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Journal cover: Journal of Organizational Change Management

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Online from: 1988

Subject Area: Organization Studies

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“Negative capability”: managing the confusing uncertainties of change

Document Information:
Title:“Negative capability”: managing the confusing uncertainties of change
Author(s):Robert French, (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK)
Citation:Robert French, (2001) "“Negative capability”: managing the confusing uncertainties of change", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 14 Iss: 5, pp.480 - 492
Keywords:Anxiety, Management, Organizational change, Psychology
Article type:Case study
DOI:10.1108/EUM0000000005876 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:MCB UP Ltd
Abstract:Explores how psychoanalytic thinking can contribute to the management of the conflicting emotions stimulated by change. Suggests that successful change management depends on a combination of “positive” and “negative” capabilities. The positive capabilities involve the management of the substantive content of any change initiative, the change process itself, and the roles and procedures required by both of these. However, even when these three “technical” aspects are well managed, change always arouses anxiety and uncertainty. As a result, there is a tendency to “disperse” energy; that is, to be deflected from the task into a range of avoidance tactics. Through a particular understanding of such “dispersal” and its opposite, the “capacity to contain”, psychoanalysis can suggest how this counterproductive tendency may be more effectively managed. The British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion called this capacity to contain “negative capability”.

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