Complements Attract

by Emily Jasper on September 2, 2010

We know that adage: Opposites attract.

Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way. I think it’s because our true opposite is really too different. Gaps might be filled, but that brings you back to neutral. You may not exactly grow, and change is probably more effort than it’s worth.

When we think about opposites that do work, really, they’re probably more like complements.

Complements, I like to think, are opposites where the they add value for balance. Like the color wheel, red and green are complements. They don’t just symbolize Christmas, but memories, family, winter, vacations, etc. See, you get increased value from the combination because you often consider them together instead of negating each other.

In the workplace, opposites aren’t usually productive. If a dominant manager prefers people to agree with him and get things done, he may surround himself with submissive (or doormat) direct reports. Sure, things may get done, but then what?

A complement to this manager might be someone who is willing to challenge ideas, work out efficient and effect processes, and play a role in making the team better beyond its potential. This complement doesn’t need to be dominating at all, and could be considered an opposite, but they still share a quality: wanting to provide good work.

You take out the layer of competition that often arises with true opposites. Instead, you find yourself united in a goal and focus the energy not used in competing elsewhere.

Of course, we know this is more than true in our personal lives. I recently re-read Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed, and the long-and-short of it is that one couple was so opposite, you constantly wondered how they stayed together for so long. She plays up opposites in the book, and even notes: “I remember that my mother once told me that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.”

The opposite is really the absence, whereas the complement could be something similar in nature but different in presence: love and hate are both passionate feelings. I wouldn’t necessarily say hate is the complement of love, but you see why they aren’t quite opposites when you throw in the option of indifference.

We should think of our lives in terms of complements more often. They go together, and can sometimes be better than we thought.

What kinds of complementary personalities or work styles have worked with your own? Where did you see being complements instead of opposites impact your professional or personal life? Are there times when you really do need to be opposites?

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