highlights a number of competing views, and our brains have to work harder, especially if we have to explain our own view. And so we often choose the easy route.
But of course very few things are wholly good or bad. There’s almost always a range of options or different ways to look at an issue. And the best part? There’s rarely only one solution.
Keeping that in mind makes you more attuned to what others contribute, and that makes you a better coworker, friend, or partner.
A sliding scale makes progress possible
I love the idea that things are seldom black and white and that you can express nearly everything as a nuanced scale. It’s a more relaxed way to look at the world.
Take personality traits. Turns out you’re likely not a hardcore morning person or a night owl after all, but fall somewhere between these two extremes. That makes tweaking your habits—if you’re looking to make a change—suddenly more doable.
And if being a slob is 0 and being a neat freak is 100, then maybe you’re a 78 and I’m a 64. It’s usually not possible to measure such things precisely, and we don’t need to. What matters is that having a scale can be clarifying and just more pleasant, really, because it’s easier to do things a little bit better, one day at a time, than to think you have to become a completely different type of person.
Want to be a better communicator? No need to try to be the kind of person who communicates perfectly from now on. It’s not a switch you can flip. But you can decide today to put more time and attention into the emails you write this week. That’ll bump you up a few notches on the communicative scale. Once you’ve tackled emails, you can take the next step—whatever you decide that is.
You can apply this principle to all kinds of things you want to get better at. We never write perfect code. Or perfect prose. Our work won’t ever be absolutely flawless. (Or hopeless, for that matter.) We’ll never be an absolutely perfect friend or parent or partner. Let that idea go, and you’ll make room to do things better and better, in small doable steps, starting wherever you are.
It also means you can drop the charged discussions of everything from Are we a hopelessly racist country? to Is our project documentation in perfect order? Such questions are senseless, because a simple Yes or No doesn’t begin to cover it.
Instead, you can ask: How can we all do things a little better?
Have a good week!