chapter complaints thoughts

Complaints and collegiality: The human door

In chapter 5, Sarah Ahmed explains how collegiality can stop complaints. According to her, colleagues are defended by superiors against complaints due to various private reasons – for example, they studied together, are friends or even a couple. Based on this, an invisible power structure can emerge that reinforces itself (cf. Ahmed 2021: 186-202). 

These points made in »Complaint!« are reflected in a tool, used in the context of systemic coaching whenever clients feel like organizational structures prevent changes on a personal and a team level. Using the tool, the client is asked to create a subjective organization chart, by sketching the perceived relationship of the team members to each other. At this point, it is important to note that not the actual formal hierarchy, but the perceived and yet invisible power structures, as explained by Ahmed, are mapped (cf. BusCo Institut 2022) (Ill. 1). 

Illustration 1: Invisible power structures (Based on BusCo Institut 2022)

After the client explains to the players on the map as well as their relations, the person is asked to mark alliances and coalitions. Alliances (Ill. 1) are strong bonds between two team members on the same level – for example, two students that are close friends – whereas coalitions  (Ill. 1)  are bonds between people on different formal hierarchical levels – for example, a relationship between a young academic and the head of a department. When dealing with alliances and coalitions as an affected person, there is one key point to be aware of: alliances can be softened by establishing a closer relationship with the people involved, but coalitions can generally not be softened or even entered (cf. BusCo Institut 2022).

It becomes obvious that in situations of harassment performed by superiors, alliances but especially coalitions are the reason why “their backs become doors; their hands become locks” (Ahmed 2021: 202), as Sara Ahmed writes. Unfortunately, since informal bonds are so strong that it is almost impossible “to tell them apart or to take them apart” (ibid.). Therefore, those whose complaint is stopped by the “human door” often have no choice but to leave the team or the organization.  


Ahmed, Sara. Complaint!, New York, USA: Duke University Press, 2021.

BusCo Institut: Resource area, 2022.
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