The Feeling Function and Workplace Conflict

Updated: Apr 5, 2021


Workplace conflict is far more prevalent
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Workplace conflict is far more prevalent than you think. It has a damaging impact on the effectiveness or profitability of an organisation if it is not addressed or resolved. Organisations spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to resolve individual and group differences whilst extolling their workplace as a great place to work. If you really want to know what it's truly like to work in a particular company or organisation - forget staff surveys - look at the number and nature of grievances raised within it. Staff surveys do not go far or deep enough - getting to understand the culture of a workplace means you have to be prepared to unravel a person's individual experience within that workplace. Grievances are formed from the daily battlefields of conflict in the workplace. When a grievance is lodged by an employee, managers usually contact Human Resources for advice on how to address the complaint. In response, HR instantaneously reaches out to the Grievance Policy and Procedure and everything from that point onwards becomes a process and tick box exercise on legal obligations. I think this is the right approach in the first instance, complaints must be taken seriously and handled appropriately. However, I think process is not entirely helpful when the complaint is formed as a result of conflict or discordant behaviour between individuals or groups of people.


In this edition of #JungianBitsofInformation I will describe the Feeling Function - a psychological concept and one of the four mental processes of the Personality (including Sensation, Intuition and Thinking). I will also explain how the Feeling Function causes conflict in the workplace and how organisations can use it in a practical way to resolve conflict and to address discordant behaviour in the workplace. My overall aim is to show you how the Feeling Function causes conflict but also resolves it. When the Feeling Function is outwardly expressed it validates, affirms and relates to others and when inwardly expressed it judges, appraises and establishes the value of others (Beebe, J (2017). Energies and Patterns in Psychological Type. Routledge, p. 5). But what happens when the Feeling Function is undeveloped or suppressed in the Personality? The weakly developed Feeling manifests in the personality of the individual as a repelling irritability - grumpy, picky and fault finding. These are some of the behaviours which propel workplace grievances to stratospheric and unresolvable levels.


An individual's capability to develop and implement a practical solution to a workplace problem or challenge is a classic telltale sign of a highly effective person. I want to start my blog with this seemingly egotistical statement to set the scene for the emergence of discordant behaviour in the workplace and it's effect on the motivation and productivity of those working in it. It might sound egotistical because my work is about continuous improvement in the workplace. My clients expect someone with my knowledge, skills and experience to successfully develop or implement solutions, however, after many years working in this field, I have experienced and can see how the behaviour of leaders and managers disrupt efforts to improve and contributes to lowered productivity. From the vantage point of an HR practitioner, I have experienced and can see how the genesis of conflict begins to simmer between individuals and become increasingly hostile. Therefore, I would like to put forward a proposition which transforms the concept of the Feeling Function from merely being a descriptive, psychological concept into something of value for organisations in diagnosis, prognosis, assessment and resolution of workplace conflict.


The emergence of conflict and discordant behaviours in the workplace I once wrote a discussion paper for a client setting out a set of proposals for change to a system. I carried out a deep analysis of the current state of the system and so, I felt confident in my proposals and excited to discuss it in detail with my client. I arranged a meeting to discuss the proposals with the client-leadership team but earlier that day I met with a colleague from one of the departments. Our conversation soon turned towards our ideas for the development of the system so I decided to share my proposals with him. He was also very enthusiastic about my ideas and suggested I share the paper with some of his colleagues which I did soon after the meeting. My excitement and proposals soon came to an abrupt end. The response from one of his colleagues was unexpectedly unpleasant. His colleague negatively rather than constructively criticised the paper, made inaccurate assumptions about my motivations for writing the paper and highlighted faults which weren't made explicit. Then there was a final concluding and withering comment which made me say to myself "Ouch!". I apologised, of course, in the interest of harmonious relationships but the individual did not respond. This single event does not in itself trigger conflict. But you can see how the seeds of conflict are thrown into the fertile ground ready to be cultivated, watered and pruned! If this type of behaviour is a common feature of an individual's transactions with others then it will lead to discordant behaviour. The greenshoots of conflict in the workplace consistently emerge as a consequence of a string of antagonistic behaviours by an individual towards others.


What is the Feeling Function?

From an analytical psychology standpoint, the four main mental processes together show how the Personality works in practice. Thinking tells us what a thing is, we name it and link it to other things. Sensation brings all the available facts to the senses, telling us that something is, but not what it is. Intuition gives us a sense of where something is going, of what the possibilities are, without conscious proof or knowledge. Feeling is something other than emotion or affect, it is a consideration of the value of something or having a viewpoint or perspective on something. An individual will favour one of the four mental processes and in doing so places it at the forefront of their Personality.


Feeling is often described as an emotion or affect but this is not the case with the Feeling Function - affect is synonymous with emotion; a feeling of sufficient intensity to cause nervous agitation or other psychological disturbances. One has command over feeling, whereas affect intrudes against one's will and can only be repressed with difficulty (Samuels et al (1986). A Critical Dictionary of Jungian Analysis. Hove: Routledge, p.11). Our emotions happen to us: affect occurs at the point which our adaptation to the function is weakest and at the same time exposes the reason for its weakness. This is known as a Complex; a psychological wound which gives rise to an affect when it is touched and typically resolved through psychotherapy.


The Feeling Function is a thoroughly neglected and undervalued concept in workplace psychology, Human Resource management, leadership and management development and workplace conflict resolution theory. It is often bestowed upon women as the standard bearer holders of the virtues of feeling. This puts women in a pre ordained Personality type solely and wholly oriented by the Feeling Function. The individual, regardless of gender, who is wholly oriented by the Feeling Function apprehends or perceives information through a governing principle of value and applies it to assess experience or information. In other words, the Feeling Function applies feeling values to assess experience. The individual is oriented to favouring or not favouring, liking or not disliking, feeling comfortable or uncomfortable with or related or unrelated to the object (Johnston, J (2016). Jung's Indispensable Compass: Navigating the Dynamics of Psychological Types. Princeton University Press, p. 30).


The Feeling Function is primarily a mental process of relation, a function of relationship that evaluates, appreciates a situation, a person, a moment in terms of value. In making judgements the Feeling Function balances one's values, compares tones and qualities, weighs the importance and decides upon the values it discovers. The Feeling Function relates you as the subject to an object (another person, event, situation, information etc), to the contents of your psyche as values and to your own subjectivity as a general feeling, tone and mood. A pre-requisite for feeling, particularly when expressed inwardly, is a structure of feeling memory, a set of values or ideals to which an object can be related. Past experiences influence the structure of your feeling memory and the development of your values. Individuals predisposed to this mental process are often the standard bearers of harmonious relationships in the workplace.


How does the Feeling Function cause conflict?

When the Feeling Function is not at the forefront of the mental processes in the Personality there is a likelihood that it will not be favoured by the individual. It is entirely excluded from the Personality and therefore in psychological terms is considered "unconscious". Over time the Feeling Function within the individual is underused, undeveloped and untrained. It is from this stage of poor psychological development that the seeds of conflict and discordant behaviour are sown. Remember, a person wholly oriented to the Feeling Function is highly relatable, sociable, empathetic and always seeking to harmonise social relationships in the workplace. The person with undeveloped feeling is the exact opposite - un-relatable, it is hard to establish a productive, working relationship with them, sociable to some extent but they will awkwardly express their feelings using for example, sarcasm, cynicism, derision and contempt. They avoid sentimentality, dislike showing their feelings or emotions and will disparage the tearful sentiments of others. Taken to the extreme, when the Feeling Function is unconscious, it resides in the Shadow, a psychological concept which describes the part of the Personality which carries many of the discarded or unwanted attributes that an individual does not value; moral, social, ethical or even sexual attributes. The Shadow of the Feeling Function produces touchy and temperamental personalities. The individual perceives traitors lurking in the workplace. A them and us mentality develops creating acrimony, resentment and aggression. There is a petty mistrust of others and negative assumptions are constantly made about other people. People or ideas that do not align with their one-sidedness are condemned. The individual withdraws personal sympathy, denigrates critics and demolishes opposition with withering statements and by any means possible. If they feel ignored, they lose their social bearings, become prone to troublesome social relationships and reckless value judgments. The weakly developed Feeling manifests in the personality of the individual as a repelling irritability - grumpy, picky and fault finding. These are some of the behaviours which propel workplace grievances to stratospheric and unresolvable levels. The shadow is usually negatively projected onto others and therefore remains unadapted, awkward, childish but not wholly bad. If the individual is able to integrate the contents of their shadow into their Personality, there is often a revitalisation or transformation of the individual. In other words, the individual has a growing self awareness of the one sidedness of their Personality and the necessity to integrate not just one or two of the four mental processes but all of them i.e. Feeling, Thinking, Sensation, Intuition. This is particularly important for leaders and managers. Running an organisation or company or managing people is not just about belting out orders, delegating tasks, creating order, super efficiency and ignoring nuance - the Feeling Function enables leaders and managers to harmonise the social fabric of the workplace, align the goals of the organisation with those of their people, minimise conflict and create an environment where discordant behaviours are simply not acceptable.


How does the Feeling Function resolve conflict?

We have seen how the Feeling Function can cause conflict but how does it resolve it? When the Feeling Function is outwardly expressed it validates, affirms and relates to others and when inwardly expressed it judges, appraises and establishes the value of others. Therein lies the resolution. As you can see from the table below there are generally speaking, three states of an under-developed Feeling Function each of which can be resolved through progressive steps of self awareness and understanding, psychotherapy or psychiatry. From a workplace perspective my proposition is that raising an individual's self awareness and understanding through the Feeling Function is a practical way for organisations to resolve conflict or to address discordant behaviour. The individual in conflict gains an awareness and understanding of the Feeling Function and how it creates and resolves conflict. Through discussion with an appropriate professional they are guided towards a voluntary prioritisation of the Feeling Function and its positive behavioural attributes in an effort to resolve conflict. The individual displaying repetitive discordant behaviour also gains an awareness and understanding of how their suppression or withdrawal of the Feeling Function creates disharmony in the workplace. Both conflict and disharmony leads to nothing but disgruntled people and lowered productivity.


Self awareness is an incredibly powerful mode of change for the transformation of the personality. Interpersonal conflict arises because of a difference in opinion, relatedness, ways of seeing things or sometimes just downright unawareness of the impact of one's behaviour on others. Your behaviour may seem perfectly reasonable to you but to others you may be perceived as a tyrannical and un-relatable person. If you find yourself embroiled in conflict in the workplace or complaints are made about your behaviour then take a step back, reflect and consider how you might be repeatedly suppressing or withdrawing the Feeling Function in your interactions with others.


How to implement the Feeling Function in workplace conflict resolution?

The quickest way to implement the Feeling Function in your organisation is to remember. Remember human nature and the dynamics of our relationships both within ourselves and with others. HR has long forgotten the value of psychological insight regarding people in the workplace. The professional and legal solution is to throw the Grievance Policy and Procedure at the conflict, ignore or minimise the allegations of discordant behaviour, get it out of the way by exiting the individual through an mutual agreement, offer mediation, coaching or mentoring. I think there is a lot of merit in these types of interventions but they don't go far or deep enough to resolve the conflict or address the discordant behaviour. Organisations can take things a lot further by remembering and then enabling self awareness for leaders, managers and employees. This is relatively simple to do. There are questionnaires available which are designed to help you raise your awareness and understanding of the dynamics of the four mental processes in your own Personality. By focusing on the Feeling Function coupled with a discussion with an appropriate professional, you will see how you contribute to harmony or disharmony in the workplace and how you can contribute to the resolution of conflict and avoid displaying discordant behaviour to others. A harmonious workplace = productive and profitable company.


#JungianBitsofInformation to Take Away

  1. The Feeling Function is not about emotions or affect. The individual, regardless of gender, who is wholly oriented by the Feeling Function apprehends or perceives the object (individuals, events, information etc) through a governing principle of value and applies it to assess experience or information. In other words, the Feeling Function applies feeling values to assess the object.

  2. When the Feeling Function is outwardly expressed it validates, affirms and relates to others and when inwardly expressed it judges, appraises and establishes the value of others.

  3. As an individual you have command of the Feeling Function which means you can become self aware and apply the attributes of validation, affirmation, relatedness, positive value judgments and appraisal to others.

  4. Self awareness means individuals are able to understand how conflict and discordant behaviour arises in the workplace. The Feeling Function can also be proactively applied by an individual to resolve conflict and to avoid displaying discordant behaviour in the workplace.

  5. Self awareness can be obtained by completing a relevant questionnaire and receiving feedback under the tutelage of an appropriate professional.

Become self aware, understand how your behaviour might create conflict or display discordant behaviour to others, apply the positive attributes of the Feeling Function and watch your company or organisation and people flourish!


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