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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Drawing Down the Blinds on Reflection: What is to be shut out, or in

The concern of this chapter is on the use and experience of reflection in organisational work, whether this be from the role of consultant or manager. Its purpose is to examine the concept and practice of reflection from the perspective of social and political relations in organisations, and to consider the unconscious processes which may transpire from consultancy engagements. My working hypothesis is that engaging people in organisations to reflect on their work experiences is a social and political act that arouses feelings of vulnerability for the individual and the group. The first part of the chapter presents a case vignette of a consultancy assignment with a public sector organisation. The consultants' experiences of reflecting with the client on the dynamics of intra-organisation collaboration appeared to invoke fear and terror of the political forces present in the organisation. A discussion of definitions of reflections then follows, beginning with a general definition of reflection as 'an action that follows incidence' - it shows back a situation, an event, an image of what is or has been. Reflection specific to organisational work can take several forms: it may be a process, a potential space, or a form of democracy. I then discuss the psychoanalytic and political meanings of reflection under four themes: maternal reverie (Bion, 1984 & 1994); the symbolic significance of seeing and looking (Wharton, 1993); the mirror-role in infant development (Lacan, 1977; Winnicott, 1971); and the political implications of reflecting upon organisational life (Vince, 2002; Hoggett, 2006). The second half of the chapter discusses the topic of reflection in consultancy, looking at various ways that consultants may use reflection and reflective space so as to 'keep the blinds up' on the reality of organisational life. The chapter concludes that organisational reflective practice is to find and create meaning of work experiences, and that while reflection may not resolve organisational problems, it assists people to see things as they are, their realities as such.