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There’s a phenomenon called ‘all or nothing thinking’ which we all indulge in. In fact, it doesn’t really qualify as a ‘phenomenon’, because its more of a habit, a regular one that drives most of our thinking.

We love to organise things in an ‘either/or’ choice and that limits our ability to see things differently and appraise a wider range of options. Taking a step back to think more openly about an apparent choice can open up new vistas.

Our traditional way of thinking (in the West), is adversarial; we like to place things in opposition in order to make a judgement about, for example, which of two ideas or courses of action, is best. This is OK as far as it goes, but it is not well suited to situations where there can be no neat either/or answer.

Many if not most of the questions we must answer on a daily basis come into this category. There are grey areas in most things, and for those we need to think in a more conceptual way (conceptual or abstract thinking is sometimes referred to right brain or creative thinking).

The all or nothing thinking impasse

Nowhere is this more apparent than when two people are in dispute. Time and again I see long running and damaging conflicts that are kept alive by nothing more than this kind of all or nothing thinking which creates an either/or impasse.

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