Tele was first identified by JL Moreno (1889 – 1974) as the flow of feeling from one person to another. Tele has three qualities:
- Degree of attraction: drawing people closer together or choosing not to, and moving away from each other; or remaining neutral, where there is no movement either towards or away
- Two-way flow of feeling. Tele has both an outgoing flow and a retrojective flow received from the other.
- Intensity of feeling on a continuum of weak to strong
Emanating from the limbic system, tele enables us to gain insight to, appreciation of and feelings for the makeup of the other person. Tele creates interpersonal chemistry. The experience of tele can be described as hitting it off with another without ‘knowing’ them, personality clashes, positive chemistry or negative vibes.
These emotional flows of feeling between people form the psycho-social connections between people of attraction, repulsion and neutrality. The resulting emotional networks can be mapped and made visible to group members. By forming the emotional and psychological geography of a community, these networks greatly influence what occurs in families, and within and between groups, organisations and societies.
The concept of tele and the tools and practices of sociometry enables us to explore the nature of relationships between people and entities: teams, business units, organisations and customers, and make the invisible, visible.
Positive and Negative tele
Where there is strong positive mutual tele between two people, there is increased vitality and a capacity to create. If this relationship develops over time, these two people become emotionally close, and will be significant to one another whether they are geographically close in life or not. Think of musicians Elton John and Bernie Turpin.
Where there is strong mutual negative tele in a relationship, the two involved do not choose one another on specific criteria; they ‘reject’ one another. Simplistically, we can say, there is a personality clash, or they don’t get on. Negative telic relationships can be represented by space or distance between the people concerned. Frequently in work groups, people with negative tele are expected to work alongside one another. In other areas of life, there is more choice. There is no value of judgement in positive or negative tele, or forces of attraction and rejection.
How do we apply the principle of tele in organisations?
Positive mutual relationships are at the basis of good working relationships, work and communication flows, people choose each other to solve problems, to consult with one another, share information and ideas or to collaborate.
Mutual tele is evident when two people move towards one another based on particular criteria. Criteria are situational, and may be sociotelic. Sociotelic criteria are skills, influence choices e.g. intellectual acumen, working with conflict, mastery with facts and information, or the criteria may be psychotelic. Psychotelic criteria are qualitative criteria influencing choices, e.g. being trustworthy, approachability, openness, being a good listener.
Tele is a way of exploring the responses behind liking or disliking, and natural gut responses of one person to another.
People get to know one another by making connections, usually to do with shared experience e.g. being adopted, immigrating from another country, liking action movies, enjoying a good argument, being passionate in doing a good job, or interest in the intricacies of technology. There are a myriad of shared experience and interests, which can become known, and create links between people.
Connections between people occur naturally, and at other times, these connections need to be facilitated. When connections are not facilitated, people create false ideas and assumptions about others. They create untested conclusions about and expectations of others.
Group development occurs when positive connections are created between people. The more mutual positive connections there are between people, the more creativity, flexibility and shared approach to problem solving occurs. People feel valued, involved and included and find it easy to make their best contribution.
Where there are positive mutual connections, spontaneity occurs.
Spontaneity is the capacity to approach a familiar situation in a new way, and approach new and unfamiliar situations adequately, i.e good enough.
There are five facets of spontaneity:
When there are strong negative telic relationships, the work of the group grinds to a halt, and one or more individuals become isolated within the group, and the ‘work’ then becomes the rebuilding of positive relationships. Sociometrists map relationships and investigate the maps (sociograms) with those involved.
An example below: Let’s apply the concept to three groups in a company; sales, production and corporate finance. Sales are positive to Corporate Finance, Corporate Finance is positive to Sales and has a neutral relationship with Production. Sales have a weak positive relationship with Production however Production has a negative relationship with Sales. As we discuss the diagram with those involved, Sales let everyone know that they realise they sell more than Production can produce as they are bonus driven. This reflection enables Production to bring out the problems between themselves and customers who expect products, and the group begins problem solving.
The relationship between Production and Finance was seen as neutral. There was little interaction. Armed with financial results, people in Production, Sales and Finance can look together at what is needed to ensure customer satisfaction and company viability.
Mapping the telic relationships with group members in both individual and group settings displays the informal network of relationships between people and teams. These informal networks connect people; they are the glue within groups. Mapping and exploring informal networks assists people and groups to identify unproductive rifts between people. New behaviours and new role relationships are relevant to enable new solutions to old problems.