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Psychoanalytic Business Coaching

The Object of Desire – How does psychoanalytically focused business coaching work?

It is well known that the customer’s language is learnt in a joint conversation. The focus is on the aspect of acquiring a kind of knowledge that is not oriented to one’s own needs and wishes. How can the connection between language and knowledge be put to practical use in trade, but also in consulting?

For psychoanalytically focused consulting, the importance of language results from the fact that speaking is directed at someone else and that it always communicates more than what has been said. This extra importance is the hallmark of interpersonal communication and can hardly be controlled. Especially, rationalised work processes in companies and administration try to use language and speech free of meaning-shifting effects. However, everyone knows the situation, that he does not really know how to interpret the content of an email or a comment at a meeting. The open scope for interpretation of linguistic messages can then lead to misunderstandings, fantasies and even fear of persecution.

Regardless of the technical penetration of working environments in the context of “Industry 4.0”, it is not machines that claim the key role for success of companies, administrations and organisations, but communication between people. Beyond this sociological topic, the psychoanalytical view focuses on the self-understanding of the organization members, their individual motivation and willingness to identify with colleagues and superiors. Essentially, it is about the relationships between people.

A little input on the psychoanalytic background: The object in psychoanalysis is not the same object of the physicist or an everyday object in itself, but always the object of desire. In other words: the object in psychoanalysis aims at the question of the function it has for the drive. In so far as the Nebenmensch, “fellow human being” is also an object for the instinct, which he occupies and at which he experiences himself in his own way and obtains satisfaction. Based on its clinical history, the psychoanalytical approach assumes that the object is bound to the signifier, i.e. to language. This means that language qualifies the object: it makes it light or dark, beautiful or ugly, dull or sharp like a knife. It makes an object appear pleasurable or unpleasurable – an important perspective of the psychoanalytic approach.

At the same time, the relationship to the object is imaginary, i.e. it is the target or carrier of fantasies and projections. Accordingly, the object is shaped and deformed in the imagination. The (unconscious) imaginative activity decides what may and may not belong to the object. Even Goethe rhymed in a poem to Charlotte von Stein: “To love us, to understand us without us / to see us in the other, which he never was, / to always go fresh for dream happiness”.

The theme of sexuality assumes that the subject is always already connected with the objects via transference. Considering these dynamics, it also becomes clear how important an accurate distinction between inside and outside is for the process of reaching a judgement.

In order to understand the language of the other, psychoanalysis is not content with rationalization. It asks about the history of an object relationship and listens to the subject of speech. It grants the absurd and unimportant a potential for cognition and also honors nonsense. It reckons with multiple causes and does not stop at once formed knowledge. This is the only way to construct knowledge that lies as close as possible to the truth of the object of interest.

This kind of work on knowledge frees the relationship to the object and to the other by freeing the subject from preconceived illusions. Preconceived knowledge, prejudices and stereotypes can be questioned and abandoned. The knowledge believed for a long time now proves to be raw and undigested. Psychoanalytic work, especially the so-called working through, can be compared with the dissolving effect of enzymes in the digestive process: The undigested mental-thought is subsequently digested and made more tolerable.

Of course, the other is not only the object of a subject’s instincts, he is also the subject himself. The relationship between subjects – be it relatives, acquaintances or colleagues in an organization – can be described colloquially with vocabulary such as sympathy or antipathy, respect or contempt, love or hatred. This describes the external, social relationship between people. Meanwhile, the psychoanalytical perspective is interested in the role of instincts in the design of the choice of object. Urges occupy an object, but they do not know a subject. Nor do they know any respectful relationship; they are not moral.

At this point it becomes apparent why interpersonal relationships so often lead to conflicts even in culturally developed relationship constellations such as families or companies. Urges drive their mischief beyond reason; they demand a kind of satisfaction that can come into conflict with cultural rules. Furthermore, partial drives demand an impossible enjoyment to the extent that it excludes itself from the permitted forms of enjoyment in a society. Because this happens so regularly, however, psychoanalysis assumes that perversions, for example, are part of normal life.

A perversion can, for example, lead a subject to organize his enjoyment exclusively orally, i.e. through the mucous membrane of the mouth – concretely through mouth, throat and tongue, but also verbally through a correspondingly specific use of language. In addition to oral fixation, there are other fixations of the libido. In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) Freud led sexuality out of the conventional view of 19th century biology, according to which its function is exhausted in the reproduction of mankind. Here, childbearing appears as a more or less accidental effect of a complex drive.

From the conformist ideal world of free market economy exchange relations, the work of drives is generally excluded. Here there are clear limits to enjoyment, which are reflected in rules of conduct. The question about the language of the customer is interested in pleasing the customer by approaching him or making him similar. It’s about favor. And yet here, too, the partial drives are constantly pushing in between. An example: The advertising video of a retail chain suggests that retail is “supergeil” (super randy). An expression with blatant sexual connotation. In the video, people eat, drink and bathe full of relish – creams and toilet paper appear. Chewing, swallowing, touching and other pleasurable practices are seductively staged.

Because drives are omnipresent, Freud considered it necessary to think about a grammar of drives. With their help, psychoanalysis explains the manifold dynamics of dives, the effects of which are reflected in everyday relationships between individuals and groups. This aspect should not be left out when dealing with what we know about ourselves and about each other. From a psychoanalytical point of view, ‘knowledge’ is inseparably linked to drives and their fates.


Moritz Senarclens de Grancy

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