Games Leaders Play:using Transactional Analysis to understand emotional dissonance

Iszatt-White, Marian and Lodge, Sara (2011) Games Leaders Play:using Transactional Analysis to understand emotional dissonance. In: 10th International Studying Leadership Conference, 2011-12-112011-12-13.

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Most of us are familiar with the idea of ‘emotional labour’ (Hochschild, 1983) in the service industry, that ‘service with a smile’ which service workers are expected to give irrespective of what they actually feel or think. In the context of leadership, where the relationships involved are lasting rather than transient, two-way rather than uni-directional, and have complex, ongoing goals rather than straight-forward, one-off ones, the equivalent labour required is that of a ‘skilled emotional manager’ (Bolton and Boyd, 2003). The demands of professional codes of practice, issues of value congruency, and the sustained nature of the emotional performance all contribute unique characteristics to the nature of the more complex emotional labour thus required. Recent approaches to understanding leadership have placed increasing emphasis on the ‘human element’ and the role of leaders as ‘managers of meaning’ (Smircich and Morgan, 1982). New theories of spiritual leadership (Fry, 2005), authentic leadership (Avolio and Gardner, 2005), and even servant leadership (Spears and Lawrence, 2004) all speak to the emotional component within the leader-follower relationship. This paper addresses one element of this through a detailed examination of ‘the stressful aspect of emotion work’ (Zapf and Holz, 2006) performed by leaders – emotional dissonance. By synthesizing the very different theoretical perspectives of emotional labour and Transactional Analysis it seeks to provide a more nuanced model of practitioners’ experience of emotional dissonance within leadership roles, using a systemic constructivist approach (Kreyenburg, accessed 19/8/11) and drawing on the concepts of ulterior transactions, scripts and games originally developed by Eric Berne, Claude Steiner and others in the 1960’s and 70s. In ulterior transactions two messages are communicated - the overt or social level message, and the covert, psychological message also known as the ulterior. Berne’s third rule of communication states that ‘the behavioural outcome of an ulterior transaction is determined at the psychological and not at the social level’ (cited in Stewart and Joines, 1974). Ulterior transactions are associated with ‘script’ – the ‘unconscious life plan’ (Berne, 1966) that Berne asserted is decided in childhood as a survival strategy and then lived out, out of awareness, during our adult life. They are also associated with ‘psychological games’ - ‘any sequence of ulterior transactions that ends up with the parties feeling bad’ (Stewart and Joines, 1974) - the function of which is to further script. Our research explores the hypothesis that ‘emotional dissonance’ can occur when something in the here and now resembles a significant situation from childhood, and the leader’s Adult strategies to achieve the complex ongoing goals of leadership become subsumed by their unconscious strategies to achieve the survival goals of childhood. Of particular interest are how leadership decisions may be affected when leaders engage in ‘scripty’ behaviour and the possible connection between the bad feelings that result from a game and the stressful element of emotional dissonance. Through a fine-grained analysis leadership practitioners’ experiences of this important phenomenon the distinction between emotional labour which remains congruent with internal feelings (even if the display was ‘ratcheted up’ or down in order to achieve the desired response from followers) and situations where this was not the case is explored and the implications for effective leader decision-making are discussed.

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Contribution to Conference (Paper)
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10th International Studying Leadership Conference
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02 Oct 2012 10:05
Last Modified:
22 Nov 2022 13:53