Carl Rogers, a ground-breaking humanist psychoanalyst, coined the term “unconditional positive regard.” Rogers, the father of reflective psychology, felt that regardless of what the patient presented, you owed them deference as a fellow human. The patients’ point of view regardless of its content was independent of the individual’s worth as a fellow human creature. He counseled psychiatrists to approach each patient as a person of worth. In reflective psychology he suggested that the best psychoanalytic medicine was to reflect back to the patient, their own words and actions, and ask them to provide insight on what it might mean.
We believe that the Rogerian point of view has an important role to play in building a customer connection. The researcher who:
• Asks the fewest questions and listens the most
• Is least judgmental
• Adds the fewest words to the consumers vocabulary
…is likely to learn the most.
Holding up an honest, non-judgmental, unadorned mirror for the consumer and asking them to report what they see is the best way for the researcher to see through the consumer’s eyes. In order to do this well, creating the non-judgmental stance of unconditional positive regard, means:
• That you trust that the person you are with is a fellow citizen of the world, who is just doing the best they can from their own perspective
• That they are making good and appropriate decisions based on what they know
• That they, and only they, can change their behavior – they have absolute personal autonomy
• That behavior will not change if a need cannot be felt, expressed and reflected upon
To this end, when we go into the field, there is value in going in as a reflective psychologist and not as an expert. This can be frustrating to the expert who may see mistakes being made. It can also be frustrating to the consumer who knows you know things that might help them. This can put you in a conflicted situation as a research team. Basic humanistic ethics apply; ergo this short case:
When a lawn care R&D team went into the field, they saw a lot of good and bad lawn care behavior. They even saw some potentially harmful and dangerous behavior. Following the interviews, the R&D team anonymously sent a follow-up thank you note to each consumer which included a diagnostic of their lawn and some specific things they could do to revamp their lawn care practices. The box included some instructions and some warnings and product samples from a variety of suppliers. All through this, they maintained their anonymity.
The Rogerian Dilemma:
As this simple case suggests, even the experienced team can be surprised by the use and perhaps (mis-use) of their product in actual practice. If the team had not been purely observational, and accepting of all input in the field, the consumers might have picked up on the dismay of the “experts” and hidden the truth of their behavior. It is ethically important not to let dangerous practice stand unchallenged. It is appropriate and humane to suggest an alternative. The moral to this story is: Ethnography is a practice of observing and learning and not of educating and correcting. However, a basic principle of ethnography, stemming from its roots in anthropology and all humanistic disciplines, pledges to “do no harm” when doing research involving human subjects. It is crucial to weigh the ethical concerns of remaining an unbiased observer and practicing responsibility in the safety and well-being of your subject and your team when facing a conflict of interests.