Psychoanalytic Theory at Work

For decades many authors have explored the use of psychoanalytically informed perspectives not so much to understand what happened but why it happened? Why did she do that? Why did he say that? Why did others react the way they did? We are therefore primarily focused on the why of the journalist’s motto—who, what, where, when, and why. Very often in the news the why of what happened becomes the ultimate goal of reporting and for many, in the event of a tragedy such as a mass shooting or bombing, an obsession. We have used psychoanalytic theory over the many years to understand “why” because it offers many good insights not available from any other perspective. Chapter 3 is devoted to articulating three psychoanalytic theories and perspectives that we have found to be valuable in terms of interpreting and explaining toxic organizational life.

We hope to show that a psychodynamic perspective makes intuitive sense to the reader as we travel together on this journey. We leave it to the reader’s judgment to decide whether a view of organizations from the inner life makes emotional as well as intellectual sense because the reader can identify with the organizational experience of the poet and his story. Thus, the ultimate litmus test of the poems, their stories, and the use of psychoanalytic theory is whether they resonate with you the reader, as if to say: “That happened to me, or it could have happened to me, and I realize there are ways of understanding why it happened to me and my response to what happened.”

Exploring the Nature of the Triangulation

In this book, we use psychoanalytic theory triangulated with two other dimensions of organizational understanding—workplace poems and stories. We use the word triangulation with a specific intent. First, it underscores our tripartite approach to understanding the workplace in this book. Second, and more fundamentally, it offers a way of understanding and representing the complexity of our approach that needs to be highlighted.

A triangle, as a geometric structure, has all its corners clearly set apart but also implicitly in communication with each other. The corners—the applied poetry, the workplace stories, and psychoanalytic theory—are linked together, creating a synergistic whole. It is this nature of a systemic conceptual linkage that we wish to emphasize, even though the constituent parts are, to coin a new word here, interconceptual. We believe that these paradigms of knowing the workplace, when taken together, create a bold new way to study, know, and understand our lives at work. Embracing this sense of a whole, where ( 1 ) poetry and stories inform experience, and psychoanalytic theory informs analysis, and (2) the three are placed into the context of toxic organizations and the workplace, is essential to understanding organizations and workplace experience. We approach our work in the balance of this book with this metaphor in mind.

We believe that this approach offers the opportunity to sense the workplace and to reflect upon and understand this experience, using perhaps the only approach that we have to understand not only who, what, where, and when, but also WHY. “Why,” we suggest, is critical in terms of understanding the sensing, images, and metaphors evoked by poetry and stories that often deeply resonate with hearers and readers for reasons that are unconscious and are rooted in the past. These transferences that come forward from life experience into the present are the critical data we wish to work with. These are the data of psychoanalysis.

The applied workplace poetry provided here confirms that much of organizational life is driven by irrational, often destructive, unconscious forces, rather than by techno-rational, objective decision-making, informed by enlightened self-interest. This appreciation makes clear that bureaucratically structured workplaces with their dysfunctional as well as functional organizational dynamics are not simply logical creations but are creations permeated with unacknowledged unconscious desires and motivations. Life at work does not always make sense until it is, we suggest, examined through the conceptual lens we provide in this book.


The triangulation of applied poetry, context setting stories, and psychoanalytic theory that we use serves as an instrument for making sense of workplaces, and we suggest that together they can help workplaces to heal. We hope that you as reader will find this approach to be engaging, thought provoking, and informative. More than anything else, we have written this book in order to make its ideas more accessible and useful to the reader.

Chapter 3 provides descriptions of the three complementary psychoanalytic theoretical perspectives we have found to be especially informative in terms of using them to understand toxic organizations, their dynamics, and the work experience of their members. Starting with Chapter 4, the

Applied Poetry and Storytelling 27 analyses offer many insights into how the theory may be used to understand toxic organizations and the applied poetry that they inspire.

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