Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Someone from the outside could probably figure out the theories-in-use of our boss, our leader (or me as educator), after watching them in operation for several weeks (or maybe just a couple of hours). The outside observer would note that the employee receiving feedback from the boss seems to be quite anxious when confronted by the boss and is not really paying much attention (seeking instead to identify the reason for their behavior or reason to blame someone else for poor performance). It might be even easier to identify the leader’s (or my) theory-in-use, for it is displayed in a very public place: the leader’s organization seems to always be in crisis, at least in part because the leader is always acting in an erratic and dehumanizing manner. My students and I are sitting on our derrieres and just talking–no one complains..

It is remarkable for each of us to note how “blind” we are to our theory-in-use – or how reticent we are to acknowledge that this is the theory we are actually using most of the time in our relationship with other people. Argyris and Schon have offered us valuable insights about our own behavior—though we are often unwilling to act upon these insights. It is not just that these insights are uncomfortable for us to hear and act upon. It goes much deeper than this. Our theories-in-use are often self-fulfilling (we get what we expect). Our employee doesn’t do anything different after we offer the feedback. Our organization can legitimately be considered “in crisis.” My students declare that they are “learning” even though not doing anything other than talking. This justifies our actions and reconfirms our theory-in-use. The condition in which we find ourselves and upon which we base our actions is “real” – but we are not being “realistic” (or honest) about our own complicity in bringing about these conditions.

There is yet another ingredient that contributes to our lack of theory-in-use awareness: no one is telling us what is really occurring. There is no “person from Mars”, or if there is this neutral observer, they don’t want to confront us with the “bad news”. They have their own theory-in-use about us:

“This person won’t listen to what I have said and will never change.” or

“It is too dangerous to tell the truth!”

We end up looking a lot like the subordinate we identified earlier who never seems to change. Conversely, the theory-in-use of the neutral observer often concerns their own credibility or neutrality:

“I might not be seeing what is really happening” or

“I have too much at stack in viewing this situation to be in any way objective.” or

“I shouldn’t say anything at this point because I might be wrong” or

“I might be biased.”

The resulting decision takes place in the observer’s mind:

“I will remain quiet, even if asked what I have observed.”

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About the Author

William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: www.psychology.edu) offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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