In Search of Truth II: The Dance of Collusion

In Search of Truth II: The Dance of Collusion

Fear and Collusion

Collusion is usually a dynamic involving everyone in a group or organization. The collusion is typically driven by a powerful emotion: (1) fear that one will be ostracized from the relationship or group for disrupting the collusion by making an inappropriate comment or violating the norms of the system (“the emperor wears no clothes!”); (2) fear that confronting the collusion could lead to psychological or physical retribution (“you have destroyed the sanity of our Don and must pay for this betrayal!”); (3) fear that there will be tit-for-tat (if you reveal something about me, then I will reveal something about you) (“how would you like it if I held a mirror up in front of your face!”); or (4) fear that I might be wrong and that what I see is really more about me than about what is happening in the relationship or group  (“it is you who are naked, not the emperor!”).

At other times, the collusion occurs because no one is really aware that the collusion is in operation. It is assumed that the collusive process is simply “the ways things are done around here”. This “natural” rationale is related to what Daniel Kahneman (2013) and other behavioral economists call “heuristics.”  Unchallenged, “natural” heuristics are prevalent when the collusion involves race or gender, while the rationale regarding “the way things are done around here” is typically found in a setting with a very “thick” or “enmeshed” culture (where most of the behavior is dictated by a set of implicit and strongly enforced norms). These heuristics are also in full force when the level of anxiety is high—as is the case during our current health care crisis.

This lack of awareness tends to be closely interrelated with and enhanced by the dynamic of fear. We are most likely to be driven toward unawareness regarding that which is ultimately most fearful. Sigmund Freud (1990) pointed out many years ago, that we are aware at some level of that which we are unaware. We must know in some manner that something exists and is very scary (anxiety-provoking) if we are to “repress” and become unaware of it. To point back to an obvious example, the crowd must have been aware at some level that the emperor was naked and that to comment on the nudity could get them in trouble. They would not have been fearful of making a critical comment if they were not aware of both factors. The child wasn’t the only one to see that the emperor was naked; however, the child was the only one not to know (or at least not to assume) that it would be a bad thing to comment on the emperor’s nudity.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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