Emotional detachment and the calling of OD

One definition of a calling is simply a vocation, trade and or profession. Another dimension of a calling is a strong impulse, inner yearning and/or beckoning to practise a certain profession.

Certainly there is a lot to be said for viewing ones’ profession as a calling: enjoyment, fulfillment and self-expression, and not simply a “bag”. (old slang for a way to earn a few bucks).

Organization Development is a compatible calling for many sorts of people driven by values and the desire to make a difference: practised well, OD is meaningful, powerful, interdisciplinary and very hard to get right. Although it is sisyphic, it has a huge impact on the quality of relationships and outputs in the workplace.

Beyond the positives that can attract folks to practice OD as a calling, I want to point out one of the less discussed, obscure and counter-intuitive motivations to the OD trade: it is a profession which can provide a people-interaction platform for those of us with emotional detachment. 

  • It is the very “numbing” so characteristic of emotional detachment that allows the practitioner to distance himself/herself from a situation and thus provide value-added meaning and perspective. This numbing provides value in diagnosis, intervention and monitors energy levels. 
  • The emotional detachment allows the practioner to develop a practice with a wide range of clients, all of which are contract-based and limited in time. The contract and the time limitation allow the emotionally detached consultant to give more, with less personal anxiety.

There are many reasons that I love doing OD work. First and foremost, it is because it is interdisciplinary and very hard work to do well. However, I easily admit that OD has provided a loner with a playing field to interact with people. Had I not chosen OD as a calling, I may well have had gone into a field more akin to the nerds of today. In many ways, I have made my handicap into an advantage.

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13 thoughts on “Emotional detachment and the calling of OD

  1. Allon

    This is interesting– and leads me to two thoughts–

    One is the mentalizing system, the brain system that is involved in empathy (ref: Matt Lieberman in his book Social and other papers). Without it, you are detached, but do you have all the information?

    Two–(and this is meant academically and out of my curiosity, not out of malice) If you describe yourself as “detached”, but without empathy is that on the spectrum towards being a sociopath? Is it then a set of abstract values that is the control?

  2. You could very well be describing me, Allon. Except that I’ve never had the sales/marketing capabilities.

  3. I guess the key word is “detachment”, any detachment, not just “emotional”. As in the old example: it is very hard to move a chair when you keep sitting on it, but as soon as you get up (“detach” yourself from it) the task becomes a piece of cake.

    I noticed many times how my “effectivness” as a consultant drops ten-fold as soon as I start “caring” for the client’s business, but, as soon as the client notices that, he/she stops trusting whatever I would say: and no matter how relevant and “clever” is my analysis and recommendations, they simply wouldn’t go for it. Funny, the most successful consultants that I met (in terms of having contracts all the time) were very much an “old grandpa” type: easily available, comfortable and “conforting” to be with, never interfering, appearing wise, generally doing very little, offering the client a “sweet candy” from time to time, and being perfectly comfortable when the “boy/girl” (client) happily goes back to breaking his “toys” (organization)… A “Santa Claus” type of emotional detachment?

  4. My friend Gita Baack introduced me to your blog, and I am grateful she did so. First of all, it’s been too long since I was around some serious thinking about OD, and it is a pleasure to reconnect to the field. Secondly, your incisive and perceptive observations are wonderful. I would like to read your thoughts on needy clients. Thanks.

  5. At the beginning of my career, I fused “detachment” with “indifference”; and failed to see its virtue. As I pursued my own development, I began to see how I was using OD to have others do what I would have wanted to do myself in their circumstance. Gradually, I became more of a non-deciding and non-colonizing guide, able to confront while comfortable with offering my thoughts to open debate. In the context of the cultures I worked in, this marriage of the heart and the sword seemed to produce more satisfying work for me and better results for my clients.

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