The situation described here includes the conversation between the marketing manager in the author’s organisation and the project manager. As the author was a witness to the talk, observation led to the conclusion that the conversation could have greatly benefited from an increased understanding from both parties. This interpersonal situation is deemed to be highly detrimental to work progress and therefore needs improvement. The interaction is considered from the behavioural, humanistic, and psychoanalytic viewpoint to consider possible solutions and receive insights into personality dynamics.
1. Situation Description
Frank Brown, Marketing Manager, has long been confident that the course taken by the project is completely wrong and is doomed to fail. He had long thought that the ideas of our boss were ineffective and unrealistic, but felt reluctant to share this with him. In this conversation, however, he simply exploded, telling the project manager, Brian Graham, what he thought of his ideas.
Frank began by reporting about his findings during the preparation of the marketing plan. As he was sharing his insights, Brian once again expressed his dissatisfaction over delays in Frank’s work. He state: “Once again, you are not able to meet the deadline for your marketing plan. I just remind you that our company places special emphasis on meeting deadlines, as I have already told you more than once”.
Frank seemed very frustrated by this remark and began to justify himself by saying that facts that would support the current direction of business are very hard to find. In essence, what he has produced so far was a brief study of the market that showed limited opportunities for the kind of product the company expected to sell – and therefore turning it into a plan will be difficult, not impossible. In his speech, Frank complained about the boss “limiting his initiative” and lacking “flexibility”.
The boss was listening to Frank’s tirade silently, showing signs of anger with his facial expression.
However, he did not interrupt Frank who seemed really carried away with his emotions. When Frank seemed done with his speech, Brian said: ‘Okay, I have listened to you, and now you will listen to me. You have to be ready with your plan in three days. If you have nothing to show on Friday at noon, we will have to talk about your prospects in this company. Because one thing I want everybody to follow is take a positive attitude toward work and strive to complete every assignment with maximum quality. You do not seem to have it, but maybe I am wrong.”
2. Behaviorist Perspective
From the behaviourist perspective, it is worthwhile to look at the root causes of this situation in terms of external stimuli, stating that psychology is “the science of behavior”, not “ the science of mind” (Graham, 2005). Therefore, the causes of both behaviors should be looked for in the past of both managers, with researcher seeking to arrive at an understanding of what made them behave as they do. For Brian, this understanding can involve behaviors that were learned when he himself was a subordinate. Since his boss used to shout at him in order to suppress any possible disobedience, he learned that this pattern was appropriate for a boss. In his experience, employees have always been there to boss around, not to empower or consult. A research of Frank’s past can reveal that he, in turn, is driven by the perceived lack of rewards in this position. He confided in me at one point that in our organization he feels underpaid and misses the trappings of a managerial position, as in the previous job he was head of a marketing department. His past record also involved numerous conflicts with superiors as he sought to defy their authority; this was the way he learned to interact with superiors and it is not easy to abandon.
3. Humanist Perspective
To explain this situation, one can also invoke humanistic theory that is “reality based…to be psychologically healthy people must take responsibility for themselves, whether the person’s actions are positive or negative” (AllPsych, 2004). Therefore, both managers have to take responsibility for their actions in this situation. Since a human being has inherent worth, the managers should not try to impose on each other’s feelings of self-worth. Instead, they should both opt for communication patterns that will provide the room for the other person’s self-esteem instead of being confrontational. Brian, for instance, can change his attitude to subordinates to a more positive one, beginning to see them as people who are inherently good and are trying to accomplish their tasks effectively instead of accusing them of being lazy or inadequate. For Frank, it can be recommended that he, too, stop seeing the boss as an enemy and rather as one who can provide assistance to him.
Humanistic psychology, in particular, believes that “an individual person already has inbuilt potentials and resources that might help them to build a stronger personality and self-concept” (Wikipedia, 2006). Self-actualization then is a very important concern. Brian, in particular, should be concerned about helping his subordinates meet their goal of self-actualization. Referring to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is possible to see that Frank, with his managerial middle-class job, most probably has his basic needs satisfied. However, he is also in need of realizing needs of a superior order, such as realizing his talents, his insights into business gained in his previous jobs. Most probably, Frank needs to be given assignments in which he can turn all his accumulated experience into positive things for the company, helping them to build new strategies. In this way, his scope for self-actualization will increase automatically.
4. Psychoanalytic Perspective
Finally, the situation can be analyzed from the psychoanalytic viewpoint. In this light, humans “only see a little bit of it (the conscious) peeking out above the vast depths of the unconscious” (Underwood, 2003). Therefore, to arrive at a full understanding of the situation, one needs to analyze it from the viewpoint of what is happening on the subconscious level. Both participants can have their own interior motives that are unobservable to outsiders and perhaps even to them. For instance, Frank may think that Brian resembles his relative or school teacher who regularly mistreated him in his childhood and thus projects the negative image on him. Aggression that was demonstrated by both managers would be attributed by psychoanalytic tradition to the impulses of the id, the unconscious part of the personality that is normally suppressed by the superego and remains hidden, surfacing unexpectedly in such conflicts.
A psychoanalyst would find it useful to investigate whether negative impulses demonstrated by the two are not examples of defense mechanisms(Underwood, 2003). For instance, this can be an instance of displacement: one of the managers may have had a conflict with the spouse, but is eager to take it out at work. Alternatively, this can be projection: Frank may be dissatisfied with his work and boss, but believe that it is Brian who dislikes him.
For both managers, the situation is a difficult one as their communicative abilities obviously need improvement. To make this possible, they in the first place need to investigate the root causes of their behavior. A consideration of their interactions from behavioral, humanistic, and psychoanalytic perspectives can be useful, as each theory provides a unique view of the situation, focusing on certain aspects of human behavior. An approach that would integrate insights from these and other theories could prove really helpful in assisting managers to articulate their communication problems and allow them to find solutions.
The behavioral/social learning perspective states that “cooperative efforts are fueled by extrinsic motivation to achieve group rewards” (Johnson, Johnson, & Holubec, 1998). Individuals tend to repeat actions that result, by their observations, in extrinsic rewards. These rewards have been named group contingencies. Groups strive to achieve the situation when rewards and costs are in balance. Humans in many cases will be motivated by observing and imitating others, reproducing their behavior patterns. Human behavior including interpersonal interactions emerges as a result of interaction between cognitive, behavioural, and environmental factors.
The cognitive approach explains personality as a mental structure that processes information from the outside world with the help of special mechanisms. Each individual has distinct patterns of information processing that differentiate him or her from the rest of individuals. In this light, a person is individualised by this habitual way of information acquisition, processing, retrieving, and storage. A personality is also determined by the way one self-regulates in order to attain certain objectives. Psychological study therefore concentrates on the exploration of these thinking patterns to arrive at a reliable understanding of human personality.
• The theory of behaviourism attempts to explain human behaviour “without making reference to mental events or to internal psychological processes” (Graham, 2005). As such, it can help a person understand human interactions in terms of external stimuli. For instance, analyzing subordinates’ motivation, the manager can focus solely on external motivators: pay, encouragement from superiors, colleagues’ approval. This approach would forego elusive intrinsic motivation. The manager can then analyze external responses, too, instead of internal job satisfaction, concentrating instead on things like discipline, increased or decreased output etc.
AllPsych. (2004, March 23). Personality Theories. Chapter 10: Humanistic Theory. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from http://allpsych.com/personalitysynopsis/humanistic.html
Graham, G. (2005). Behaviorism. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s website at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/behaviorism/
Johnson, D., Johnson, R.& Holubec, E. (1998). Cooperation in the classroom. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Social Learning Theory (A. Bandura). (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2006, from http://tip.psychology.org/bandura.html
Underwood, M. (2003, June 21). Psychoanalytic theories. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/index.html
Wikipedia. (2006, May 4). Humanistic psychology. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanistic_psychology
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