Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Public and Private Voices


One of the first lessons I learned as an Organizational Studies student, in fact not one of the first...THE first, was that the influence of organizations are all around us.  Our teacher, Jason Owen-Smith, put us into small groups and asked us to brainstorm all the organizations we interact with on a day to day basis.  After listing the basics - the University, the Government, our student-group affiliations, etc. the list became much longer - the FDA (did you take Tylenol this morning?), British Petroleum (oh yea, I guess I had to put gas in my car today), your house (I guess my roommates and I all function as an organization)...and so on.

The list of organizations that we are an active player and representative of is much smaller.  There are maybe a handful of these but we are swimming in them.  We are totally immersed in them, which makes it hard to separate the organization from our identity.

We also have voices for our identities.  We have our private voice - the voice we use that's in our day-to-day when we feel like we aren't being watched or monitored.  We also have our public voice - the voice we use when we feel like we're addressing people publicly or perceive ourselves to be monitored.

These "voices" also roll-up into the organizational world.  In some organizations (say our crew of best friends and family) we feel private - we aren't scrutinized for our words or actions because they're, well, private.  In some organiztions we feel public (say the company we work for) - an as a result we project an image ourselves that we want people to see.  There are also variations of these - e.g., in a social organization which is private but we feel like we have a public reputation to project within the confines of that organization or in a community forum where all actors are in a public sphere but form sub-committees where they have private voice.

What I think is interesting is that the organizations themselves dictate a lot - in addition to the people contained - of the norms of using public and private voices.  After all, organizations with similar types of people or objectives produce very different cultures.  And  organization types produce very different cultures and behaviors even though people may be the same too.

In addition to this, many things have suddenly become interesting hybrids of hyper-public and hyper-private, because of telecommunications technology.  There's a lot of ambiguity in how one projects themselves publicly or privately and when has to do one or the other.

Managing these public and private voices, I think, is very stressful.  We manage our identities more than we tell the truth. I would argue that this causes our organizations to do funny things and have lackluster outcomes.  We spend tons of time managing our voices rather than focusing on our work, purpose and intended outcomes.

I think the ideal is to be able to have one voice - an "authentic voice", if you will - instead of a public and private one.

I don't have time to elaborate on this now (I'm about to land) but I think a nice goal for groups of people and the organizations they make up is to produce an environment where people can speak in an "authentic voice".  I think the same goes for individuals, we should try to merge our public and private voices into one.  It'll yield more trust and probably much more happiness and much less internal conflict for ourselves.

Everyone is suffering enough, we should rid ourselves of suffering that is self-imposed.