The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Overdoing negative connotation

Over the last weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to provide some clients with a PAPI profile and to discuss its hypotheses with them. It led to very interesting conversations about their preferred style of working and what inspires them in their work.

These exchanges brought me to think more about our use of language and how it reflects the culture we find ourselves in.

A working environment always provides the possibility for leadership, space for competition, the need for authority, a desire and sometimes a need for control, as well as the presence of hierarchy and roles. As such, these words describe something neutral. They are sources of the dynamic in a group.

However, most of the people I discussed with felt that these words talked about something they wanted to avoid or felt they shouldn’t be involved in. Most certainly also why they had chosen to work with this team.

It would be easy to think about these individuals as people who don’t want to take up responsibility or who, for example, avoid control. But that was not the case. Some worked hard to control how I would perceive them; others studied the questionnaire in depth to understand what it was helping them to learn.

And yet, there is something none of them had investigated. They were focused on the negative impact these terms had meant to them in the contexts they had worked for in the past. They had not taken the time to investigate how group life is organized and what it implies for them individually.

Leadership for example was confused with activities they saw as reserved for others higher up on the hierarchy. Competition was understood as being compared with others. They feared the possibility to be seen as less valuable for the team. And control was assumed to be how their errors would be uncovered. They saw it as leading to negative consequences for them.

The negative connotations they saw were all linked with the potential for becoming a victim as an individual.

What they didn’t pay attention to was the need for the team to organize itself. They had no visibility on how their work contributed to achieving the work the organization had hired them for.


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