1. Sunday Telegraph - Companies on the Couch - by Kati St Clair
2. Legal Week - Psycholawgy - by Kati St Clair

1. Sunday Telegraph - Business File - Companies on the Couch -

Businesses can benefit from a few therapy sessions, discovers Kati St Clair

Businesses behave like people - they have personalities and psyches. They behave like people for the obvious reason that they are run by people. So if people have personalities and psyches, it follows that businesses do too. And just like individuals they conform to psychological stereotypes. There are vital business lessons in this simple fact.

It is a commonplace that a particular personality at the top, such as an adventurous chief executive, not only colours but often determines the profile and success of a business. This can often be the source of failure when the boss, drunk on success, fails to develop any further and becomes a block to modernisation or expansion. But this commonplace is rarely seen for what it is: the starting point for a new way at looking at business. Understanding the psychology of your business and those of your competitors is a valuable and underused business tool.

Companies need to assess how they are perceived, they need to assess their clients, their markets, their history. They constantly need to adjust to change and new developments, new competition, new market forces. Without knowing who you are, it is probably impossible to perceive new possibilities or make emotionally appropriate choices.

Companies need decision making, vision, creativity and, crucially, they need clarity. Clarity can be described as appropriate awareness or insight. If it remains ignorant about itself, it may be accidentally successful. But in the long run it and its people will become stuck in inappropriate behaviours. And failure will not be far behind.

When I ask how a business perceives itself, varying and not very insightful answers fly back. In much the same way, when I ask an individual starting therapy if they have any idea how they are perceived by others, their answers simply are not consistent with the problems they describe.

Some of this is understood: it is now common as part of individual assessments in companies to have "360" feed back. And psychologists are often used to help solve issues this sort of assessment uncovers. But the idea of self awareness for the company as a whole is rarely pursued outside the marketing department.

By asking the right questions you can find out what makes your company move :

  • What are its goals?
  • How is success measured?
  • How did the top people get their jobs?
  • How do people communicate within the firm?
  • What are the intellectual and behavioural conformities?
  • How do people speak?
  • How do they dress?
  • What are its boundaries?
  • Does the company have clear or fuzzy or no boundaries?
  • How is the company seen by people in its industry, by suppliers and customers?
  • What sort of behaviour happens in a crisis?

Honest answers to these questions are the basis for drawing up a psychological description of the company. These will characterise the predominant emotional forces in the firm and identify strengths and weaknesses - and possibly even pathologies! It has a crucial role in predicting what types of dysfunction can paralyse the business. Many businesses and business people lack clarity: what kind of manic optimism prevented any sensing of the dotcom bubble? Why is it that a bull market overshoots? Why do bear markets become so risk averse irrespective of any optimistic market indicators?>

The following are some questions for prospective joiners of a company:

  • Do its aspirations match yours?
  • Do you have an appropriate communication style, skills and abilities?
  • Why did you choose to work there in the first place?
  • Can you attain your best potential and does your potential promote the business?

If the individual makes the wrong choice, the company suffers. If the company deceived the individual both suffer. But if they got it right, both benefit. So interaction between corporate psyche and human psyche is as crucial as knowing what these are. It is not enough to have the right academic qualifications; we need people skills and emotional intelligence.

The workplace is a cauldron of dynamics --- microcosms of the many worlds we inhabit. It is crucial to acquire and practise a high degree of sophisticated psychological skills if a company is to develop, flourish or survive.

Corporate psychology can identify, diagnose, predict, correct, advise and treat all sorts of company ills. Most importantly, as a corporate medicine it is preventative. Nor is it there just as a medicine. It is a developmental tool that should be part of the standard business skill set.

2. Legal Week - Psycholawgy - April 11, 2002 by Kati St Clair

I have often thought if I had not trained as a psychologist I would have trained as a barrister or solicitor: why? Because I believe the two professions both use insight and discovery as well as arguments and structured rationale for tools. I am concerned that there is not much training given to lawyers on how to handle client dynamics or even figuring what these might be.

There is a double-edged sword in every lawyer's hand, a double loyalty: one is to the client, the other is to the firm and its goals, ethics and aspirations. Of course these may coincide. A psychologist, however, always has the luxury of one motive only: that of the client. Before, during and after litigation, I have encountered a number of characteristic problems when working with and for lawyers.

When the boundaries between client and lawyer roles are not clear, not defined and not adhered to, unpleasant expectations and disappointments follow on both sides. A client, almost by definition, is in a vulnerable state, expecting a magic wand wielded by lawyer, who is then perceived as friend, mentor, lover, mother, father, and knight in shining armour. Even one of these roles is hard enough to live up to, let alone the combined version. The crucial point is that none of them are appropriate, but this often does not get spelled out at the onset.

Why does this happen?

  • One, the lawyer will do his or her best to secure business if it seems worthwhile, so there is a tendency to act out a more idealised version of one's professional self, and
  • Two, the client is usually in a terrible state so why give the poor chap boundaries, instead of promises?

What follows is a mutually aggravating mishmash of communication. The client wants mother to listen at all hours and will telephone on home numbers at night. If it is not explained that this may well be inappropriate, the client then gets hostile when the answering machine comes on and the knight does not return the call. And then there is the effect of the bills which seem to charge by the breath, and how can that be when one is consulting with a friend and delivering confessional to a trusted priest? (Another favourite client projection.)

The poor lawyer meanwhile is trying to do a job, which does not in its job description mention mothering, and needs relevant information from a client, who is not only not willing, but by now is sulking and even hostile, and who then flops right back to being overfamiliar. The compassionate lawyer could become overwhelmed, because they do pick up the phone at home and find that now it is their partner and children who feel short-changed and the lawyer has not got the appropriate social skills with which to disengage without alienating the client.

When eliciting relevant information it is essential to have some psychological tools. Vulnerable people have a very different view on what is relevant, as far as they are concerned every detail including colour of underwear is of the essence. In order to reduce bills, remain professional and extract the salient details, the lawyer has to be insightful, diplomatic, firm and friendly in about equal measure. And all these regardless how difficult, or distasteful the client may be. A few but crucial psychological skills are required in practice, but are not taught in law school:

  • How to diagnose the psychological type of the client.
  • How to set correct boundaries at the onset, without losing client confidence and or business.
  • How to maintain and work within clear boundaries.
  • How to communicate to best advantage of both client and lawyer.
  • How to hold correct and professional emotional distance.

The lawyer has to be equipped with some ability to empathise, and I am careful to say "some", because over empathising leaves one with as little clarity, as does inability to empathise. He or she must also be able to sympathise, but from the onset it is essential that a clear demarcation line is drawn regarding the role the lawyer will play. If we take the trouble to be very clear about what this role is, we avoid an awful lot of confusion, awkwardness and or hostility.

Once the initial details of a case are taken, if the lawyer describes simply what he or she regards as her professional role and warns not to be mistaken for bosom pal, parent, confessor, and gives precise information regarding availability and conduct: in other words set the correct boundaries, it is then much easier to refer back to these guidelines as and when distraught or unruly clients go on the offensive.

It is quite another matter how a lawyer handles their own emotions during client interaction. How to deal with an overly expectant or aggressive client will to a large degree depend on the communication skills of the lawyer. Too aloof or intimidating and risk losing the client on the spot. Too accommodating and risk setting up unrealistic expectations. If the lawyer is in any way out of balance in terms of their professional self, including empathy and sympathy, the case and the client may suffer.

I am hinting at skills which are often overlooked or ignored in favour of eloquence or logical verbal, lexical and academic achievements. I believe all of these need to be subservient to psychological tools, most of which are easy and useful to acquire. Correct and powerful communication is never just a matter for the intellect - that is not where charisma lives - and charisma is one of the best conductor of messages. Charisma is a perceptual sensitivity to nuance in the listener: in other words it is an intuitive diagnosis of what will work. Learning how to read and assess a person or situation uses much the same skills a charismatic speaker, leader or professional uses. In a profession where getting a message through convincingly is of the essence, these skills are of paramount importance. They should be part of the curriculum.