One of my favourite behavioural theories is sociologist Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgy, which basically allows us to look at our lives through two lenses of ‘front of stage’ and ‘back of stage’.
I have been doing a fair bit of research lately into trust and working away from the office, and Goffman’s Dramaturgy theory is really helpful.
You have more than likely seen the video footage of a BBC live-to-air TV interview with Professor Robert Kelly when one of his children happily strolls into the room and joins her Dad at his desk, and then in the background you see a second much younger child in a baby walker push open the door and come into the room. Then hilariously the mum enters the room, trying to not be noticed and not-so-gently drags the children out of the room.
If you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, here’s a YouTube link
Without wanting to over-analyse and ruin the fun of the clip, in this post I’d like to explore what’s going on here by applying Dramaturgy Theory and then exploring how leaders can use the ‘front of stage’ and ‘back of stage’ lenses when leading teams who are working away from the office.
Applying the ‘front of stage’ lens, what the Professor would prefer us to see is a professional office and his expertise and knowledge being displayed through a professional interview.
However, what happens very quickly, and out of his control, is his ‘back of stage’ life gate crashes his ‘front of stage’ professional image.
Body language experts would have a field-day with the good Professor’s facial expressions (shock, confusion, anger, embarrassment, frustration, nervousness, uncomfortable humour … what else did you see?).
Flipping this for a moment and apply Dramaturgy Theory to the Professor’s wife, Jung-a Kim.
When you watch the clip, you can see the shock (and so many other emotions) on Jung-a-Kim’s face, when her ‘front of stage’ life with her children collides with her husband’s ‘front of stage’ life without them.
For many workers who are now finding themselves needing to work from home more often, their ‘front of stage’ and ‘back of stage’ lives can become a bit more blurred.
For many, this is quite new for leaders and their teams, and it will take some time and some exploring, individually and collectively about how these two lenses of our lives can (or should?) blend for us to be productive and successful in our professional and personal lives.
Think of the picture that is often now used to portray these two lenses working tandemly where the professional office worker is sitting at a home office desk on a zoom meeting, dressed professionally from above the waste (‘front of office’ lens) and in their shorts and Ugg boots underneath the desk and out of site to their on-screen colleagues (back of office lens).
Having worked from my home office now for almost three decades, I’ve experienced times my back of stage life merged with my front of stage life – our children answering the ‘work’ phone, or when on important client phone calls, live-to-air webinars, or more recently livestream conference presentations there’s always the chance of untimely and noisy renovations or lawn mowing, or chain sawing or front doorbell chiming.
While I’ve always tried to remove the possibility of these ‘interruptions’ or intersections of my back of stage life with my front of stage life, when they do collide, I’m more than comfortable to acknowledge it and move on … and my clients have always understood that I work from a home office and have never had an issue.
This is just one way that I am using the back of stage and front of stage lenses of Goffman’s Dramaturgy.
In future posts I will share how I use the lenses in developing and presenting stories in conference presentations, developing and implementing sales and customer service strategies, goal setting, decision making and strategic planning to name just a few.
Let me conclude here by asking how might you use the lenses of Dramaturgy in your professional or personal life?