Look for shades of gray! Why I’ve committed to embrace nuance in 2022

by | Jan 8, 2022 | Blog | 0 comments

Female office worker using digital tablet in cafe in shades of grey

Nuance is my focus word/concept for 2022. Oxford Dictionaries defines nuance as “a very slight difference in meaning, sound, color, or someone’s feelings that is not usually very obvious.”

In practice, being nuanced means being aware of subtle and often complex qualities, aspects, or distinctions in concepts, conversations, and presentations as well as individuals. When you notice nuances, you see the shades of gray between the opposing poles of black and white.

By contrast, if you think in a binary frame (a la black and white), you focus on two alternatives that are usually mutually exclusive. This leads you to oversimplify complex information and classify people, ideas, and things into two polar opposite categories, such as “good” and “bad.”

Why a focus word and why nuance? The objective is to recognize reality rather than retreat into the solace of simplistic stories. We humans tend to be complicated, contradictory, and self-centered individuals, as I wrote in a recent Forbes article, Why we need to embrace each other’s rich complexity (and how to do so effectively). Plus, we live in volatile, complex, uncertain, and ambiguous times. (Yes, VUCA!) We’re not simple people inhabiting a simple world. 

Yet, we’re drawn to simplistic stories that often pit polar opposites, such as right vs. wrong, against one another. These stories are candy to our brain. The human brain likes shortcuts that reduce its cognitive load, which helps the brain preserve energy for potentially more important needs that may arise.

For example, when you chunk things into basic categories, groups, and labels, you can think about them more quickly and efficiently. The simplification you’ve achieved through categorization also makes things feel more certain, especially if you use a binary frame and deal with polar opposites.

But when you oversimplify, you lose the nuances that exist in the people, their narratives, ideas, problems, and everything else. You may think you’re thinking more clearly, but you’re not accurate.

Our simplistic stories also can feature the familiar, especially people who are similar to us. The brain prefers the familiar, viewing people like us as more favorable “friends” than those we perceive as different, the potential “foes.”

When you feel more certain and comfortable with those around you, you’re less likely to be scared, anxious and fearful. As a result, you won’t worry as much about the state of the global pandemic, racial inequities, democracy, the climate, and any other looming existential threats.

While you may enjoy simplistic stories and thinking in black and white, you can get into problems if you avoid the shades of gray. If you don’t see or consider the nuances, you can get very polarized in your thinking. Besides becoming extreme in your views, you can get stuck, clinging to the status quo, and being less comfortable with curiosity.

So for all of these reasons this year I want to push myself to seek out the nuances, sit in the complexity, and hold multiple and complex perspectives simultaneously. And when I have challenges forming a point of view, I can say with a clear conscience “It’s complicated.”

From my perspective, seeking out nuances contrasts nicely with being explicit, which was my 2021 focal word. And I want to continue to be explicit, especially trying to clarify complex information and all types of instructions.

When you’re explicit, you reduce the effort people need to make to figure out what to focus on and what they need to do. You’re serving as a human GPS so it’s easier for them to find their way and follow through.

This is my second year in a row to choose a focal word. What about you? Do you have a focal word or phrase for 2022? If not, you’re more than welcome to join me in being nuanced.


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