Are You Impressed? An Exploration of the Pressure to Perform and Impress from the Perspective of an Organisational Development Consultant
Larsen, Sune Bjørn
Consultants are under pressure to perform and project an image of themselves as competent and credible within the practice of organisational development. Wanting to create a good impression is inherent in most human interaction and consultants may wish to appear knowledgeable, trustworthy, ethically aware or relaxed because it has an impact on the relation, the task and their sense of self. Being caught up in trying to impress clients and avoid disappointment might have negative implications. It might deflect the consultant’s attention from first, the patterns of behaviour in groups and the relational character of organisational development and secondly, from the politics and ethics of the situation. Impression management requires careful ethical consideration because it has consequences for others, and it expresses and influences the sense of self for the consultant as well as for the clients. I have employed auto-ethnography as a broad methodological approach to describing narratives and reflexively inquire into them. The narratives explore micro-interactions that build, threaten and develop the client-consultant relationship from the perspective of a Danish consultant within organisational development working primarily in the public sector. In this thesis I incorporate a dramaturgical view on consultancy as a performance where individuals are trying to manage the impression they make on others (Goffman, 1959). Drawing on Elias’s processual sociology (1978) and Bourdieu’s understanding of power (2005), I argue that the individually experienced need to impress is a pressure in relation to clients. Impressing clients in particular ways is an inevitable part of the politics of consultancy within organisational development. Impression management is entangled with power whereby the consultant always engages in political and moral struggles rather than acts as a neutral helper. The emotional reactions to disappointing or impressing people are related to the pressures created by the political and economic conditions of consultancy. I suggest that reflexive inquiry creates possibilities for consultants to gain detachment from the pressure to impress as competent, knowledgeable, helpful, and decisive, which might enable them to pay more attention to how politics and ethics work within the role of the consultant. Impression management is relational but is also individual at the same time because it expresses the consultants’ identity and ethical position. The thesis proposes Ricoeur’s notion of mutual recognition (1992, 2005) as an ethical approach to take others seriously within consultancy in organisational development. Taking clients seriously in the spirit of mutual recognition implies that consultants strive to give an honest account of themselves to take a position and yet listen to others and be open to changing this position at the same time.
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