Other Side Consulting - Saving the world one manager at a time

What does my manager really want?

When people talk to you, they are also talking to themselves – so rather than getting entirely caught up in what their words mean for you ask: What are they trying to tell themselves, even if they don’t know it?

Googling Freud quotes is, to paraphrase Freud himself, never time wasted. I was particularly enamoured with this one this morning:

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'”

 This is pretty infamous Freud stuff which lots of people have criticised over the years, from feminists pointing out the rampant misogny not very neatly hidden beneath the façade of an old white man claiming to ‘study’ the feminine soul to behavioural psychologists explaining with careful experiments that the soul is simply a set of behaviours to John Gray in 1992 showing us that he had figured out that women are in fact from Venus.

All of this criticism and conjecture is actually pointing in the wrong direction. Freud was not really talking about ‘a woman’ at all, nor was he talking about ‘all women’. He was actually (even if he didn’t quite get it at the time) talking about the Other, which for Freud took the form of ‘a woman’, possibly because of his various traumatic encounters with his famous woman patients – Dora, Anna O and others.

The concept of the ‘Other’ is not new, in fact its been around for as long as we humans have. I tend to think of it as a bit of an enigma, a thing that is most easily defined as “not me”: That is – anything that is not me (or for you, you). One of Freud’s followers, the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan took the idea of the Other and pimped it, perhaps better said he radicalised it – for him it became radically Other, so Other in fact that when we are confronted by it we must defend our own identities. Freud did this by pointing to his own career, his intimate and delicate work over three decades, his dedication to the task – rebuilding his identity as a clinician and scholar when confronted by this radical Other he simply could not answer.

My co-author of this book (that’s Roger) often tells me a story about a contract job he had. This job was a 0.8 job, i.e. it was only for 4 out of 5 days in the working week, and it has a defined period (8 months I think) – but he could choose when he was working and when not. This kind of flexible work is common in this area of late capitalism, it seems to be the perfect solution to busy lives – but it underlines, and highlights Freud’s question, written through the world of work ‘What does my manager want?’ One morning Roger and I were having a coffee catch up, it was before 9am on a spring day and we were chatting about writing 1000 lessons. His manager unexpectedly walked into the café, spyed Roger and said “I hope this isn’t on my time!” before chuckling in a jovial manner and wandering off. Roger laughed, looked mildly uncomfortable, and recounted the various mechanisms that the other office staff used to hold him account: “Early mark today is it Rog?”, “Nice of you to join us!”.

We all know these tactics, we have used them ourselves and used them against our colleagues. The management lesson we can learn from this, taken from Freud’s own experience is actually quite simple – these comments were not intended for Roger at all, his manager and colleagues were talking to themselves. They are attempting to rebuild their identities to stave off the anxiety that threatens to overwhelm them as they fail to recognise themselves in the mirror that is Roger (he’s a lovely mirror actually, I’m a horrible one). His manager said “I hope this isn’t on my time!” in order to rebuild his own sense of control, his Unconscious might have been thinking “I do own Roger, don’t I?, at least some of the time?”. His colleague said “Nice of you to join us!” in order to emphasize her own diligence at always being ‘on time’, no matter what! We could postulate that this diligence is critical for her own identity, so when she sees the Other not being as diligent her Unconscious can’t compute and resolves this by coming out with the quip.

Roger McEwanComment