Friday, February 27, 2009

The Unconscious at Work in Organizations by Kenneth Eisold

The Carter Jenkins’ Center presented Kenneth Eisold’s lecture on "The Unconscious at Work in Organizations". The objectives were to understand how the unconscious extends beyond individual minds; appreciate the ubiquitous and importance of unconsciousness processes in organizations; and to think about effective interventions.

Drawing on findings from neurobiology, most of the informational processing we do happens in the unconscious. Our brains and muscles begin to act even before the thought of why we are moving in a certain direction occurs to us. This places our motivations out of conscious awareness, while consciousness allows us to plan and make decisions about what we want to do. This view of the differing roles of conscious and unconcious processing explains why therapists take time to help patients see the programs that are all set to get activated.

Conscious Processing

Conscious processing is oriented to survival needs rather than everyday reality including the social vicissitudes of organizations. Eisold noted two flaws in privileging consciousness above the unconscious in understanding interactions in organizations. The first was “user illusion” in which we filter incoming information to put together a story that fits our understanding of the world. We tend to discard anything that challenges us. The second is that a belief is developed and reinforced that we are agents in our own behavior.

Unconsciousness Processes in Organizations and Interventions:

Eisold shared stories about organizational crises that he and his colleagues had encountered in their consulting practices with a focus on problems that arise from a preoccupation with group cohesiveness; giving up authority to a single leader; lack of understanding what makes employees anxious; lack of clarity of purpose. His premise was that organizations have tasks to perform whether it is treating patients, educating students, servicing bank customers or flying passengers to varying destinations. Organizations have a lot of anxieties that are stirred up in the performance of those tasks. Those anxieties stimulate people’s behaviors that are outside of their awareness.

Ordinarily, organizations hire consultants to provide a report on the problem, but rarely do they engage the consultant in helping to bring about a resolution to the problem. Eisold noted that it is management’s resistance to change that often causes the greatest obstacles to creating organizational viability. Eisold suggests that getting the client engaged requires helping them see the problem themselves by engaging them in conversation about the problem over a period of time. While the organization’s management will continue to push the consultant back into the expert role, encouraging a co-consultant relationship will require that management give more of themselves then their conventional reactions. Suggesting a book may help them get interested in the problem and complicate their understanding. Offering a surprising empathic comment can help to build insight such as “if you were to do X, it might make others feel Y. and way the consultani resonating with what management is feeling. These intervention suggestions were characterized by an audience member as a kind of “public therapy.”

Visit Kenneth Eisold's Bog: What You Don't Know You Know

You can't know what is unconscious. At the same time, you do know it because it drives your perceptions and your thoughts, your reactions to events and your emotions. The New Unconscious - unlike the old unconscious of traditional psychoanalysis - is multifaceted, pervasive, encompassing. Inside our minds and outside, in our relations with others, in our personal and our professional lives, it shapes all social and economic relations. It is relevant to government, business, politics, culture.

*Kenneth Eisold is a practicing psychoanalyst as well as organizational consultant. He has written extensively on the psychodynamics of large systems as well as on the organizational dimension of psychanalysis. He is a Past President of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organizations as well as former Director of the Organizational Program at The William Alanson White Institute in New York.

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