Brexit (chapter 934)

Brexit (chapter 934)

and Supervision as the art of the impossible.

and Supervision as the art of the impossible.

There is no doubt that – whatever side of the argument one is on – ‘Brexititis’ is a pathology that manifests itself in the consulting-room: the uncertainty is destabilising, the rancour between the two camps is upsetting, and the feeling that the consequences could be felt for decades is deeply stressful. (Events are much less disturbing if the end-date is known.) A nation’s destiny wavers, and a faltering leadership cannot reassure: ordinary citizens may always lack agency in these world-historical affairs but that is cruelly underlined at this moment.

The sheer complexity of the issue is daunting: it is impregnated with the histories and cultures of the countries concerned and the nature of their historic interrelationships; political, geographic and economic realities, sociological dimensions; and a psychodrama shot through with ambition, careerism, patriotism, jingoism, rivalry values, ideals, and a set of often flawed personalities who work through heaven knows what complexes on the world stage.

But from this we can learn something – that many hyper-complex issues are literally incomprehensible and unmanageable. They are beyond our ken. And yet we aspire to understand and to manage them, we pretend we are capable of what we are not, and leaders understandably and rightly persist in what Gramsci called ‘pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will’. Pity Theresa May and pity other leaders too: perhaps they asked for their predicament, but someone had to….

In a way this is what makes life so exciting: we operate with insufficient information and limited brain-power to analyse the extraordinarily multifarious complex of issues that inform our lives and the challenges we face……and yet we proceed, with working hypotheses, evanescent shimmerings of understanding, and a rag-bad of theories, models, and notions: derived from education formal or otherwise and from our experience. This often ‘works’ in the sense that we can proceed on the path of life with renewed confidence, if not certainty.

These issues are alive in the activity of supervision where a ‘meta’ view – the vision of a deus ex machina who is able to see the whole picture – is at least aimed at, if never of course fully realised. The supervisor – of coaches or consultants – deploys a range of theories, models, techniques and his/her experience and emotional reactions to help clients to understand a patchwork of elements. These include the relationship of supervisor and coach/consultant, that of the coach/consultant and their client, and the organisational system of which the latter is a part.

By getting beyond the factual surface to the underlying and often unconscious factors, the supervisor illuminates fundamental forces at work, so that their clients have a better, more informed understanding of ‘what is going on’ and the basis for hypotheses which can provide a springboard for activity and new dynamics between the principal actors. Implicit in this is an acceptance that this shared understanding is only provisional and may be superseded by the arrival of further information. But for the moment a way forward emerges.

If the Brexit process had a supervisor, this is what she or he would try to do: firstly by acknowledging that the supervisory task is impossible and that – to borrow from Beckett – one can only ‘fail better’; secondly by looking at the historical path that has brought Europe to this rupture; thirdly, by attending to the socio-economic and political frames; and finally by trying to understand the psychic roots of what is happening in the negotiations: via archetypal figures, well-worn narratives, metaphors of divorce and battle, and the emotional needs and drives of the key figures.

James Mackay is a Founder and Director of the Tavistock Institute’s courses in Supervision for Coaching and Consultancy, and in Coaching for Leadership and Professional Development

For the new brochure for the Supervision for Coaching and Consultancy including more details about module dates, the fee and venue or if you have any questions, please contact Rachel Kelly, Professional Development Manager.

Subscribe to our newsletter

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations | 63 Gee Street, London, EC1V 3RS
hello@tavinstitute.org | +44 20 7417 0407
Charity No.209706 | Design & build by Modern Activity