Daniel R. Stout Communication and Leadership Dr.

Charles Griffin Friday, May 13, 2005 Leadership and the Parrhesiastic Contract As a leader you are working with many different people. These people are going to have to interact and interact effectively if the job and goals the group is trying to accomplish are going to come into being. How we as leaders deal with these problems and deal with the friction that occurs naturally will truly be a sign of how good of a leader we are. I will argue that through a parrhesiatic contract, which leaders will be able to allow someone to transcend the power structures that are currently established without fear of retribution. With this essential thing occurring we are able to speak what we truly think and resolve problems with more speed and efficiency than ever before. Before we look at why this is important, we must first look at what does parrhesia really mean, second what does a parrhesiastic contract entail, then lastly we will look at what the contract will do for the workplace. To define what parrhesia means, we turn to Michel Foucault’s Fearless Speech. While this book was published in 2001, Foucault was dead by this time, and in all reality the book are actually transcripts from his 1983 seminar taught at Cal Berkley entitled Discourse and Truth. The entirety of the first chapter lays the ground work of what parrhesia actually means, while the rest of the book looks at it in action through ancient Greek literature. Since the looks in action aren’t the focus here we will mainly look at how Foucault defines parrhesia and how the parrhesiatic contract was discussed. To begin

this examination we must look to the five essential characteristics of parrhesia, which are frankness, truth, danger, criticism, duty. Parrhesia is traditionally defined as free speech or free to speak the truth, and this interplays with our other five characteristics drastically. Foucault says that Frankness is the ability to say everything that is on one’s mind and be able to be clear about how one feels about things going on. An example of this is when we have a frank discussion with our soccer coach when we are 11. When we are 11 we have a strategic discussion about who should play and who should play where in order for the best success to occur. While this isn’t an act of parrhesia, it is frankness, especially when you tell the coach that Danny is a horrible player and shouldn’t play. This is expressing what you think should happen and are very clear as to what is on your mind, for example you want to win, and think this is the best way to go about it. Truth, here Foucault talks about how when someone is using truth, it’s not something that they believe to be true, but something that they know is true. An example of this is witnessing a murder, here you are, and you have witness Robert murder Sally 5 months ago. The trial is going on and you are to take the stand, because you witnessed the murder you are speaking from what you know to be true as opposed to the Lawyers who are speaking from what they believe to be true. You must be 100 percent certain of what you are speaking of in order to use truth according to Foucault. Danger, this seemingly is the most critical aspect of parrhesia. When using parrhesia you are in an environment where you are going to be questioning and criticizing authority. This is a dangerous thing to do, imagine if you will a sexual harassment case. Were there no protections put into place to fix the situation the person of upper authority can make the victims life extremely hard and un happy, this time not by sexual

harassment but by extra work, more responsibility, how ever that would occur. But if the victim knows that there is a threat of having those consequences occurring then they are putting themselves in danger and using an act of parrhesia (most typically). The fourth defining characteristic of parrhesia is Criticism. Here Foucault says that when you are engaged in parrhesia that you are actually going to be talking and directing your discourse at superior placing persons. Criticism Foucault defines as telling a superior placing person that, “this is what you are doing, and this is what you are thinking and this is what you should be doing and this is what you shouldn’t be thinking.” This kind of act occurs regularly in debates about actions that should be taken in order to resolve a situation. But remember in order to be an act of parrhesia we must have all the characteristics there. The last characteristic is duty, according to Foucault this is a very easy part, you only have to feel a moral obligation in order to speak up and use parrhesia to make the situation known of. Here again we can turn to our murder trail example. When you are on the stand and speaking what you know to be the truth there might be a trigger there to get a murderer off the street or to make the murderer pay for the crime they have committed. This type of obligation or duty to take the stand is the last characteristic for parrhesia. Know that we know what parrhesia is, we should look to a clear cut example of someone using parrhesia. Let’s take the sexual harassment example from above. You have been sexually harassed and are now going to speak up about the situation to the person who is sexually harassing you and possibly the supervisor who is the significant other of the harasser. You tell both of them that you are incredibly uncomfortable and that you have a log of all the sexual harassment that has been going on and a log of when you

told the harasser that he was amidst sexual harassment and you wanted that person to stop. This is going to fit all of the five characteristics of parrhesia, lets examine why. First, its going to be an act of frankness. While it may not be at the most timely of manners, it is going to be all about speaking your mind and telling them exactly how you feel and how you see the world because of this situation. Your opinion will be clear and set in stone. Second, its truth because it is happening to you, while the harasser may feel that they haven’t been making you feel uncomfortable, they didn’t have it occur to them like you have, therefore you are not making assumptions, you know exactly how you feel and therefore no without a shadow of a doubt that sexual harassment is occurring. Third, there is a danger, just as described above. The significant other may get defensive and tell you that you are oversensitive or out of line. This type of shut down would be shutting down the space that is needed for this discourse to occur. The both of them could actually find/make up something in order to get you fired and actually do it, or they could simply just make your life extremely hard by giving you lots work to do and making you fail by overburdening yourself, or if it’s an hourly job, just not give you any, or very few hours until you quit. These are all serious consequences that are not in the best interest of you and are risks when you speak the discourse of criticism. Criticism, it’s pretty obvious in this situation why this is a criticism, you are telling a person that you are unhappy with they way you are being treated and that you don’t like it, and that they should stop. Here you are saying right now you are sexually harassing me and I don’t like it, there fore you should stop thinking of me in a sexual manner, I’m not interested and stop acting out.

Duty, while this is the shakiest of the five characteristics, I think this case is pretty clear cut, as long as you feel that this has been devastating to you and your health and a good working environment, then you may feel that you know it will happen again unless you take action to stop it from doing so. This type of gut feeling to prevent it from happening again is exactly the type of moral obligation or duty that Foucault talks about in the chapter. Well, we have seen what parrhesia means, and an example of how parrhesia can be used, but how do we as leaders help this process, how do we open the discursive space that is necessary for persons to feel as though they should use parrhesia? Well, Foucault identifies a short passage in the Bacchae in which parrhesia is used and a way in which a leader could open up the necessary space for parrhesia to be used. The parrhesiastic contract seems to be the best option for how leaders can open up space for parrhesia to be used. In order to offer a parrhesiastic contract, one must tell a person that they are to speak openly and honestly without fear of retribution. While this may seem to take out the characteristic of danger, I would argue that there is still a fear, and a danger of consequences. Just because a contract is offered and you aren’t punished right away, it does dwindle your popularity with the supervisor and therefore your ability to get things your way. Lets take the sexual harassment case for example, if the significant other and the harasser both offered you a parrhesiastic contract, and assuming you were at least somewhat liked, there is still a risk that you could be punished. They could just not be as nice to you in the workplace, or give you more work under the guise of some other

standard, and not technically as a punishment, but when in all reality it was for punishment. So, although there is a contract there is still a risk of punishment. This is why leaders should make sure they know what is going on in there head and ensure that they are as unbiased and objective as possible in order to ensure these types of risk don’t come to being as you offered the contract. Another reason as to why this is a good situation is because, in the story The Bacche it is a servant who uses parrhesia, but only after the king offers him the contract. This is a comparable situation to the workplace or a group place where you are a leader, if you have the power then there is very little reason for you to listen to them and not just ignore them, they don’t actually have the power to speak parrhesia to you if you won’t listen, you could just lock yourself in your office. That’s why the contract is so amazing, it’s a branching out, and its an opening of discursive space for this contract to be fulfilled and parrhesia to take place. (Foucault 2001, p.32) So while we know that parrhesia can take place because of the contract, why is it important? Well, a firstly and obvious answer would be to nip problems in the butt, like sexual harassment in the example earlier presented. But there is three other reasons as to why offering a contract is good. First, think about this, without power we are suspect to whatever the powerful say we must do what they say without question or cause. With parrhesia we are able to tear down the power structures momentarily and allow us to actually BE, and by Being I mean that you are able to be yourself ontologically. So while that may only attain to the followers, I think its good not to make the people you are leading feel like they are

ontological slaves. The parrhesiastic contract opens up the space so that people can use parrhesia and no longer be bound by only that of what the powerful say. (Foucault 2001, p. 29) Second, think about this, you as a leader are only as good as you are powerful. In order to have power you must have people following you and have legitimacy because if no one sees your legitimacy you will not see your vision enacted because people just won’t do it. To allow parrhesiastic contracts you are opening space up to question you as a leader. This questioning is good because absolute power corrupts absolutely as the old saying goes. If you go mad with power and aren’t limited you will ruin your legitimacy because you will have detached yourself from the people who you need in order to be legit. This works well with the sexual harassment example above. This is true because if the significant other and the harasser both get branded as accepting of and condoning sexual harassment there is a lowering of legitimacy. Think about it, are you as likely to follow someone who is condoning such action, no you will ignore and question their authority more than the initial question would’ve created. So, allowing for parrhesiastic contracts prevents snowballing legitimacy declines which could destroy you totally, and ruin productivity for your group’s goals. (Foucault 2001, p.29) The third reason as to why the parrhesiastic contract is a great option is because when one uses the parrhesiastic contract it’s a temporary transversal of the power structures. The questioning occurs briefly, something is done to resolve the problem and the power structures reestablish themselves. But if they go ignored because you are abusing your power and see yourself as invincible, as described in the last paragraph,

your legitimacy will constantly be questioned for a much longer time and actually take away from the power. So while we must recognize the devastating effects of power and how they can be dangerous, we must learn as leaders to check their danger by creating systems of checks and balances. Parrhesiastic contracts offer that system of checks and balances that are necessary for you to communicate to your followers. If you communicate to them that there is this contract available, then the discursive space will be there for proper leadership management.