Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Implicit and Covert Factors in Contracting

On Monday, January 7, 2019, my dear friend and mentor on my PhD committee at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Leonard Oseas, passed away. In tribute to Len I want to explain how he changed the way I think.

My dissertation explored "The Status Dimension in Helping Relationships" with a focus on O.D. (organizational development) consulting, where "consultants have been perplexed by the difficulty in achieving collaborative relationships with clients." O.D. clients typically work in hierarchical organizations based on an authority structure, and are not necessarily used to collaborating.

The desired outcome from the consultant's perspective is for clients to be able to solve their own problems, and social science theory suggests this can only be brought about through consultant/client collaboration.

However, my research suggested that "collaboration is difficult to achieve because it runs counter to social structure, to role expectations, and to personality characteristics that elicit dominance-submission. Collaboration as a value tends to lead consultants to insist on collaboration, which reinforces their dominance.  Furthermore, this communication ('You will collaborate') is paradoxical to clients. If they 'collaborate' by going along with the consultant, they will be praised for in fact doing as they are told; if they choose not to collaborate they will be negatively labeled ('resistance') for self-initiated action. No wonder our clients seem confused!"

From the pages of my dissertation featuring Oseas' unpublished manuscript, "Implicit and Covert Factors in Contracting," University of Cincinnati, 1976:

" is Shapiro's hypothesis that at the implicit level the 'child' of each makes a primary contract with the 'parent' of each. 
Issues of power and influence become very central in the actual human contracts formed, despite the legal, business or social forms of these contracts. (Shapiro, 1968: 175)
"On the above point Oseas goes so far as to say:
Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the helping contract cannot be an agreement between equals... When it is based on the unequal distribution of expertise, a relationship of legitimate dependency on the more expert member is both fair and sensible (p. 3).
"Oseas attributes this 'fair and sensible' inequality to the natural feelings of inadequacy and self-recrimination accompanying the decision to seek professional help. In part, then, he sees the obstacles to achieving parity as arising from client characteristics. In citing the O.D. literature on contracts, Oseas observes the stated desire to make the terms of the consultant-client agreement explicit, guaranteeing against the abuse of  authority. He points out, however, that not all matters important to the agreement can be made explicit, some being only dimly perceived as relevant and others being so deeply ingrained as to be nonnegotiable.

"In the context of norms and values, Oseas discusses the impact of disparities between consultant and client. The consultant values openness, risk-taking, emotional expressivity, and collaboration, toward which the client's reservations are likely to remain unexpressed. Thus a given of the implicit contract 'to which the client's diffidence appears to be giving tacit approval' is that 'faulty norms will invariably be found at the root of the client's difficulties' (p. 10). The terms of this implicit contract would require the client's norms to be relinquished in favor of the consultant's, a difficult contract to be fulfilled:
... compliance... would require them to discard behavior that is habitual and constantly reinforced; that stabilizes their organizational world; that has the sanction of authority in the organization; that earns them meaningful rewards; and thus is a condition of their being members-in-good-standing of the groups that matter to them (p. 11).
"Oseas concludes that collaboration of these two 'systems' requires that each maintain its integrity. The explicit terms of the contract must, therefore, be perceived as consistent with the ingrained habits and beliefs of each."

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Conversations with Dr. Leonard Oseas that expanded my thinking about how best to consult with clients have influenced my entire career and every coaching book I've written. So, Len's ideas about implicit and covert factors in contracting have been published.