Pronoun Shifts and Organisational Dynamics. LO30002

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 03/17/03

Replying to LO29996 --

Dear Organlearners,

Jan Lelie < > writes under the
Subject: Peace and War LO29996

>The other day i - or we - was discussing interventions in groups
>- a master class interventions based on theories by Watzlawick,
>Weick and Nietzsche - and i couldn't help notice that partcipants
>slipped from refering to themselves as "I" to "you" whenever they
>seemed to feel pressurized. When asked to explain certain
>behaviour (or intervention, what ever comes second) my fellow
>learners started out with "I" and after some times moved over to
>a partly self-referential, generalized "I" they called "you". I myself
>did the same, i also tend to switch from me to you - - while
>implicitely refering to myself. Sometimes the other answers as if
>he or she was meant - and you (!) have no other option than to
>play along. I noticed that i felt an urge to do - shifting to
>you-phrases - so when a certain amount of emotional pressure
>had been build up. The bare fact that you have to speak up in a
>group larger than five human beings, means you're under a
>psychological pressure you cannot cope with - so i've been
>told. When you're in agroup with five people means you have
>to manage at least 20 relations.

Greetings dear Jan

Thank you very much for bringing this topic under our attention.

I was curious whether Google searches for pronouns. It does and the
following is the result at present:-
i -- 831,000,000
you -- 646,000,000
we -- 329,000,000
they -- 241,000,000
it -- 675,000,000
It is interesting that the personal pronoun "i" occurs the most. Is it
because the web provides a profound place for the "i" to inform other

English is not my mother tongue. At school we were taught English
grammer in a rigid fashion. As for pronouns, we were taught to avoid
what is known as the "pronoun shift". For example, in
"When i first saw the Namib desert, you were frightened."
It should have been
"When i first saw the Namib desert, i was frightened." Unfortunately,
since English is not my mother tongue, i often forget all the rules for
pronouns. I have searched the web with Google for such rules and
found the following among others:-
< >
< >

As for myself, i have developed through the years one basic rule for
pronouns which serves me well:-
   Do not change from one identity (i, you, we, they)
   to another one without a good reason.
With this rule i mean that it is possible to shift pronouns when i have a
good reason for doing it. Here is an example should i want to flame a
feminist among my readers:
"The baker enjoys himself in producing tasty pastries, but the butcher
revels herself in chopping up a poor carcass."
The reason is clear [himself => herself], but it is not a good one to
maintain sound personal relationships.

Here is another example:-
"I think that we have to solve this problem, but you will first have to
delineate the problem before constructing the solution."
This example [we => you] shows that i consider the problem to be
everybody's problem, but that i will not self proceed to solve it. The
reason is clear ("i will not self proceed to solve it"), but is it a good
one? Many managers will think so when they think that their underlings
were hired to do dirty jobs such as problem solving. But wait, what
if i am a teacher who seeks authentic learning? Here the "we have to
solve this problem" indicates my willingness to coach the learners
while the "you will first have to delineate the problem" indicates to
them that they will have to initiate the problem solving.

Another reason may be as you formulated it:
>It then occured to me - or to my mind - that the pressure of a
>group of the same beings, the need to survive extended families,
>might lead to behaviour like worrying, mumbling, grumbling,
>chattering. A kind of "monologue interieur" might develop.

The pronoun shift [i, we => you, they] creates an entropic force, whether
it be a command, an enstrangement or an aversion. Whoever makes such a
pronoun shift should be aware of making it and be ready to deal with its
consequences as an entropic force. It may create chaos beyond reasonable
control, especially when sureness ("identity-context") is not up to par.
(Sureness is one of the 7Es -- seven essentialities of creativity.) As you

>Handling these conflicting - i might have said paradoxical,
>but i assume that you can think of this yourself - tensions
>creates great strains on a limitted brain.

As an example of the confusion rather than emergeing new thoughts which
may arise out of the chaos of such tensions, i may cite the pronoun shift
which st. Paul often made use of in his epistles. Here is an interesting
study which fellow learners may have a look at:-
< >

The pronoun shift will be a grammatical error when it is not used as a
powerful literary technique. However, we should use it sparingly otherwise
it will lose its power.

Whenever i listen to a manager speaking, i carefully notice his/her use of
pronouns and any shifts in them. It tells me a lot of the group dynamics
in the organisation of that manager.

>Peace and war - in the theatre, the book, the movies and in
>a real life near you, perhaps very near you, perhaps inside
>you - are just images produced by a mind split in two, a
>conscious and its sub-conscious (or the other way around)
>splitted in two, to be able to deal with questions of peace
>and war. We cannot have one pair without the other.

Here you have made use of the pronoun shift [ you => we].
I think i know why ;-)

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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