Seeking objectivity

Working in the FWA meant bringing an approach to the helping experience, whether with individuals or organisations, that involved attending to the emotional nature of the work, to the underlying dynamics of the human encounters and to the interplay with one’s own internal life. The conviction was that the basis for intervening with others was focussed attention to one’s own emotions and learning, to attend to how people and environments make one feel as a source of understanding. This is a concept that invites scepticism and is counter to some more conventional analytic disciplines in which the self is put to one side in seeking objectivity. Its use within psycho analysis has not helped its respectability as a scientific approach. However, the Social Sciences have struggled with the search for objectivity. Attention to the scientist / observer as an active participant in the behaviours being observed is just as familiar to social anthropology where the impossibility of objective assessment in which the observer is detached from the observations, forced the science to adopt participant observer techniques. Psychology experiments too have had to allow for the Hawthorne effect and allow that the observer is an active participant in human behaviours being observed, however elaborate the attempts to achieve detached objectivity.

Despite the awkwardness of the writing about that experience in the FWA, this fundamental approach has always informed how I engaged with organisational and management issues. One advantage of this way of thinking is that it allows subjective responses to be not only noticed and explored by oneself, but to open that subjectivity to the scrutiny of others. This seems to me a safer way of proceeding than imagining that an objective view can be inhabited, an approach that so often sits alongside powerful but hidden prejudices.

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