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Overview of FIRO-B

Plot of FIRO-B in SYMLOG Space

Plot in SYMLOG Space of
(Click image to enlarge)

Will Schutz presented FIRO theory, and the classic measuring instrument FIRO-B (now Element B), to social psychology in 1958.

FIRO describes interpersonal behavior in terms of three primary dimensions:

  1. Need for Inclusion, whether one wants to be "in" or "out" of a particular group
  2. Need for Control, whether one wants to be "up" or "down" (superordinate, subordinate)
  3. Need for Affection (Openness replaced this dimension in more recent work), whether one wants to be "close" or "distant"

These dimensions are fundamental to all human social organisms, whether an infant in the early stages of child development, small groups, or organizations.

FIRO-B measures these three dimensions from two perspectives:

  1. Expressed behavior: behavior one feels most comfortable showing
  2. Wanted behavior: behavior one wants to be shown by others

The optimum fit between two people (two social organisms, e.g., 1 and 2) would require six matches:

by 1
by 2
by 1
by 2
I W-1 + I E-2 I E-1 + I W-2
C W-1 + C E-2 C E-1 + C W-2
A W-1 + A E-2 A E-1 + A W-2

Of interest to organizational consultants is FIRO's contribution to understanding human behavior. Some combinations of the three primary needs produce compatibility and others incompatibility. Groups characterized by high compatibility among members' preferences are likely to be more content, productive, and efficient. Underlying FIRO is the assumption that preferences, as well as behavior, can be changed (at will). Thus FIRO is not a theory of inherent, immutable personality traits. Rather, it provides material for development efforts.

How FIRO Relates to SYMLOG Field Theory

FIRO Needs and Types SYMLOG
Vectoral Type
1. Inclusion
Balanced type:
social P, PF
Extreme types:
associated with extroversion, gung-ho participation; may be associated with dominance in order to leverage this need; may be exhibitionistic and intense in order to draw attention to self
U, B, PB
associated with introversion, self-interest; may be associated with submissiveness, as a strategy for withdrawal; may be associated with isolationism as a strategy for self-sufficiency
N, D
2. Control
Balanced type:
associated with power, influence, authority and comfort with it
Extreme types:
associated characteristics include dominating, competitive, power seeking, may be a martyr
associated with subordination, avoiding responsibility, 'cover your ass' attitude
3. Affection/Openness
Balanced type:
(associated with feelings of loveability)
Extreme types:
excessively self-disclosing, self-revealing, seeking approval, ingratiating, confiding; may be jealous of others' friendships
emotionally distant, superficial, uninvolved with people, distrustful, uninvolved; sometimes using antagonism in order to leverage against Openness

Like SYMLOG assessments, FIRO is based on the assumption that there is a universe of behaviors that are neither irrefutably good nor irrefutably bad. SYMLOG also takes into account the situation. FIRO disregards this and says that it measures "personal preference." The focus is "key relationships," although such key relationships could indeed part of a given situation.

FIRO-B measures an individual's self-report of comfort level with degrees of expression of the three interpersonal dimensions. This assessment of "preferred" behavior should probably be distinguished from the SYMLOG concepts of Wish and Ideal, both of which are idealized images and do not measure the "comfort" level (or judgment about satisficing) that FIRO does. Because SYMLOG can be used to collect data from others (peers, clients, subordinates) about a wide variety of psycho-social phenomena, it is more complex and robust than FIRO.

The primary characterizations of the three FIRO needs, as described by Shutz, may be coded using SYMLOG, as illustrated in the following table. Shutz describes a resolution, or optimum balance, for each need and the two extremes of the continuum as well.

Openness seems to address the content of communication, rather than the dynamics of communication. Openness may be considered an expression of content about personal life that has little to do with the task, and thus it is suggested that behavior about personal content is likely associated with the B part of the space.

What FIRO emphasizes, which SYMLOG does not, is a unilinear theory of development (group process). There is a specific sequence to the addressing of needs in positive relationship building:

Inclusion Control Affection

Inclusion should come first, before issues related to Control and Affection can be successfully addressed. Control issues must be resolved before those of Affection.

Group process, as represented by SYMLOG is not unilinear, but resembles a dialectic, as polarizations give way to new unifications, which in turn produce new polarizations. These may occur at different social levels and with secondary as well as primary value conflicts as their foci. Although the classic SYMLOG polarization is the PF-NB polarization, and secondary to this is the NF-PB polarization, the field is subject to pushes and pulls from all directions.

Selected References

  • Musselwhite, E. (1982). FIRO B. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
  • Schutz, W. (1958). FIRO: A three-dimensional theory of interpersonal behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
  • Schutz, W. (1966). The interpersonal underworld (FIRO) [originally published 1958]
  • Schutz, W. (1988). Profound simplicity . Muir Beach, CA: Will Schutz Associates.

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