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Participant Personality Needs and Problems

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part A of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991).


Wherever individuals groups or institutions work to remedy social problems, there is an inability of all concerned to admit openly the psychosocial needs of the individuals and groups involved. It is only in informal discussion, and in the absence of the concerned individual, that there is frank discussion of how to confer a sense of prestige by suitable juggling of organizational procedures and positions, appropriate use of flattery, etc.

The facilitation of individual "ego trips", for example, is often an absolutely essential condition for their further support of a meeting or project. Even when two organizations or initiatives should be merged in the light of all available information, this will be opposed (behind-the- scenes), by the personalities involved, unless their status needs can be fulfilled.

Such concerns, whether for a person individually, or for a group as represented by an individual, are basic to all social action. When they are not even recognized in behind-the-scenes planning, they are recognized tacitly in the dynamics of interaction with the person in question.

The inability to handle these matters in open debate severely inhibits the manner in which organizations or meetings can function. Even in crisis situations, discussion of action to be taken during a meeting will not occur until these other matters have been satisfactorily resolved through behind-the-scenes manoeuvring. Frequently it is questionable, even in a crisis situation, whether a given individual is not more interested in the recognition accorded to himself or his group than in any substantive matter which may be discussed.

Organizational action of any kind (and even in response to crises) may be perceived primarily as providing a legitimate opportunity for appropriate conference and organizational ritual to satisfy the psychosocial needs of the individuals and groups involved. The situation is particularly serious when the personality needs are neurotic or border on the psychopathic. There are many well-documented examples of this amongst national leadership, and in the leadership of groups represented in conferences or having responsibilities during them. Such matters cannot currently be discussed in open debate.

Clearly the priority accorded to these needs, and the inability to give explicit recognition to them in organizational documents or debate, despite their fundamental importance to organized action emerging during conferences, constitute a constraint upon the full realization of human potential. This is the case both because it distorts the manner by which a person develops through action within an organization or meeting, and because it distorts the manner by which an organization or meeting is able to act.

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