After listening to a podcast about Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, I became interested in micro-physics in regular interactions where power is used in the everyday level.
Human systems typically include four types of interactions: conflicts, unified interactions, crises and separate interactions.
Systems typically have many of these interactions going on at the same time: there are forces that collide with each other, forces that unify and forces that separate the actors.
Conflicts and crises are defining moments in the interaction process: based on the skills, requirements and valuations of the actors, the system can either move towards stronger unity or deepening separation.
We could imagine an everyday conversation that shows these various interactions:
Jack and Maria are sitting in the break room. Jack is reading an article about happiness in work, Maria is reading a women’s magazine.
Jack: I think our workplace could have a better working atmosphere. [opening the interaction from an initial state of separation]
Maria: What do you mean? [conflict]
J: Often I’m faced with excessive criticism instead of constructive attitude. [building the conflict]
M: You’re totally right, that happens quite often.[unity] I think it has to do with the managers, they often seem out of touch from the practical work. [unity, separation]
J: Well, to some extent, yeah. [unity] But I think all employees are partly responsible for the atmosphere, not just the bosses. [crisis]
M: I guess you have some truth in that. [unity]
Maria’s first reply shows the structure of a conflict: it isn’t necessarily a “big argument”, but asynchrony between the participants’ thoughts. Typically unity is built towards others, as can be seen in the way Maria says managers are to blame.
What is important to notice is that these various “micro-interactions” take place in the communication process all the time. No state is problematic in itself, but they all require communication skills to direct the process towards a desired state.
There are typical phrases that emerge in the different phases:
“What do you mean?”
“What is your point?”
“Why did you do that?”
“Do as I say.”
“We’re all in this together.”
“What should we do?”
“In my opinion you acted stupidly.”
“I disagree with you on this.”
“Why are you neglecting me?”
Polite co-operation with minimal interaction.
If we were to combine this with the different system types thinking, the defining factor would be “what the emerging unity is like”. The equivalences could go something like this:
Closed system – strongest dominates
Open system – majority dominates
Random system – no-one is responsible
Synchronous system – everyone is responsible