Dignity and respect

Paul Vittles remarked in a discussion that a Human Resource Department should treat everybody with dignity and respect. Off course, one cannot not-agree with this. At the same time, his post points at the central paradox of facilitation:

being open and honest in order to control a situation inhibits openness and honesty
(paraphrased from Chris Argyris).

Let’s consider this case – being rejected by a Human Resource Department for a managerial job – as an example.

Over 25 years ago, the name of our Personnel and Organization (P&O) department was change into “Human Resource Management (HRM)”. I opposed this change in name, as I do not consider myself to belong to resources of an organization. The Kantian in me opposes being treated as a resource, as a means. Human beings should be considered ends in themselves.

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.
— Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)

I’ll illustrate two complications.

1. Naming frames reality because names act as metaphors. Subconsciously human beings project attributes associated with a metaphor on an object. Using metaphors makes life easy, but at a cost: ignoring the parts that don’t fit. So by naming a human being a resource, the attributes of a resource are being projected on the “object”. In fact, it creates an object out of the human being, as most resources, think about food, machines, ore, buildings, cars, belong to the class of inanimate objects.

Some of the attributes make sense in this situation, like paying for your resource. And some don’t, like a salary is not a “price” because you need it “to make a living”. A machine doesn’t “make a living” (pun intended). That both are in the same currency, doesn’t make them the same, a common mistake. Metaphors make recognition easy (facilitate, in a way ; -) ) at the expense of loosing complexity.

This makes sense, when considering an object. However, one should object against calling a human being an object. By naming a human being a “human resource” and not a “human being” (please note the small shift in meaning inside your body), you create an “alternative fact”. Also note that the word “fact” is derived from “facere” to make. Naming makes facts out of processes. A human being should not, never be “enacted”, made into, a thing.

2. Through naming a namer controls the things named. You may have wondered why Adam was made to call the names of the plants and animals in paradise. The story tells us, that you can name in order to become master. Expressing mastery can only be done through expressing.

Off course, “naming” expresses an opinion and – this is a second point in considering an HR-department -, expression of an opinion is associated with power. The paradox of expressing consists of authority, dependency, creativity and courage. Authority implies power differences. A person with authority “demands” respect. Applying for a job makes the applicant dependent on the judgment of “authorities”. It places HR in a one-up position.

There exists a power difference between an applicant and a human resource official. Creating, calling a situation, naming it, making “a fact”, is an act of authority. This makes the created “dependent” on the creator. (This leads to adopting the “conduit metaphor” in communicating, I’ll be back on this). In this case, a position of a General Manager has been created. It takes courage to take up such a position.

A power difference creates a “double bind” (See: Bateson; it is also know as “Catch 22”), in which a subject (note the metaphor concealed in this word) cannot be open, because “anything you say might be used against you”. So, in creating a situation in which we require honesty and respect, we also create opposite of it. And I say “we”, as both parties require from each other not to discuss this situation. A double bind binds both.

When recruiting for a General Management position, we’re having a double “double bind”, as the HR department is also subjected to, dependent on, the general management. If somebody in a one-up position – (aka manager) doesn’t realize this (and most don’t, as “success breeds success – long story skipped), there will be unilateral control, so only the “manager” will be treated with dignity & respect – as (s)he seems to deserve. Asking – as an applicant – for dignity & respect will be treated as “disrespectful”. Also, how do you maintain your dignity, when asking for dignity? See the bind? See he double? That this might be the case, cannot be discussed, because treating with dignity & respect is assumed.

Also years ago, I applied for a general management position through a very well known management recruiter. I had a very good track record from a previous job. We had a very open conversation, in which I explained my ideas on leadership and the double bind. He agreed fully with me and added that this made me both suited for the job and impossible for him to recommend me.

So, there you have it: a set of self-sealing, self-referential processes, that cannot be solved with the way of thinking and acting that created them. In fact, framing this as “a problem to be solved” is part of the (meta)problem. A double bind is not a problem to be solved, as it requires applying a metarule (rule about a rule): “don’t apply this double binding rule”. We’ll have to shift gear and invent new ways and means of communicating.

The nice thing about this, is that it creates the very need for a different kind of facilitating; which I’m currently developing. Happy New Year.

About Jan Lelie

Jan Lelie faciliteert veranderingsprocessen, bijeenkomsten en workshops. Hij is de vader van twee - volwassen - kinderen. Hij heeft het certificaat Certfied Professional Facilitator van de International Association of Facilitators. Hij iis afgestudeerd in Bedrijfskunde (Informatica) en Natuurkunde (experimenteel, Biofysica). Hij ondersteunt de professionele ontwikkeling van het faciliteren als één van de oprichters van de stichting IAF-Benelux en de vereniging IAF-Netherlands
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