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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Action Learning: Employing the Workplace Within

As we head towards the millennium the complexity of tasks facing managers continues to intensify. The associated risks and authority issues in managerial work become more prominent, along with the potential for anxiety and dysfunctional process. The prime task of contemporary management development is to address such complexity and provide managers with opportunities to develop more effective working patterns. Action learning is a well established technique in Britain which seeks to provide managers with such a learning opportunity. Rooted in the humanistic counselling tradition, Action Learning is an apparently simple technique where a small group of managers meet regularly to engage in facilitated group counselling around individuals work concerns. The central premise is that a questioning insight is the crucial meta-skill for managers. This paper seeks to explore the Action Learning process from a psychoanalytic perspective. We argue that the learning process is typically anxiety laden and that failure to acknowledge and work with such anxiety leads to defensive behaviour and an impaired learning process. Through a case study we consider the process of projection, transference and splitting which take place and how an understanding of these enables participants to learn to work with and through the workplace within. This illuminates how participants are then able to manage themselves in the face of the task anxiety and risk they experience in carrying out their role.