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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

Change of perspective – Mentalization as an opportunity for your company

In a company, not only business plans but also people always come together. They bring along different attitudes, opinions, perspectives and standards. If we do not succeed in reflecting these in ourselves and others, misunderstandings and conflicts are often the result.

Not only important for managers: The principle of mentalization

Managers in particular have the task of addressing social interactions within the company and resolving conflicts. In order to be able to react adequately in such situations, however, a good “ability to mentalize” is required. This means the ability to perceive, understand and reflect on mental states in oneself and others and finally to be able to give an appropriate meaning to them. If this ability is intact, mental states can be consciously perceived by oneself, colleagues, employees and clients and can be used to shape interpersonal relationships at the workplace.

However, especially in the fast-moving business world, where stress and crisis situations characterise everyday working life, it is not always easy to keep an eye on the thoughts and feelings of oneself and others. For example, the ability to mentalize can be reduced during an individual as well as a collective crises, such as entering a new organisation, taking on a management position for the first time, due to financial constraints or change processes. Frequently, this leads to fallback to modes of thinking that precede the ability to mentalize. These will be described in the following:

Crisis management I: The teleological mode

In the teleological mode, interpersonal relationships are characterized by concretism and dependence on directly perceptible actions of the other. For example, a colleague’s interest in a topic presented in a large team meeting can only be perceived as such by the speaker if the colleague also openly expresses his interest. If he does not do so, the speaker will assume that he is not interested. Only an action of the colleague could change this interpretation by the lecturer. It is possible that after the presentation she actively demands an expression of interest in the topic from her colleague, who subsequently feels misunderstood and harassed by her colleague.

Crisis management II: The equivalence mode

In the equivalence mode, however, the inner reality cannot be distinguished from the outer reality and put into perspective. Inner states such as thoughts, feelings and wishes are experienced as real and generalized. If you are in the equivalence mode you cannot imagine that you can have a thought or a feeling while the other person is thinking and feeling completely different. For example, the lecturer might accuse the colleague of having hostile motives for his or her own behaviour. Other motives, such as a possible insecurity of the colleague to speak in large groups, cannot be considered then. Since the speaker’s motives are already clear and unchangeable for the colleague, she will probably not enter into a discussion with the colleague about his motives and possibly withdraw feeling offended.

Crisis management III: The as-if mode

The last stage is called “as-if mode”. Here mental states and aspects of reality exist unconnectedly next to each other and are partially suppressed. Thus the inner world is decoupled from the outer reality, so that one’s own thoughts, feelings and motives do not form a bridge between the inner and the outer world. In doing so, one can quickly become entangled in excessive self-reflection (hypermentalization). However, this does not really improve the understanding of oneself and others. For the example mentioned above, this would mean that the lecturer would conclude that the colleague simply has no courage to get involved. She knows this too and she should not be angry about his passivity if they want to continue working together. Moreover, as in the mode of equivalence, she could continue to accuse the Member of being hostile. For the speaker, therefore, various possible explanations are possible. However, since these are not experienced affectively, they can also contradict each other and still exist parallel to each other.

Coaching promotes the ability to mentalize

If the mental ability of the members of a company is reduced by individual and collective stress and crisis situations, the motives behind the directly observable behaviour and the associated feelings cannot be connected. To exaggerate a little, in these situations one is trapped in a constructed reality, which often makes it difficult to adapt to the challenges of the working world and to act successfully. Psychodynamic coaching, which focuses on promoting the ability to mentalize, can then be a helpful in regaining and maintaining a good level of organisational functioning. In a joint exploration process, the client learns what he/she thinks and feels in relation to himself/herself and others and how these thoughts and feelings influence his/her behaviour. The exploration of new perspectives by the coach is supported by a secure coaching framework and a dialectical questioning technique, focussing on affects. The aim is to enable the client to gain spontaneous insights, to question his/her previous views and ways of acting and thereby creating the basis for new scope for action and an appropriate handling of reality.

M.Sc. Julia Perlinger

If you are interested in individual coaching, please contact us and we will be happy to inform you about your options.