Organisational psychology: is knowing yourself the key to understanding organisations?

By | November 27, 2013

organizational-psychologyGuest blog by Alumnus Dr Chris Ridgeway, one of the first BSc students at Bradford University School of Management from 1964-67 graduating with a BSc in Business Studies: occupational psychologist; coach; therapist; organisational consultant and occasional visiting academic Atvarios UK,US African and Middle East universities .

In order to understand the motivations of others and to positively influence and engage with them as a leader, you must first fully understand yourself. Do you know yourself? I mean, really understand yourself?

Of course, you might say “I know all about me”. You are fully aware of the frame of reference you use to perceive your organisational world. You know what motivates you and what causes you dissatisfaction. You’re probably absolutely clear about how and why you interact with others in the way you do.

But do you really know yourself?

Now I’m going to be bold here and suggest that you don’t know “you” as well as you thought.

Through this blog, I hope to convince you that it would be beneficial to reconsider your self-understanding – and show you how you can tap into your unconscious mind to uncover hidden thoughts and motivations.

Certainly, to be a good leader, shining a light on your own motivations, pre-conceived ideas and the things that make you tick, is something that you should be doing regularly anyway. To motivate and inspire employees and lead by example is to be aware of how your behaviours can influence others, and also to understand how your personality influences your behaviours.

Developing an understanding of your unconscious self

As well as your conscious self, you also have an unconscious self, which you only partly know and understand, but which probably considerably influences your behaviours.

You also have a self that you consciously hide from others. In addition, you have blind spots that others know about you but don’t share with you.

The Johari Window is a good diagrammic representation of these ideas :

Johari Window

The size of each of the cells in the Johari Window is suggested to be a result of various experiences:

  • Your unconscious self is built upon your early life experiences
  • Your hidden self is a combination of your early life experiences and your organisational situation
  • Your blind spots are a similar combination of early life experiences and your organisational culture or climate

How organisational culture affects openness

The degree to which openness and trust are rewarded in your organisation will, in part, determine the degree to which you hide aspects of yourself. It will also influence the degree of communication about your personal style etc that others will provide you with.

How can you begin to understand yourself better?

If I have convinced you of the value in understanding yourself better, you may now have decided that you need to know more about yourself – that’s great!  But don’t worry – you don’t need to undertake a full Freudian analysis of your unconscious self!

Here are some thoughts about what you could do:

It is assumed that most people will not want to invest the time or money in Freudian or other psychoanalytic programmes. Shorter, cheaper processes do exist .

(1)    Dream analysis – You could do what Freud did and engage in self dream analysis. All of us dream, but few recall and interpret our dreams. It is suggested you keep a notebook by your bed and when you awake from time to time during a dream, you should write down the details of that dream – then reflect on what it may mean the next day. Is it about what was concerning you the previous day, or is something else?

(2)    Free association – Another process you might want to follow is self-directed free association. This involves saying and recording everything (uncensored) that comes into your mind. By understanding the links your brain automatically makes, you can see where your hidden biases or preconceptions may be.

(3)    Joke analysis – An analysis of your conversational jokes or slips of the tongue can provide a useful insight into the workings of your mind. Both are ‘of the moment’ and thus are formed without too much prior consideration of what should and shouldn’t be disclosed. You can therefore tell a lot about your unconscious mind from the things you utter in the heat of the moment.

While it is recognised that some degree of organisational level change may be required for you to behave as an actualised self (see ‘self actualisation’ in Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’), I hope  I have shown that knowing more about yourself will enable you to be an effective and inspiring leader.

Have you tried any of the methods above? Did you find them useful?

Do you think it is important for leaders to be self-reflective? Or should they focus on their employees instead?