bellThrough facilitation, coaching and mentoring we can help you with…
  • Paradox & tensions management (see below)
  • Project development
  • Strategic planning
  • Negotiation preparation
  • Group facilitation
  • Team development

Paradox and Tensions Management

Imaginarium Learning and Development offers a genuinely unique service in Paradox & Tension Management, based on the book “Solving Impossible Problems.”
A number of management and organisational gurus (eg. Charles Handy, Chris Argyris) have written about the paradoxes in organisations, but until now very little work has been done about how to resolve and/or work with them.

Paradox Management could save you time and money if (on some level) your organisation & staff ever suffer from the following symptoms of unresolved paradox:




What is Paradox Management?

  • Paradox is defined as “a seeming contradiction that may nonetheless be true”.
  • Paradoxical Thinking is the process of thinking in terms of opposites and polarities.
  • Paradox & Tensions Management is the learnt ability to resolve and/or work with the contradictions, conflicts and dilemmas in any given context.
    • Individual (eg. personal issues)
    • Managerial (eg. management dilemmas)
    • Organisational level (eg. inconsistent systems & strategies).


We have identified nine basic types of paradoxes that occur within organisations:

Type What is this? Example
1) Polarity The underlying opposition or contradiction. Autocratic vs democratic leadership.
2) Double Bind Where it doesn’t matter if you act or don’t act, you feel like you’ll lose. I could go to the meeting and get verbally attacked, or not go to the meeting and get attacked without being there to defend myself.
3) Dilemma Where you have trouble deciding between ‘a’ or ‘b’, or feel stuck between two or more opposing forces. Should we choose candidate X or Y?
4) Self Reference Circularity caused by something referring to itself. On a leaflet: “If you cannot read this, we have this leaflet in a range of other languages”
5) Vicious or Virtuous Circle Circularity driven by a series of cause-effect events that loop back to the original cause. I am not assertive because I lack confidence and I lack confidence because I am not assertive.
6) Self Fulfilling Prophecy Circularity caused by the ‘paradoxee’ expecting a certain outcome and hence looking for the evidence of it. We expect to lose the contract, so we don’t put much effort into it, so we lose the contract.
7) Knots Creating the opposite to what was intended. People who are good at what they do get promoted to their level of incompetence (known as the ‘Peter Principle’).
8) Unintended Consequences Taking action brings about unforeseen (usually negative) result. A ‘Health & Safety’ initiative is introduced to reduce the amount of accidents. However, more accidents are reported as a result because people’s awareness has been raised about reporting accidents.
9) Logical Paradox A statement or event that contains apparently simultaneous contradictory concepts. A manager tells their staff to “be more spontaneous”. If they are spontaneous it is only because the manager has told them to be and hence they are not being spontaneous.


As the rate of work and change accelerates, pressure will grow and expectations will become higher and higher. This means organisations (and the people in the organisations) will be facing more paradoxes more frequently.


Unresolved paradoxes can lead to high level conflict, upset, depression, paralysis, intense stress and wasted money, time and resources. Unresolved paradoxes can also manifest in high staff turnover and companies going out of business.


Often problems are perceived as irresolvable but Paradox Management can help to get to the real underlying issue quickly and then enables an easier realisation of effective, long-term solutions.

The Imaginarium Paradox Management approach provides a toolkit of strategies that can be used at an individual, managerial and organisational level to ‘blow out’ paradoxes and hence remove problems.

As well as removing a problem, managed paradoxes can also generate leading edge systems and innovative strategies.