California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: October 21, 1999
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So far, we have discussed how society is stratified by social class, and the gatekeeping isms -- sexism, racism and ageism. We have also discussed difference, marginal man and relative deprivation. All these things keep some individuals on the inside while others remain on the outside. In this chapter, we will focus on what it means to be an insider as well as an outsider based on some sociological theories and concepts relating to deviance. For whatever reason, not everyone conforms to the norms and values of society. Remember when we discussed norms and counternorms? There will always be "misfits" or what sociologists call "deviants" in our society. Whether you're on the inside or the outside depends on your "reference group." The structural functionalist theoretical framework suggests that we learn norms or social rules from others. Those "others" are called reference groups. We look to some people to tell us what the norms are, how we should behave, what we should do. One of our first reference groups is our parents. They socialize us. Turn us into civilized members of the family. As we go on in life, our reference group might change from parents to peers, from peers to spouse, and so on. Whatever our reference group might be, there are times when we find ourselves on the inside belonging to a group or on the outside, not belonging; not fitting in.
The first part of this chapter will focus on a variety of sociological concepts describing the individual who does not belong and who does not fit in. Sociologists call him a "deviant." In the second part of this chapter, we will discuss trying to fit into changing worlds by focusing on dimensions of individual style.
We all want to belong -- belong to a particular group, whether it is the summer softball team, the musical ensemble, the board of directors of a charitable organization and so on. In-group and out-group is one way of explaining insider versus outsider. According to VanderZanden (1993:102), "an in-group is a group with which we identify and to which we belong. An out-group is a group with which we do not identify and to which we do not belong." In the workplace, there are groups where membership is very exclusive, and there are groups where anyone can belong. Often times, being a member of the in-group means trying to maintain the position of power and control; (i.e., spending time keeping outsiders on the outside). On the other hand, the out-group is looking in trying to figure out how to gain access. In another context, the insider might be an individual who is powerful or controls the information flow within the informal structure of the work organization. Whereas the outsider, can't even get by the boundary position -- the receptionist, telephone operator, etc.
In the study of deviance, sociologists have a variety of names for individual who does not belong. VanderZanden (1993:128) defines deviance as "behavior that a considerable number of people in a society view as reprehensible and beyond the limits of tolerance." Deviance is seen as a relative term. What is good for one group might be bad for another. To illustrate, each year at the state capital in Madison, Wisconsin, a group who supports the legalization of marijuana demonstrate and protest by openly smoking pot. They see this as a good thing to do. On the other hand, the Madison Police Department see smoking pot as law-breaking behavior. Arrests are made. This is a good example of clashing views. Who's right and who's wrong?
Merton (1957) had his own name for the deviant person in our society -- innovator. The innovator is one who accepts the goals of society but does not accept or have access to the institutionalized means of achieving that goal. For example, if success is determined by the kind of car you drive, it costs money to buy the best car in town. You're not independently wealthy. You don't have a very, very good paying job, (in fact, let's say you're unemployed). Now, how are you going to get that big nice car? You really want it. So what do you do? According to Merton, the innovator would rob a bank, sell drugs, swindle an old lady out of her life savings, and so on. In the workplace, an innovator might not have the college degree or experience for a career in computers with the big-name companies, so she forges a degree to gain entree. She becomes a smashing success. An innovator is a non-conformist. Innovators, according to Merton, find creative means (not always law-abiding or socially acceptable) of achieving their goals. Against all odds, our successful and dishonest computer person innovates.
In Chapter 6, we talked about the revolutionary trying to get work done while his co-workers slowed progress by work to rule. Some might see the revolutionary as a radical rebel upsetting the quietude of the "clam fields," causing the yappers to yap. The rebel stirs up trouble by making waves. Marx (1964) spoke of the revolutionary as the individual who is raising the consciousness of the masses, eventually leading to true or class consciousness. The ultimate result, Marx predicted, is revolution. In the workplace, some look to rebels, radicals and revolutionaries as "troublemakers" simply upsetting the clam field. As a result of the rebel's efforts, he may become the impetus for change in the workplace or he might be fired (no longer employed there). There is a definite price to being a revolutionary. Choose your battles carefully.
If we examine Marxist theory to see what happens to revolutionaries, according to Reiman (1990), "the rich get richer and the poor get prison." There is considerable truth to that statement. If we look at where some of the most radical and revolutionary ideas came from -- they came from the prisons where "troublemakers" are locked up. A good example is the Black Power movement of the 60's -- Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver and so on. And more recently, look what happened to Nelson Mandela. There are a host of others we could list here. But we think that you get the picture.
Another way of looking at the outsider is from a labeling perspective (Becker, 1973). Labeling is similar to our earlier discussion in the previous chapter on stereotyping. Labeling is a kind of stereotyping. Becker (1973) focuses not on the deviant herself but rather on the group doing the labeling or what Becker called societal reaction. In other words, if a group does not react to what you are doing, it doesn't get labeled. To add insult to injury, a group can react even though you didn't do anything. Becker focuses on "the falsely accused." Those labels are just as damaging. Let's say you and another person were competing for the next promotion and the other person began to spread a false rumor about you that hurt your reputation and your chances at the promotion. The damage is done. For labeling theorists, the act itself is not as important as the reaction or the social processing that goes on, (whether it really happened or not), if enough people think you did something wrong, that's what becomes real.
Remember the old children's saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." But some labels do stick and some labels do cause damage. Damage to children's self-esteem if they hear their mothers tell them, "You're no good. You'll never amount to nothing." If a child believes those labels, there is a self-fulfilling prophecy that might come into play. It happens in schools all the time when a child is labeled "troublemaker" in the classroom when in reality, he had a vision problem and could not read when the other kids were quietly reading. Thus, if words look like a blur, and you can't read, what else is there to do but to raise hell. Therefore, labeling theorists are concerned with the social processes of interaction - what people do and say to each other.
According to Goffman (1963:3), stigma is "an attribute that is deeply discrediting, but it should be seen that a language of relationships, not attributes, is really needed." A stigma is related to a stereotype. Goffman called stigma an "undesired differentness." Remember when we discussed beauty and the boundary positions in the previous chapter? There is obviously a stigma against those who are "fat and ugly" if beauty is defined as "slim and pretty." As I was writing this chapter, coincidentally there was a front page article about a woman in California who has a law suit pending before the state Supreme Court. She claims that she was the victim of prejudice when a prospective employer allegedly assumed her size would physically prevent her from performing the required duties of the job. This woman is five foot four inches tall, weighs 304 pounds.
You may find yourself on the outside because you have a "stigmatizing" attribute. Let's look at what's happening to one group who has been stigmatized -- the differently abled.
Millions of people with disabilities are the poorest-housed, poorest-educated, and the most unemployed or underemployed. Being functionally limited leads to incredible social limitations and disenfranchisement. Burton Blatt (1980) referred to this phenomenon as "banishment," leading to institutionalization, neglect, offsetting and clustering. Those with disabilities have been restricted in career and employment opportunities by many different barriers. Worse than physical accessibility, some are often excluded or limited by the way in which others communicate to or about them. Often exclusion is a result of rigid, inflexible work schedules that do not easily accommodate the special needs of the disabled worker. Although it may be true that those with disabilities may have "bought into" (the self-fulfilling prophecy) the idea that they are nothing more than "second-class" citizens, it is largely due to societal reactions based on unfounded fears, stereotypes, presumptions and misconceptions about those with disabilities, in general.
Figures reveal that the employment earnings of men and women with disabilities actually fell between 1980 and 1987. In 1980, men with disabilities earned 23% less than their able-bodied counterparts, and this gap widened to 30% by 1987. Women fared even worse, earning from 30% to 38% less than non-disabled women. Furthermore, statistics show that 64% of disabled men and 72% of disabled women are unemployed, (Bolles, 1991).
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990
On July 26, 1990, then-President Bush signed into law the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), described by many as the most significant civil rights legislation enacted in the past twenty-five years. The ADA will have a major impact on the employment practices of many corporations and other employers. It will affect more than one million businesses in the next four years. Companies with 25 or more employees were to comply by July 1992 and those with 15-24 employees have until July 1994.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against disabled employees or applicants who otherwise are qualified to do the "essential functions" of a job, with or without "reasonable accommodation." It provides for administrative and judicial enforcement of these rights.
The passage of ADA has its origin in Congress' finding that 43 million Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities. Fully two-thirds of the 43 million estimated Americans who are disabled are of working age; an estimated two-thirds of which are unemployed. Fifty percent of these are willing and able to work. Congress concluded that individuals with disabilities are a minority who continue to face restrictions and limitations resulting from stereotypic assumptions not truly indicative of their ability to participate in and contribute to society. The Act's expressly stated purpose is to provide "a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." Disabilities include sensory impairments (such as hearing and visually impaired), mobility limitations (such as those who use a wheelchair), and hidden impairments or conditions (such as epilepsy, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even learning disabilities. Included also are recovering alcoholics and drug abusers and those with AIDS-related conditions).
People with disabilities will begin to take their places more aggressively in the labor force as a result of the ADA and with the breaking down of both the physical and attitudinal barriers.
The Societal Reactions and Responses
Society has not had a clear cut way to incorporate a person with functional limitations into existing social roles, thus being labeled and treated as deviant members of society. Goffman (1963:5) states: "The attitudes we normals have toward a person with a stigma, and the actions we take in regards to him, are well known, since these responses are what benevolent social action is designed to soften or ameliorate. By definition, of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human." Assuming then that one is not quite human, an ideology is constructed to explain their inferiority. Using such terms as "cripple," "moron," and "gimp" perpetuates the negative attitudes toward those who are disabled. Attitudes can be more disabling and present more insurmountable obstacles than disease or physical barriers. "Disabling language" includes the usage of words and phrases that encourage the continued stereotypes or labels about a particular disability group. Nouns such as deaf, dumb, and blind should be replaced with more humane descriptives. Consider the person, before the disability; change references of them as people who are hearing impaired, persons who cannot speak, or they who are visually limited. Subjective portrayals that speak of those who are "victims of ...," "afflicted with ...," "suffering from...," are also inappropriate when communicating about Americans with disabilities.
Goffman (1963) said that the use of stigmas result in "shaky" interaction between those who are stigmatized and those who are considered normal. Fortunately, according to a more recent Harris Poll conducted in 1991, societal attitudes seem to be changing. Eighty-one percent of the American adults interviewed, believe that employers should foster affirmative action programs for persons with disabilities in the workplace. Furthermore, 83% think employers should be required to make reasonable accommodations for those who need it on the job. Although only a small percentage had heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act, widespread support was expressed for all the rights and objectives set forth by the new legislation. This poll revealed that the American public was willing to spend the necessary funds to integrate those with disabilities into the mainstream of American society. As more and more citizens with disabilities are assimilated into our society, results imply that the "comfort gap" Americans feel with their disabled neighbors will diminish with time. In order for the population that is disabled to fully realize their equal status they must stop encouraging and participating in their own stigmatization. They must believe in what they have to contribute to society and stop playing the role of "less than human." Through societal understanding and acceptance, new technology and the civil rights granted under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the future looks brighter and freer for those with disabilities. Free to succeed, and to fail, rights that those who are able-bodied take for granted. (Note: This section was researched by Barbara Entringer. We appreciate her help!)
Whether you choose to conform or to deviate, whether people in high places let you in or keep you out, trying to fit into changing worlds is not an easy task. In this section of the chapter, we focus on the dimensions of individual style. Whether you choose to be a "radical" in the workplace or you're labeled one (real or not), you have your own individual style.
Each actor imprints her message with a style unique to her, projecting an image as well as a meaning. We explore the variety of styles available to us as actors in trying to "fit" in. Style is a distinctive or characteristic manner of action. It serves as a kind of verbal or behavioral signature that distinguishes us from others. Just as our signatures present a unique combination of many elements, our style presents a unique continuation of many dimensions of behavior. In this section, we examine briefly several dimensions of style. The list is by no means exhaustive; but it serves well to illustrate the variety of messages we reflect in our messages.
We present several dimensions of style (see Figure 8-1) as they relate to the world of work. The four main categories we chose to reflect a logical progression from personal style in work performance to Weltanschauung as it colors work style. These categories are by no means the only ones conceivable. We offer them as a catalyst to stimulate individual analysis of style, not as a paradigm into which anyone should try to fit his style.
|Task Preference||Task oriented ------Interpersonal relations oriented|
|Solitude Preference||Work with others ------------------- Work alone|
|Pace Preference||Fast, pressured -------------- Slow, unpressured|
|Competitive Preference||Cooperative --------------------- Competitive|
|Centrality of Role preference||Stage center --------- Peripheral role|
Always Actor ------- Often audience
|Decision-making preference||Authoritarian -------- Democratic|
|Values preference||Bounded --------------------Open|
Closed belief system------- Open belief system
|Standards preference||Demanding of a single standard -- Allowance for variable tolerance|
|Performance control preference||No rule----------------- Rigid rules |
Minimal guidance --------Strict guidance
|Fit preference||Docile ----------------- Contumacious|
|Ambiguity preference||Chaos -------------- Order|
|Focal preference||Local -------------- Cosmopolitan|
|Imputation of value to the world||Good ------------- Bad|
|Imputation of meaning to the world||Meaningful ---------- Absurd|
|Imputation of import of the world||Consequent ----- Inconsequent|
|Imputation of tractability to the world||Controllable -------- Uncontrollable|
Task Preference -- Task preference refers to the kind of work we choose to do. More specifically, the dimension we include in Figure 8-1 is that of preference for task-oriented versus interpersonal relations oriented tasks. The concept is drawn from Bales' (1970) research on interaction process analysis, in which he determined that in small groups two kinds of leaders tend to emerge: the task-oriented leader and the socio-emotional leader. The task-oriented leader wants to "get the job done." She is concerned with defining the problem, getting information, materials, whatever is requisite to completing the task. The socio-emotional leader compliments performance, encourages and inspires group members to contribute their best effort; helps work out people-problems that may be obstacles to completing the task and so on.
In rare instances, one person encompasses both leadership roles; and Bales (1970) concluded that this merging of the two leadership functions was a characteristic of charismatic leadership. In choosing this conceptual framework as a scale on type of work preference, we envisioned most people falling somewhere on the continuum between the two extremes, and a rare charismatic leader who excels on and hence prefers both extremes, and not in the middle of the scale, since the middle of the scale represents conceptually one who has no marked preference for either extreme, sometimes preferring the one, sometimes the other. We recognize that he excelled at both, and hence, occupied both extremes, in U-curve fashion.
Now consider the import of this dimension in projecting work style. How is one's position on this scale projected to others? To the extent that one excels at and/or prefers one or the other extreme, the content of one's messages will reflect that preference. For example, the task-oriented worker will ask for information, send information, discuss production snags, generally orient her message around components of the task itself. On the contrary, the interpersonal oriented worker will transmit messages about overcoming resistance to a planned operation, about creating an environment in which the team can function, will encourage workers with messages of "a job well done," will coach workers on a task with which they need help, and will generally orient his messages around smoothing the way for the people involved to work effectively together.
Performance rating messages are those sent by others about the actor, added to perceived results of performance. Over time, in image development, people are unlikely to take your constant references to mathematical phenomena as an indicator that you are, in fact, a great task-oriented mathematician, if you persistently come up with 5 when adding 2 + 2, and if none of those expert in mathematics deign to pay your preferences any attention. This is, of course, the worst extreme, when the messages one sends and the messages about one fails miserably to coincide. Happily, most of us enjoy somewhat greater congruence between skills and preference. In the ideal case, then, outstanding performance at one's task preference would gain one leadership; and a strongly expressed preference would gain one assignment to jobs that fit that preference. In the real world of work, the individual often has as much to do with shaping her job to her preferences, as others' perceptions of her have to do with the job assignments she receives.
In matters of style, remember that one tends to notice those attributes which are distinctive. Fitting nicely into the center of the scale places you right along with most people. This is not a dimension on which you stand out and there should be characteristically few messages about you on this domain floating about. If, on the other hand, you find few messages on this dimension, and the dimension matters greatly to you, then you might conclude that you have been remiss in letting others know your preferences and/or in claiming credit for your accomplishments. It is in this sense that language style is so important to your work image. You may be sending messages (often by omission) you never meant to send. The dimensions of style scales in Figure 8-1 are designed to help you identify incongruencies and omissions in your image projection. Once identified and brought to a conscious level, correction is simple. Start sending the message you want people to hear.
The absence of messages on a given dimension may be as much a clue as many messages. It takes listening over time to the whole spectrum of messages for a valid interpretation. Then, too, other factors may distort the messages you hear. The social context must be taken into account. Co-workers may be jealous, may fail to understand your ideas, may discriminate against women, may discriminate against men. The possibilities defy enumeration. Listening to the spectrum of messages gives you data - not answers. Where would we be if Einstein had given up math just because his math teacher considered him a failure?
Before we leave the subject of task preference we ought to discuss another widely recognized classification scheme for this dimension: the job analysis classification of jobs as to the extent they deal with people, data or things, (McCormick, 1979). Jobs are rated by the amount and kinds of emphasis on each of these three factors. We chose not use this classification in our analysis of style because of the problems we have encountered with the complexity and substantive interpretation of the scheme. The bete noire of personnel officers and counselors is the person who announces, as though it should immediately indicate an appropriate job assignment: "I like to work with people." Wonderful. And what is it you like to do with people? Organize them? Count them? Dig a ditch with them? Will you lead them in problem solving? Or soothe them when they encounter frustration? What would the characteristic style messages be of someone who likes to work with people? Or, for that matter, of someone who likes to work with data or things? A doctor who specialized in pediatric nephrology works with kids - but his work is primarily task-oriented. The manager of a large data processing unit undoubtedly specializes in data - but his work may be primarily interpersonal-relationship oriented. For some in that position who prefer to tackle the major problems themselves, the job may be task oriented, and the socio-emotional component may be delegated to an assistant.
Though the conceptual framework that categorizes jobs by the proportional emphasis on data, people, things has been widely used in job analysis (by the Department of Labor, for example), the scheme has the disadvantage of removing the personal style component from the job. As we shall indicate in image analysis individuals contribute a great deal to making their job what it is. As in the case of the manager of data processing, the job itself may change drastically in keeping with the occupant's task preferences. It is for this reason that we chose the interaction process analysis framework for analyzing dimensions of individual work preference. However, the job analysis framework of people, data, things is used extensively throughout industry, and by personnel departments. You will want at least to be aware of that approach to this dimension.
Solitude Preference -- Another dimension along which work preferences vary is the need for solitude. There are wide variations in the degree of solitude necessary for individuals to work effectively. (The work we refer to here must of necessity exclude assembly line work and most factory work where there is no possibility of choice on this dimension.)
We had in mind when we chose this dimension the preference for solving problems or effecting production or sales in a group setting or isolated off in a corner (or an office) of one's own. This preference becomes a dilemma for many in the career world, and has a disagreeable habit of cropping up with promotions. Consider Umber Unload: he was contentedly placing orders as a salesman nonpareil. He delighted in selling anything the company hadn't nailed down. So successful was he that he was quickly promoted to manager of a large sales force, where he wilted, fell into bitter dejection, sulked, and railed against the Gods who had visited upon him the misery of this successful fate. You see, every morning at nine all the salesmen went out to sell, where they met their clients, imbibed a healthy sale over lunch, passed a friendly hour with a good account at three, and presented a package proposal to a likely group of new clients at four. Meanwhile, back in the headquarters, Umber Unload sat all alone in his sumptuous solitary office making momentous decisions in keeping with his success and attendant prestige.
Umber Unload is not alone in his dismay. Countless others have failed to notice this innocent little dimension of style, and so failed to send out proper messages about their work preferences. Umber Unload doesn't like solitude. A major part of the unit in selling was working with others. Now he will have to reconstruct a work environment that offers work with others, or retreat to the sales force. Unload sounds like the kind of man who'll create a new outlet for work with others, but many lesser souls are faced with retreat or ulcers. The need for solitude or companionship is not to be taken lightly.
The dimension of solitude is an interesting element of style. We can offer some insight into it through child development theory and studies on sensory deprivation. Child development theory emphasizes the need of the infant for sensory stimulation. Nutrition and shelter are not sufficient to maintain life. Without sensory nurturance infants will actually die. Most of us, by the time we reach adulthood, only wilt dejectedly, like Umber Unload, when deprived of the social stimulation to which we have become accustomed, though even in adults total sensory deprivation for even brief periods of time result in disorientation. Quite the opposite, when we are confronted by too many stimuli, the system may suffer malfunction or stimulus overload.
The two extremes of stimulus deprivation and stimulus overload are unlikely to occur in the workplace. But the stereotypes of the "organization man" (Whyte, 1956) and the "genius recluse" offer workplace equivalents. Fortunately, most of us fall somewhere along the continuum, with moderate needs for solitude and occasional collegial stimulation. But individuals differ markedly on the degree of solitude they need or can tolerate. Consider the old adage: "He can think on his feet." It translates roughly to mean that he can develop rational arguments on the spot, even in the presence of others. His colleagues may have equally brilliant thoughts, but may not be able to think on her feet,(i.e., she will become confused and be unable to follow a train of thought through to its logical conclusion, on the spot, before an audience. She needs time alone to organize her thoughts). There are the differences in style we envisioned with this dimension.
More common messages about preference for solitude can be heard in the daily work environment. For example, "Hermit's always in his office with the door closed." This is a straightforward message identifying Hermit's preference for solitude to get his work done. However, if Hermit has just been shy about socializing with his co-workers, it's a clue that he'd better change his message - at least by opening the door. Another common message: "I don't see how Goodguy can get things done. He's always got a committee working on something in there." Again, straightforward, if Goodguy actually likes committee work; but a disaster if he just doesn't know how to say "Excuse me, but I have to work on this report now." He could rue his reticence when he hears: "Why don't you let Goodguy do it. He's great with committees." But, then, that's the message he sent.
Pace Preference -- Another dimension of personal performance style is preference for a fast, pressured pace at one extreme and for a slow, unpressured pace at the other. Individuals vary greatly in the pace at which they work. Some turn out work in steady streams and are quite content to work from 9 to 5. They take breaks; post signs on their desks with pictures of merry imps splitting their sides in laughter, repeating: "You want it when?" They marvel patiently at co-workers who fume over a two-hour lunch when a deadline looms. "After all, Smedley's leaving, and we did have to see her off at lunch, didn't we?" They don't like time pressure, and tend to keep to their pace in spite of it. Somewhat like the motorist who holds a steady 35 m.p.h. through all speed zones. They are usually possessed of temperate personalities; and sometimes like the fabled tortoise, win the race against their faster cousins, the hares.
The hares send very different messages in the work setting. They are the ones likely to demand "What? That hasn't been done yet?" The hares are often the ones who are likely to be overheard saying "Here, let me do that. I can do it faster." As, indeed they probably can. Of course, they may end up doing it permanently if they never allow anyone else the time to learn. The hares have a tendency, too, to become bored quickly when there's nothing to do -- and so they often hate 9 to 5 jobs. They often tell us: "I can't stand sitting around an office all day with nothing to do." So the hares often end up in sales jobs, in research and development, in jobs where they can go off and play when there's nothing to do, then work at a fast clip for long hours when the pressure is on. It has been our experience that hares do not like meetings and do not make good committee members.
Work organizations need both the qualities of the slow methodical worker and the impatient fast-runner, as well as all who fall in between. But work organizations need them in different places at different times, so the messages are important if workers are to be matched effectively to the work.
We offer no sociological theories to explain this dimension, simply because none have occurred to us. It seems that this is one that should be left to the personality theorists in psychology who undertake to explain differences in temperament. We do, however, see a place for sociological theory in offering advice to managers who deal with a mixture of tortoises and hares. It simply won't do at all for people with pronounced differences on this scale to compare themselves to one another in terms of work success. Because their work styles are so very different; their work is probably not comparable; and comparison is likely to result in inferiority complexes for both. This we trace back to relative deprivation theory. The accountant who works reliably at a careful continuous pace, is likely to feel unappreciated in the hullabaloo made over the brilliant financial report Dimsley turned out in a week. Dimsley can be relied upon to waste whole days in idle chatter while he, Beardsley, slaves away conscientiously over his accounts. Dimsley, on the other hand, during those idle days in which nothing brilliant occurs to him is likely to regard Beardsley as a paragon of virtue who never falters. On his better days, of course, Dimsley, now quite guilt free, will denigrate Beardsley's steady output as uncreative, unimaginative, and probably undemanding.
Competitive Preference -- Predilection for competition is the last dimension we have chosen to illustrate this category. The choice follows quite naturally from a number of social-psychological theories: The desire to achieve has to some measurable extent been socialized into us. McClelland (1961) researched extensively with the role of socialization in achievement. Parenting and teaching styles which encourage the young to explore, to try the impossible, to venture out on their own, result in adults with a high need for achievement. Parenting and teaching styles that encourage the young to remain dependent, to never question authority, to "let Mother do it for you," to avoid mistakes, result in adults with relatively lower needs for achievement. These results are quite logical given the differential reward systems of the two socialization philosophies.
For the moment, we content ourselves to note that differences in early socialization appear to effect not only the need to achieve, but also the readiness to express that need in the images we project through our language. This leads us into a consideration of reference group theory. Though early socialization plays an essential role, the reference groups adopted for setting norms in later years play an equally important role. Here the ogre of the adolescent peer group raises its persistent head in defiance of doting parents and teachers., Achievement during this stage becomes far more closely identified with competition, so the young become more aware of the future spoils of spouse and career.
Young mothers today may no longer say "Dear, girls don't become doctors; they become nurses." They're hardly likely to say that when many of them have become doctors, or lawyers, or "interlopers" into many other male-dominated professions. The role of reference groups which operate counter to socialization for achievement/competition is clearest in the case of sex-role typing. Incidents that dredge up this role conflict appear with almost daily regularity in the popular press. But the conflict today is no less acute for males. As women have permeated the labor force, the messages of the importance of "being" has spread throughout the culture. Women repeat assiduously that they still "are" all the womanly things, while competing in "man's" world. For many men, women seem to be getting the better of the deal. They are given preferential treatment through affirmative action; and they have the added advantage of the sensitive, nurturant side that men were never allowed to develop. The popular culture has provided us with myriad cults of "knowing oneself," the identity cure for executive ulcers. Men and women alike have turned increasing attention to "nurturance," at least of one's self in coping with the escalating stress of survival.
Men faced with the success of the women's movement, are beginning to decide to claim broader roles for themselves. Some drop out of the scenes of intense competition in favor of nurturing roles they find more satisfying. Some, young enough to have been influenced by the "Hippie" movement of the 60's, or by grudging admiration of their children's philosophy of karma, or internal peace, or newfound religious fervor are reshaping their lives. For example, we know of one high-level administrator who took early retirement to pursue a newly acquired love of reproducing fine antiques in a tiny rural hamlet, with horses, chickens, and a new wife. (The former wife had retained the old patterns of achievement - a current dilemma on the family scene).
Despite the realities of the job market - that on the average men were never as cut-throatedly competitive as we depicted them to be and women were never as docile and cooperative as they were purported to be, or as willing to leave work to men, changes in career role expectations do seem to pervade the ambience.
As more women enter the decision-making echelons of the workplace, and as society continues to re-define success as "well-off and liking it," career norms may shift even more on this dimension of competition. One successful young executive ($200,000 per year range) included "freedom from unwanted stress," and "time to smell the flowers" on the list she used to assess her progress each year. Increasingly, "job satisfaction" and "time to smell the flowers" are entering the ambience as descriptions of career success (Aburdene and Naisbitt, 1992). Increasingly, this purely subjective component is assessed along with status and monetary rewards. In a society which has almost universally met the basic needs of its people for food and shelter, many are free to satisfy needs unique to themselves - to decide whether "more is less." To many, having more power, more money, more status than others eventually pales as a hollow prize. In the 90's, men and women have begun to ask in increasing numbers "is that all there is? I'm at the top of the heap - and it's lonely and boring up here." For the first time in history, society has achieved the technological means to produce at a capacity which allows individuals to ask whether they choose to produce at all.
Thus, there is a strong, and ever more socially acceptable, preference component to the competition dimension. The question for some, who would return to an economic system of barter; is whether competition at all is a good thing for humans. The question for others, is how much competition is good for them, and are they competing against others? Or against their own goals of achievement? These are philosophical questions that do not admit of universal answers. Yet one's stance at any given time is reflected in career messages.
The individual with a high need for achievement is likely to thrive on competition, at least with herself. She may struggle contentedly up mountain after mountain, in unmitigated self-actualization, drawn on like climbers, just because the mountain is there. For her, the climbing is the satisfaction; for she could, and frequently does, climb without the external rewards of the career. She may, therefore, feel free to talk about the climb. On hearing about a new project, she may exclaim "That looks like a tough one. I'd like to try it." And having succeeded, she may ask for other tough assignments. She thinks her message says "Hey, look, it's fun to tackle mountains." Perhaps it does. But if in the last six months, she's asked for three tough projects in Clara Clodpepper's division, and two in Dan Doolittle's section, Clara and Dan may suspect she's after their jobs. Messages like these, that display competitive enthusiasm, require political finesse. They can backfire.
If Carl Clymovitz really does want Clara or Dan's job, the last thing he wants to do is let them know. People are not notorious for exaggerated kindness under these circumstances. Messages that seem to say, "Look I can handle problems usually associated with higher status, like yours" translate in the informal structure to attempts at actually gaining that status informally. That doesn't make a lot of sense to most people, unless it's followed by a move for formal status to equal the informal. And if there are not jobs open just now at the next step up , . . . well . . .
If messages about competition do filter into the work environment, and they really are mountain climbing messages, they had best be clarified by explanations of what one's goals are. Tension in the hierarchy can be reduced if Mountain Climber is planning to tackle a cliff miles off in some other section or some other organization. Generally, however, Mountain Climbers should refrain from talking about climbing. Such talk tends to make normal mortals edgy under the best of circumstances.
Who has not been subjected to the woeful plaints of the "A" student who was sure he "failed" the exam? While everyone else sat around praying for C's? Who hasn't found herself working next to the customer service clerk who clucks absent-mindedly at the close of each day that she "only completed 30 accounts because of those incessant interruptions" (when the other clerks average 12 accounts a day)? Mountain Climbers are often sincere. They, like everyone else need someone to soothe their woes and listen to their plight. But most ordinary mortals wish they would find themselves a Mountain Climber's club and stop preening in public.
Subtle messages on competitiveness can and sometimes do go out with every memo. Grace Grabitzky acquires a reputation in no time at all for stamping her name on every idea that comes out of her department, while Joe Jherkovitz is beloved by all for the fairness he displays for giving everybody credit for ideas. Idea grabbing is a favorite pastime in one-ups-man-ship organizations. If you have the misfortune to live in such a "work" country, you'll have to learn to be fast on the draw with the first memo out. The idea is to spend as much time on reasons for getting out memos with your name on your idea as you spend on ideas. Cuts back the idea production for the organization a bit; but it could stimulate your creativity. And what you hire is what you get. If the organization doesn't mind or can't see idea grabbers, maybe there's just a whole hierarchy of idea grabbers out there. If you don't like it, maybe you should look for another organization - changing a whole organization, or even a whole section if you can't transfer out, is like trying to change a spouse. It's safer to like them or leave them. After all, organizations have style, too. A sampling of the totality of messages should give you an idea of the organizational style.
On this note, we leave personal performance style. You will discover many other dimensions. Ground them and/or their consequences in theory, for it is theory that allows us to predict plausible outcomes. Sociology remains a probabilistic science; but a well-reasoned probability can put you miles ahead of someone else's random guessing.
Interpersonal Control Styles
The second category that emerged from our list of work styles was that of interpersonal control. Work organizations by definition include at least two people. It is actually more common today for people to work in large organizations. There are more small organizations; but they employ so few people that most of us work for the giants. This means that most of us who manage to rise above entry-level positions achieve some degree of control over the work of others. The dimensions in this category purport to measure style in exercising control in interpersonal work relationships.
Centrality of Role Preference -- The first dimension that occurred to us was the preference for stage center (Goffman, 1959). This could be construed as a personal performance preference, in the sense of one's preferred role in the work scene. But this dimension also can be construed as describing the relationship one prefers to maintain with other actors in the work scene. One can control by drawing attention to oneself, always playing front and center. We consider here two possible orientations to center stage extreme of this dimension: 1) the case in which the central actor is thrust into that position through an organic evolution of information control, and 2) the case in which the central actor chooses the position and hold claim to it through control of resources and interpersonal contacts.
The first case is that of the task leader. The organic evolution of information control rises from the leader's conceptual framework. She is the one who has the "vision" as it were of what the group is trying to accomplish. Thus, the information may be still in a latent stage, a minute part of the overall plan, not yet formulated well enough to describe and delegate responsibility for that portion of the project.
When a task leader has whole plans in his head, and projects are moving at fairly high speed, the centrality of role can be frustrating to both the lead actor and the supporting actors. One cannot offer students concepts one hasn't yet formulated. One cannot tell Leichmore how to proceed with that phase, if one hasn't yet the slightest idea. This is, by the way, exactly the predicament of small businesses that grow too quickly. The leaders are overworked to the point of exhaustion, and their lieutenants in middle-management languish in frustration over their inability to get enough information to carry on. Everything must wait upon the leaders' attention, until they drop in their tracks, and the whole establishment flounders.
The messages in the work environment that denote this kind of centrality of role are usually wails: "Where's Brainthrust?" We can't do a thing without him!" and when Brainthrust appears on the scene, he will be trailed by four or five people from as many divisions, each demanding that he sort out the bits of information they need. What's more he'll never get them to believe that he isn't withholding information. So messages will abound of exasperation with Brainthrust for not "being more organized," "delegating more responsibility," "being where he ought to be (which usually means everywhere)" and so on. Given time, Brainthrust may develop some well-trained lieutenants in middle management and rise above the chaos before ulcers or a heart attack.
The messages Brainthrust himself sends out will vary from unapproachable befuddlement (when he's thinking, nothing gets through to him) to "No, no, that won't work. Look, do it like this" (when the idea has clicked into place, and he has another key to the puzzle). Oddly enough, Brainthrust rarely notices the confusion around him - he rarely has the time to. His ability to pull the information out of his head often depends on the stimulation of supporting actors well enough trained to know what questions to ask.
Brainthrust has to be willing to play a center stage role and enjoy the stimulation of the interaction. Otherwise, he would undoubtedly retire to a research and development lab or a nice quiet university campus to pursue his ideas off-stage in peace. This preference seems to be that which separates the entrepreneurs from the scholars, and we leave its explanation to personality theorists.
The second case of the center stage actor is that of one who chooses the role. This actor wants center stage and will send messages of displeasure in response to any attempts to upstage her. Unlike the task leader who has been thrust into the role through organic evolution of information, this actor develops mechanical controls over resources, information, or contracts in order to maintain her position. If she is competent at the role, and if there is no one in the supporting cast who would like to upstage her, messages in the workplace will invoke appeals to her to facilitate the exchange or acquisition of resources, or information and/or her use of contacts to smooth channels of communication. If she is not competent at the role, and does not in fact successfully facilitate the work process, messages will take the form: "Thank goodness, now we can get some work done," as she leaves the scene. When she is competent at her role, action on work scene revolves around her, as petitions for help and useful suggestions fly back and forth. When she is incompetent, or as yet unaccepted, in the center stage role, action on the work scene still revolves around her, though the spotlight will be carried by the dazzle of dress, personality, witty banter or pompous discourse - a variety of messages conveying the stamp of presence.
The actor who prefers a peripheral or supporting role may be just as powerful as a center stage actor. Some people just don't like the heat of the spotlight. Messages that highlight this preference include retreating to the privacy of one's office and quietly solving problems without drawing any attention. This actor may have a powerful communications network and be able to spearhead entire projects without anyone noticing that the impetus came from her. This actor, like Joe Jherkovitz, has learned to control from a peripheral role. We have recently come to call this, "the empty stage" syndrome.
There are some disadvantages to the peripheral role though none so great that those who have chosen it would give it up for center stage. They do express an occasional twinge when they find themselves anonymous while Center Stage Actor to whom they have played a critical supporting role all along, collects the fame. As one peripheral actor put it: "I don't mind missing the limelight. I wouldn't like it anyway. But the humility of having to justify my time and progress to someone who has no idea that all along, I've been behind this project!" Yet they find greater power in the anonymity behind the scenes.
The actor who prefers a peripheral role is likely to push others into the forefront. "You present the paper." "You address the board." "Oh, you take her to lunch; you get along with her so well." These messages require careful reading. They may indicate shyness, lack of assertiveness, mere failure to take credit; or they may indicate a strong supporting role.
It has been our experience that most successful actors change roles from time to time, according to the dictates of the social context and the problem. For this reason we caution once again that messages about careers must be interpreted from extended time-sampling of data. A good front stage, center actor delights in a first-rate supporting role, and every now and then is quite content to sit the whole play out in the audience.
Decision-Making Preference -- Another dimension in interpersonal control styles is closely related to the centrality of role preference - the continuum on decision-making, from authoritarian to democratic. The actor who enjoys center stage, and who likes the power of keeping back key information to prevent upstaging, could logically be expected to exhibit an authoritarian approach to decision-making. Information control messages like the frequent "I'll take care of that myself, Smedley, " are thus one key to authoritarian decision-making. Note that if what Actor just agreed to take care of was a vital link in the project, Actor will have gracefully covered an information control message with a selfless offer to help. These are the niceties of message sending that must be attended to within the entire social context. In one context, and given one pattern of historical trends in message sending, that innocent phrase says "authoritarian decision-maker." Given a different context and a different pattern of historical trends in message sending, the same phrase says nothing but a simple offer to help or a need not to be disturbed.
Moreover, particularly in the area of decision-making, one must consider the appropriateness of the style to the setting. As one famous comedian said, "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." If you plan to get things done in some work environments, you'll have to be authoritarian, or settle for the committee version of an elephant.
There are other work environments in which an authoritarian style can offend as when one has no legitimate authority over those one orders about. They have rather a tendency to resent it. These delicacies of etiquette are offered just in passing. They do so effectively point out the overriding importance of the social context of all messages!
The simple messages of the authoritarian leader, orders to do this or that without consulting the doers of this or that, are now passe in "better" work environments. Business schools have been spelling out in great detail the improved effects of having personnel share in organizational decisions which affect their work. A major American manufacturer has recently reported the formation of quality committees in which workers discuss the problems that have interfered with their production quality. This, as was duly reported by the media, is democratic decision-making at its finest. The manufacturer in question had instituted this new management policy to improve worker morale and improve production standards. Faced, as we are, with widespread job dissatisfaction and slackening rates of growth in GNP, these measures are welcome. However, they should not obscure the fact that many decisions are not amenable to group discussion. If Brainthrust is the only one who understands the problem the committee can debate until doomsday; Brainthrust may listen patiently, but the final decision may be his in the name of logic and the context of the problem.
Actually, this should offer few problems in the work environment except for the effect of all those new managers coming out of business schools, who "know" that "decisions are more effective when those affected take part in making them." Soon the work environment will be flooded with hour-long committee meetings, for everyone to participate, when everyone knows that Clarissa is going to do what she planned to in the first place. Schools of Management are giving authoritarian decision-making a bad reputation. And naive young graduates with excellent authoritarian decision-making skills may wholly suppress those skills before their first bloom.
Like every other dimension we've tried to illustrate, preferences in decision-making style vary with individuals and with situations. No individual belongs in every position in any organization. Part of the challenge of the workplace is fitting the right individual (personal style and all) into a not-too-confining spot. Different ends of the continuum are appropriate at different times and in different contexts. But none of the scales is meant to show "bad" or "good". There are competent and incompetent people at both ends of every style dimension. As far as we can see, no style has a monopoly on competence in either leading or supporting the work environment. We should prefer not to see any style be forced to take cover behind subterfuge (even well-meaning, subconscious subterfuge). Messages out there are already confusing enough.
Values Preference -- One perspective for viewing the values dimensions is that of the open and closed nature of the belief system. One of the best theoretical discussions of the phenomenon is Rokeach's (1960) Open and Closed Mind. Rokeach's work emphasizes the manner in which belief systems tend to constrain the recognition of alternative hypotheses that lie outside the given belief system. For example, the more closed our belief system, the more likely we are to conceive of cars driving on the right hand side of the street as "normal;" the more likely we are to conceive of a "doctor" as "male" - and hence the more difficult the answer to that old riddle about the doctor's son that requires we recognize the doctor to be female. Or the more closed a feminist's belief system, the more likely she is to find difficulty seeing "good" or even "friend" in males - hence, the heroine of The Women's Room (French, 1988), who ultimately defines even her own sons as "the enemy." The closed belief system tends to be branded by the traditional or "accepted" way of seeing things, actually preventing other possibilities from entering the conscious by crowding them out,(Hilgard, 1975) even though one may be actively engaged in reaching for alternatives.
Unfortunately for our venture with personal style, negative connotations have clung to both the terms "authoritarian" and "dogmatism," (Adorno, 1950). As noted earlier, this could have catastrophic results in both personality distortion and production efficiency. While it is perfectly rational to bemoan the tendency of closed belief systems to limit our ability to discern solutions, the work environment has far less need for workers prone to discover Aristotle's "likely impossible" than it has already been rendered possible. The worker with a closed belief system has strong expectations about how to proceed within her known belief system. That can serve an important function to steering the work group back on course at that point when a little more creativity could result in chaos. Organizations (an organisms) can absorb only limited amounts of change within a given time span. Especially in a complex organization where information will have to flow to many people, the closed belief system has a gyroscopic effect of guaranteeing some unanimity of purpose and direction in the midst of change.
Messages in the work environment convey information about interpersonal control style on this dimension by allusions to acceptance or rejection of suggestions that would require a shift in existing belief systems. If Mortimer wanders off muttering, "A woman can't handle that job," it may well be an instance of the inability to fit a female into that position in his belief system. Arguing about his discrimination against women won't help, if it is a belief system problem. For him, it may really be an impossibility. Mortimer's style in interpersonal control requires other people to fit into his belief system; and his belief system is bounded. Ambitious females probably should avoid working for Mortimer. His belief system may be forced to shift over time, but the problem hardly justifies dedicating one's career to it.(Actually, Mortimer is a minor obstacle in the career path of someone marching to a different tune. His messages are clearly sent in the work environment. His cousin, Mortimer Snerd, presents a more challenging hurdle. Snerd never sends any messages. He just quietly thinks to himself: "It will never work," and continues to operate on that premise.) It is important to note that people with closed belief systems do shift their belief systems over time.
Messages that express open belief systems will be found with greater frequency in sectors of the company where creativity is at a premium. When creativity is wanted, control is often negotiated. The messages you send out about your own belief system will lay the foundation for others to judge the kind of supervision you can handle most effectively. This is often the dimension people have in mind when they say "I don't think you'd be happy in this job. It isn't challenging enough." You have somehow conveyed the message that you are open to broad new challenges, when they are seeking someone who will produce to standard. If your messages were clear and honest, they may be right. You might be bored to death by the job.
Standards Preference -- Individual style with respect to standards has been with us a long time. Most of us grew up hearing "if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well," only to hear when we started to work that we needed courses in "time management." There are perfectionists who abhor the lack of perfection as nature abhors a vacuum. They continue to send messages about your best at whatever you do. Messages in the work environment will suggest that they are either supermen who aren't human and can't be emulated anyway, or drop into an early grave from overwork which oughtn't be emulated or wear the rest of us out just watching them, let alone emulating them.
There are some jobs that do demand such perfectionism. One would rather like one's heart or brain surgeon to fall in that category - though they probably don't, at least not outside the operating room. Delicate tasks with narrow margins for tolerance area ideal for perfectionists. And there are probably just enough of those to go around. Most of the rest of us have learned to allow for variation in performance standards within the tolerance limits of the task. That's basically what time management means -dividing your time amongst the tasks at hand so that you maximize your efficiency. Sometimes one has the time to get the task done, though not to the best of one's ability, like making the bed in the morning. When something more pressing is at hand, a quick effort will pass muster. The perfectionist, who demands a single standard, would prefer not to make the bed at all.
We chose to consider this dimension under interpersonal control because performance standards are always negotiated in the workplace. The supervisor who if faced with a subordinate who frequently insists "Oh, I made a mistake. Here, let me do it over," has a subordinate who operates on a single performance standard. In some cases, the supervisor may prefer not to have the work done over, but to simply correct the mistake and go on. The worker's time may be more valuably spent on other projects with higher priority. If the supervisor doesn't take the time to negotiate standards on the spot, performance reviews are likely to highlight misperceptions.
A common exchange of messages in the workplace is between the supervisor and the eager young subordinate. The supervisor may observe that the subordinate is "harried" in his approach to work and could use a good course in time management. The subordinate reacts in emotional terms: "After all the time I put in. My work is excellent. How could she say that?" The subordinate has been sending some messages we noted earlier, the ones about getting everything done and done to the best of his ability. But he may also have been sending messages of extreme overtime, exhaustion, and irritability. The supervisor probably foresees better long term work relationships with Clark Kent than with Superman.
Yet there seems to be another set of messages here. The supervisor continues to give the subordinate more work than can be done in a normal eight-hour day. Willful perversity? Not necessarily. The subordinate who applies a single standard to every task may not have enough time for all. But often that is not what is needed. A three-line note to someone requesting information may well suffice instead of a three-page letter. A phone call may obviate the need for any written communication. The supervisor may, thus, have in a mind a very different way of handling the work load. Not as thorough, not as precise, perhaps. But "close enough for government work" as the saying goes.
It is usually such misperceptions about tolerance requirements for tasks that we find reflected in conflicting reports in the media. Executives are reported to work a 16 hour day. And time-management consultants remind aspiring young executives to fit their work into an 8 hour day. Sometimes even the 16 hour day executives are the ones who point out the need for time management. The problem is misperceptions about standards and the definitions of work. We know of one chief executive who made an appointment to have her hair done in the midst of a morning meeting, discussed a new project over lunch, and read a report while having her hair done. She met an associate for cocktails to discuss a merger, then had dinner with some prospective clients. She was in her office the next morning, vibrant after her sixteen-hour day. By combining many tasks, she was able to do more. The morning meeting didn't need her whole attention, the project didn't require more than a casual overview at lunch, the report she only needed to skim. Through varying the degree of attention and standard level she fits more into the schedule, without being harried.
In this one instance, we admit to a value preference. There are great advantages to developing at least some tolerance for varying standards of performance. A perfunctorily made bed on rare occasions should hardly alter the paths of the planets. However, this is often a question of temperament, which admits of rare amenability to change. Should that be the case; if you are one of those perfectionists uncomfortable with any standard less than your whole attention and maximal effort, listen carefully for messages from fellow paragons of energy and virtue, who will welcome your adherence to top quality. It is in their company you should seek your career goals. By no means choose for a normative reference group executives who manage their sixteen-hour days through purposefully varying standards by task. That's like comparing apples to oranges. And if your ego doesn't bruise first, you may drop in your tracks from exhaustion!
There are numerous other dimensions to interpersonal control. We leave you to discover those that will describe your style and clarify your messages in the work environment.
Situational Context Styles
Another major category of work styles pertains to situational context preferences. In this category, we consider choices of performance control (from strict to minimal), of the desire to fit into the social context of the workplace, of the need for order, of the focus of outlook (from the narrow unit to the broad overview of an industry).
Performance Control Preference -- One of the styles we evince in shaping our work environment centers on performance control. Individuals differ widely in their need for and acceptance of performance roles and guidance. At one end of the continuum, we find those who prefer rigidly defined rules and clearly delineated guidance. The messages they send will vary with their position in the organizational hierarchy, but will always reflect the importance of guidance and control.
For example, in subordinate positions they will express discomfort with work situations that leave latitude for personal discretion. A graphics design worker might ask repeatedly for instructions on positioning titles, or choosing type style and point size from a client who has asked simply for "an open design that draws attention diagnolly across the page."
In executive level positions those on the "firm guidelines" end of the continuum will express the need for committees to develop guidelines for any new project that can't be fitted into existing organizational parameters. They will often refer to existing guidelines in evaluating the merits of proposed programs. Executives who exhibit this style will become adept at shepherding the organization along its established route. They are described by business publications as the "stewards."
At the other end of the continuum we find the "entrepreneur" or "risk takers." They tend to regard rules and guidelines as patterns, sketches for action and the tend not to color within the lines. In judging the merits of proposal programs they are less likely than the "stewards" to ask about institutional fit, and more likely to ask about "new markets," "future spin offs," etc.
In subordinate positions, the messages that identify those who prefer minimal guidance will seek general rather than specific guidelines. For example, the graphics design worker might ask whether the client is looking for warmth or strength to emanate along that diagonal. Instead of questioning persistently until every last detail has been verified with the client, the "entrepreneurial" worker will express delight with the client's good sense in leaving such details to her expertise and talent.
This dimension revolves around the dilemma of free choice; and that is a philosophical dilemma we shall not resolve here, for choice confounds us all. Thus, one should find adequate members of well-respected philosophers to defend the position of both the steward and the entrepreneur.
Fit Preference -- The dimension that measures fit in the social context is related to the "stewardship" dimension just described. The "steward", preferring well defined rules is likely to be willing to fit at least minimally within the framework. We designated that end of this continuum "docile." Following Webster's definition: "docile implies a predisposition to submit to control or an indisposition to resist authority." Messages from subordinates at this end of the continuum would fit Webster's description fairly accurately. Thus, one might hear in answer to a complaint, "But, that's what Ms. Gillicult said she wanted."
At the executive level messages that fit what we have labeled the "docile" end of the spectrum would imply respect for authority, including the respect the executive believes should be attendant upon her own authority. For example, if a subordinate questions another executive's request, one might hear: "If that is what Mr. Culpepper asked for, that is what he wanted."
There is, however, an interesting phenomenon at the executive level. The executive who expects subordinates to fit into the organizational context, may himself refuse to fit. We used to call this "double standard", in a slightly different context. The executive who earned his reputation as a maverick (we labelled it "contumacious" on the continuum), may allow far less freedom to those who follow. Explanations for this curious position may really be found in other dimensions of style, such as degree of authoritarianism in control and degree of openness of belief system. We emphasize this complication here to draw attention to the importance of collecting extensive and representative data samples before drawing conclusions from messages in the work context. The maverick in the chief executive's office may be the Iron Chancellor in his own office.
Messages at the "contumacious" end of the scale reflect an arbitrary refusal to fit. Here we find those who delight in the perversity of parking a crumpled Dodge in their Vice Presidential parking space, wearing blue jeans to board meetings peopled by conservative business suits. Here also we find those who have built solid reputations on flagrant disregard of the norms in the social context. Bella Abzug's famous hats and outspoken rhetoric, Harry Truman's pugnacious bark, Eleanor Roosevelt's firm determination to carry her work beyond the seemly supportive role of First Lady.
It is clear that there is greater latitude for contumacy as one ascends the organizational hierarchy. The young bank teller in New York who showed up for work one morning sporting the latest $200 hairdo of dozens of miniature braids found to her consternation that the work setting was an unforgiving environment. Only after extensive publicity did the bank reinstate her with grudging admission of her right to a choice of hair styles. It was, they said, entirely inappropriate to the decorum of their setting, especially in a boundary position where she was in daily contact with customers. This is one dimension in which achieved status confers the right to indulge one's predilections.
Ambiguity Preference -- Another dimension of style centers on the ability to tolerate ambiguity. We labelled the two ends of this continuum "chaos" and "order." At the chaos end of the scale, we imagined actors who can handle six people at once, with dozens of lieutenant's seeking guidance, sort out the information each needs, and go to create new projects in the midst of the bedlam. There are such people. They are rare; but they do exist. They are often the entrepreneurs who found businesses which skyrocket to monumental success.
At the other end of this continuum are those who are perplexed by mild clutter on a desk. Their papers are always filed neatly away. Their desks are cleared when they leave the office at night. They are the ones who clarify the motion on the floor, so we can figure out what it is we're voting on. At the extreme end of the scale, they express annoyance with work environments that do not function with a controlled and steady work flow. Some tasks, by their very nature, alternate from periods of intense pressure to periods of little of nothing to do. If the script must be rewritten, there is little to be done on the set in the interim. However, if time must be made up for the hiatus, there may be considerable confusion in the rush to put the new script in action.
In some well-established work environments, conditions of order may come to prevail over time; but in organizations that must cope with clients demands and time-lines, there generally results some ambiguity around the edges. Messages in the environment will indicate confusion over who has key information, who has resumed temporary responsibility, who is authorized to order an emergency procedure, etc. Again, over time, teams that work together will develop strategies for coping with these ambiguities. But the introduction of new or temporary extra workers will reactivate the old ambiguities. Workers with a preference for order will tend to deplore the disorganization, and make suggestions for firm guidelines to control every foreseeable contingency.
Another perspective of this dimension addresses the individual's tolerance for ambiguity. Within the personal performance framework that would provide a measure of the person's willingness to cope with tasks that are open-ended with no measures of right or wrong. That continuum might be represented by convergent to divergent production (Guilford, 1967). Convergent production connotes a "right answer", a product with readily measurable standards of quality. Divergent production connotes the "unexpected" or "creative" answer, a product of indeterminate quality (perhaps a work of art). There is far greater ambiguity attached to divergent production, since measures of quality and correctness are far more difficult. Who could have predicted the ultimate value of Einstein's theory of relativity, or of Van Gogh's art? Thus, individuals who prefer divergent production are likely to exhibit a high tolerance of ambiguity. Messages would center on "trying" new perspectives, on "what if . . .," on playing with concepts. Messages reflecting a lower tolerance for ambiguity would refer more frequently to authorities, to past experience - "this worked for the humdrum account."
This perspective of the ambiguity dimension translates to the situational context in terms of the kinds of tasks tackled by the organization. Work groups whose products must be divergent are far more likely to abound with divergent messages: Theatrical, film productions, advertising, media, research and development. Work groups expected to produce a given product or service in quantity are more likely to abound with convergent messages: Assemblyline production, health care services, food service, sales, etc.
Focal Preference -- The last dimension we consider in the situational context category is that of focus. We draw here on the conceptual framework of the "local" versus the "cosmopolitan," (Merton, 1957). The local focuses on the immediate work group or local unit. Messages which indicate this view of the situational context are more conspicuous for what is not said than for what is. The local will rarely mention problems that touch upon organization-wide, state-wide, national concerns. Her work messages will deal exclusively with problems centering on her tasks, her unit, her responsibilities.
The cosmopolitan, on the other hand, will view the work setting in terms of its fit with the broader organizational context and with professional associations outside the organization. Messages will thus reflect concern with her own tasks and responsibilities, but are also likely to include concerns for how those tasks and responsibilities fit into the broader context.
As noted in an earlier chapter, organizations tend to expect a more cosmopolitan focus as one moves up the organizational hierarchy. Many supervisors take this dimension into consideration when screening subordinates for promotion. Said one executive, "I always look for interest in the organization beyond the local department."
As in the case of the other categories, there are numerous dimensions one could cite. These few will serve as examples to elicit others.
The last category brings us full circle to the world view from which we derive our style preferences. We offer limited coverage of a few of the dimensions in this category, for they fall rightfully in the domain of philosophy. However, as we noted earlier in the existential stylistic preferences often color messages in the social context. It's like the glass of water -- is it half empty or half full?
World views color our perception of the world as inherently "good" or "bad." Those who see the world as "bad" are more likely to expect that workers will not work unless they are forced to, that they will not be rewarded unless they demand it, that the world situation is degenerating so rapidly that career problems are trivial anyway. On the contrary, those who see the world as "good" are likely to expect that most workers want to perform well if given the chance; that even though some company policies are not to one's liking, there is probably no malevolence behind them - things just work out that way sometimes, and so on.
World view also colors our perception of the world as meaningful or absurd. Whether there is an ultimate design and/or purpose to the world is an issue that has engaged the philosophic mind for centuries. Most of us, either consciously or subconsciously take a position somewhere along that continuum. Jean Paul Sartre (1977), who imputed total responsibility to man for his every act, spoke of the anguish of the absurd - the belief that the only meaning to man's existence was the meaning (essence) he gave that existence through the aggregate of his actions.
One who sees the world as meaningful only through the sum of his actions is likely to assume a similar ability to impose meaning in the world of work. The existentialist, then, would be likely to accept responsibility for carving a career out for herself in an otherwise meaningless hodge-podge of the job market absurd.
On the other hand, one who believes the world would be ultimately meaningful, is more likely to seek meaningful patterns for careers in the context of the job market. Such a world view would lead one to believe that the world of work, like the rest of the world, will ultimately fall into purposeful order. Thus, disposed, one is more likely to see purposeful order.
Those who, at the other extreme, see the world as absurd, will not expect the world of work to be any more meaningful than the rest. They will view careers, career paths, and organizations as logical extensions of the work world. Having assessed it as absurd, they dropped out long ago.
The views one holds on the imputation of values and meaning lead to one's view of the work world either consequent or inconsequent. To some, reared in the philosophy of the Protestant Ethic, according to which work a major value, the career is a matter of major consequence. For most of us, the career is consequent at the least by virtue of the proportion of our lifetime devoted to work. To others, values and identity are founded on other pursuits or beliefs, and the world of work is inconsequent. Messages in the work setting should reflect this perspective through the affect level attached to one's progress and success at work. If work holds an inconsequent role in one's life, there will be little affect attached to it, and messages will deal proportionately more with pursuits one values. If work holds a consequent role, there will be strong affect, and messages in the work setting will deal proportionately more with one's work than with other pursuits.
The final dimension of world view we examine here is that of tractability - the extent to which one perceives the world as controllable. The locus of control can be perceived as internal, in which case one accepts responsibility for what happens to one. Or the locus of control can be perceived as external to oneself, in which case responsibility for what happens lie with fate or some other power. Most of us recognize a mixture of internal and external locus of control. The simple prayer, "God help me to change those things I can, to accept those things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference;" is a popular acknowledgement of this mixture of internal and external locus of control.
In the work setting, the mixed locus of control would be indicated through messages acknowledging that some opportunities and promotions were missed through no fault of one's own, while others were still within one's power to control. A person with a predilection to see the world as wholly within her control is more likely to blame herself for having failed, even when a missed promotion was clearly based on nepotism or favoritism, not on greater ability. At the opposite end of the continuum, one inclined to see the world as beyond his control (external locus of control) is more likely to feel that any missed promotion or opportunity is the result of nepotism, favoritism or just plain bad luck. He would not be inclined to consider that he could have altered the outcome through his own efforts.
Thus, Weltanschauung leaves a noticeable imprint on the messages we project about the work setting and about ourselves. Philosophy offers a rich ground to search for the perceptions that shape our expectations. The few we have covered here should lay an adequate foundation to explore the major tenets of your own Weltanschauung.
Whether you choose to become an innovator or a revolutionary; whether you are labeled and/or stigmatized, this chapter has focused on who's on the inside, who's on the outside and why. We looked at dimensions of individual style. In second half of this chapter, we have presented an open paradigm as a framework for the analysis of individual style, as it affects a language about careers. Individual style is another source of "noise" or message distortion. Sometimes one projects more about oneself than one does about the subject one meant to cover. This chapter was designed to develop an awareness of the variety of dimensions of individual style that combine to affect the meaning of messages. Four dimensions of individual style were examined: personal performance styles, interpersonal control styles, situational context styles and Weltanschauung styles. Examples of the effects of each on messages in the work setting were provided.
Choose a job about which you have a good idea of the tasks involved. (If this produces a blank, it's time to visit you career placement center). Now let's compare you and the job.
Check the relative level of importance of each of the tasks listed for both you and your job. You could do this in two ways: 1) Mark your perceptions, as they stand now. 2) Ask a supervisor of such a job to make his/her perceptions of the importance of each task to the job. Then compare your perceptions with the supervisor's perceptions.
HINT: Use the chart as a guide. Add any categories relevant to you and your job that we have not included. Then answer the questions which follow.
---------- Important------------------Neutral------------------ Not Important-------TASK
You -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Routine paper work
You --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Supervision of others
You ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Writing memos, reports
You ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Interacting with clients
You ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Originating ideas
Your Job ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
You ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Repetitive physical tasks
You --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Physical activity
Add any task relevant to your job which do not appear on our list.
Where you have discovered differences between the importance you accord to a task and its importance to the job, there is a need to work out a suitable compromise. For example, we consider routine paperwork boring and unimportant. No matter how hard we try, we never manage to keep up with the mountain of forms. The university, on the other hand, has entire departments (admissions and records) which revolve around the accurate and prompt completion of routine paperwork. Here there is definitely a need to work out a compromise. After several years of valiant attempts, we have finally developed a system of changing tasks with others so that most (not all) forms eventually reach their destination; and the university has indulgently accepted our lack of promptness. Rest assured, we will never take a job where routine paperwork is of major importance!
Analyze the discrepancies you find between the tasks that are important to you and the tasks that are important to your job. How important to you and the tasks that are important to your job? How can the tasks of the job be adjusted to better suit your personality? Can you do some of them at a better time of the day for you? Can you exchange tasks with someone so each of you can spend more time on preferred tasks? Can you work together with someone on the tasks you consider less important but that must be done -- sometimes sharing the work you consider less important can help develop better communication for the more important tasks.
Analyze too, how you can adjust to better fit the job. What tasks that you now consider unimportant would you be willing to spend a little more time on now that you recognize their importance to the job? Is there some way you can adjust your personal life so you can spend more time on things you consider important but the job does not?
If your analysis shows a good fit between you and your job, that's great! If the fit is poor, and you can't seem to adjust either the job or yourself, look around for a job that fits better. Maybe it's time for a promotion.
Listed below are several style preferences taken from the scales described in Figure 8-1 and in the body of this chapter. Pick any work organization that you know and look around for someone who fits one of the styles.
1. Listen to their dialogue and record the messages they send. Record also the social context in which the message is sent.
2. Listen to what others say to them, and record the messages they receive. Record also the social context of these messages.
3. Listen to what others say about them, and record these messages with their social context too.
Task Oriented-------------------------------Interpersonal-relations oriented
Work with others --------------------------------------- Work alone
----fast pressured -----------------------------------------------slow unpressured
----cooperative -------------------------------------------------- competitive
Stage Center ------------------------------------------ Peripheral role
----always actor --------------------------------------------- always audience
Authoritarian ------------------------------------- Democratic
Closed belief system ------------------ Open belief system
---- bounded -------------------------------------- open
Demanding of a single standard --------- Allowance for variable
---- single standard ------------------------------------ tolerance
No rules -minimal guidance -------------------- Rigid rules - strict guidelines
Docile ---------------------------------------------------- Contumacious
Chaos ----------------------------------------------------------- Order
Local --------------------------------------------------------- Cosmopolitan
Before you choose a style of preference to observe and analyze, review the chapter descriptions of these styles and see if one of them fits someone you know and can observe in a work setting. Remember, people and social contexts are complex, and most people will exhibit a combination of the style preferences we have listed above as well as some that are not on our list. Thus, not all the messages you hear will relate to the style preference you have chosen to observe. Therefore, it is important to choose your subject carefully and to observe the most outstanding and obvious style preference they seem to exhibit. Additionally, the meaning of the message will vary with the social context as we have stressed before, so you will need to include the social context in your observations of style.
Once you have gathered the three sets of messages, try to select from each list those messages that relate to the style preference you chose at the beginning. Include in your selection enough of the social context to support your selections. Then answer the following questions.
1. What kind of messages are likely to be sent by people who exhibit the style you have chosen?
2. What kind of messages are likely to be sent to people who exhibit the style you have chosen? (include here both preference and performance messages).
3. What kind of messages are likely to be sent about people who exhibit the style you have chosen?
Listed below are several style preferences not covered in this chapter, along with some theoretical concepts that are likely to be related to these styles. Repeat the exercise outline above, using one of the style preferences listed below and the associated theoretical framework (you'll have to find and review the theory and research on your own).
|Terse --- Verbose||Restricted & elaborated language codes|
|Immediate gratification -- Delayed gratification||socialization theory|
|Attention to details --- Holistic perception||Gestalt perception research - field dependence & independence|
|Risk avoidance --- Risk taking||Socialization theory/Reference groups|
|Mechanical solidarity --- Organic solidarity||Durkheim's division of labor|
Deviance -- Behavior that a considerable number of people in a society view as reprehensible and beyond the limits of tolerance. (VanderZanden, 1993).
Differently abled -- Individuals with disabilities, both physical and mental.
In-group -- A group with which we identify and to which we belong. (VanderZanden, 1993). Groups defined by the ethnocentric assumption that "my group is best" and by associating with people who are like ourselves on some important dimension. The people we accept as like us are "in," and those not like us are "out."
Innovator -- Merton's concept of someone who accepts the societal goals but does not accept or does not have access to the institutionalized means of attaining those goals. A good example of an innovator is a criminal.
Labeling -- Becker's theory of deviance which focuses not on the individual act itself, but rather on the societal reactions including the falsely accused.
Out-group -- A group which we don't identify and to which we do not belong. (VanderZanden, 1993).
Reference Group -- Those people that tell us what the norms are, how we should behave, what we should do.
Stigma -- Goffman's concept used to describe individuals with "an attribute that is deeply discrediting."
How well did you pay attention to this chapter? Are you on the inside or the outside? But more importantly, do you understand why that is? Place a T for True or an F for False.
|-----||1. There are 43 million Americans who have one or more physical or mental disabilities.||-----|
|-----||2. Deviant behavior is good.||-----|
|-----||3. Labeling is similar to stereotyping||-----|
|-----||4. Reference groups are those people who tell us what the norms are and we listen||-----|
|-----||5. Style is a distinctive or characteristic manner of action.||-----|
|-----||6. In-group assumes "my group is best."||-----|
|-----||7. A stigma is a positive trait.||-----|
|-----||8. An innovator is a creative and imaginative person. An innovator can probably succeed in the arts||-----|
|-----||9. There are competent and incompetent people at both ends of every style dimension.||-----|
|-----||10. According to labeling theorists, "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."||-----|
|-----||11. A revolutionary raises the consciousness of the masses, according to Marx.||-----|
|-----||12. To be competitive is better than being non-competitive.||-----|
Check your answers in the next section.
Scoring and Career Forecasts for Self-Diagnostic
Score one point for each correct answer.
Your career forecast for Chapter 8:
10-12 points:You must be an "insider" about deviant behavior!
7-9 points: We got you a little this time. You paid attention some of the time.
4-6 points: Do you have your foot in the door -- both inside and outside?
0-3 points: Neither an insider or an outsider -- what is it you want?