Cite as: Bradley N (2005) Codes of Conduct for Graphology in Europe Proceedings of International Graphology Conference, Milan, Italy, 22 May 2005.331-347
Available at http://www.wmin.ac.uk/marketingresearch/graphology/ethicsmilan05eng.htm
Graphology has numerous uses. It has applications in management, in social work and many other areas. Graphologists who offer such services need to consider numerous factors: one of these things is what is right and what is wrong, this is ethical behaviour. Ethics are important: they lead to trust and a good basis for a working relationship.
The objective of this paper is to make a critical evaluation of the guidelines that graphology societies have created for members. This paper looks at codes of conduct that affect graphologists operating in Europe, with a particular emphasis on the UK, France, Italy, and Switzerland. It is an examination of published codes of ethics; it identifies similarities and differences in these codes. It also goes outside graphology to consider guidelines placed on other professions. There are also some references to legal initiatives. It is hoped that this work will encourage a widespread recognition of guidelines by practising graphologists.
Legislation laid down by society has clear boundaries, but sometimes there are grey areas or gaps between laws, this is where codes of conduct established by professional bodies often help. There are a few milestones concerning ethics in graphology that are worth considering. In 1946 a grouping of professional graphologists was established in France, it was the Groupement des Graphologues-Conseils de France (GGCF). It has been argued that this body created the first professional code of practice for graphology (Boille 2004). Then in 1980 Merletti wrote a first draft of his monograph called Ethics in Graphology; this is still used, in an updated version, for teaching students at Urbino University in Italy. A few years later Lamberto Torbidoni (1987) lamented the absence of a code for graphologists in Italy, but a remedy came just a few years later in the form of a European Code.
The idea for a European code was put forward by Renna Nezos around 1990 (see Bradley 2001:198) and a first code with 14 articles was initiated by the GGCF and the Société Française de Graphologie. This was signed by presidents of graphology bodies from France, the UK, Germany, Belgium and Italy, the code came into force on 1 January 1992. In 1994 the Association Déontologique Européenne de Graphologie (ADEG) was formed and the aims were to agree a code of ethics and ensure it is respected; to maintain standards of training and qualifications. In 1996 ADEG was registered in Belgium with the King's Seal and also as an Organisation Member of the European Union; it therefore received formal recognition of its influential status. Current members are presidents of groups located in Europe, they include these associations: - France: SFDG, GGCF, SGDS; Germany: BGG, UK: BAoG; Belgium: SBG; Italy: AGIF, ARIGRAF, CIGME; Spain: AGC, AGE; Switzerland: SSG. Each of these bodies has therefore adopted the code.
In order to assess how the code has been received it is worth saying that there has been some imitation: other groupings have taken items from the code in part or in full. This suggests that it had a favourable reception. We find major elements in the code of the European Society of Handwriting Psychology (ESHP) (dated 1 November 1992), this is a body of several German-speaking graphology societies based in Switzerland, Austria and Germany. We find parts of it in a Code of Ethics for American Graphologists; we find it as part of the Italian AGP code.
Some valuable observations of Lievens (1996) imply a more negative view of the code. One of his points is that the code was not created by different bodies (unions, employers, recruitment agencies etc.) and as a result does not consider the rights of the person being analysed graphologically. We will return to this issue.
Outside the world of graphology various initiatives have been introduced into the legal structures of most countries concerning privacy and data protection. After the Second World War it was felt that some sort of declaration was needed to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust could be repeated, so the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was signed in Rome by numerous governments, see http://www.echr.coe.int/. All signatories have integrated the principles into their own national laws. From October 2000, all courts in the United Kingdom were obliged to give effect to its provisions.
All these initiatives have led to a great deal of debate: Boni 2004; Koehn 1995; Kovin 1989; Lievens 1994,1996; Merletti 2004; Millevolte 1988; Rizzola & Nanni 1991; Schapansky 1977; Smith 1997; Whiting 1978, 1996 are just a few examples of authors who have seriously discussed the topic.
Five basic stages of contact between the graphologist and client have been chosen as a framework to examine ethics. This structure is useful for most of the applications for graphology. These stages are training, promotion, briefing, specimen collection, analysis and reporting.
1. Training. The graphologist is trained to a competent level before offering services; this knowledge is kept up to date.
2. Promotion. The graphologist offers the service to prospective clients
3. Briefing. The client explains the purpose of the analysis; the graphologist can ask questions and explain what service can be offered.
4. Specimen collection and transfer from client to the graphologist
5. Analysis and Report writing by graphologist, communication to client, Action taken by client, Report storage and Report destroyed by the client and the graphologist.
1. Training. The graphologist should be trained to a competent level before offering services; this knowledge must be kept up to date. The European Code of Ethics states that the graphologist is expected to maintain and develop his specialised skills (item 04). This idea is repeated throughout most codes in other fields, but with an emphasis on spreading this knowledge to others; for example the Royal Statistical Society Code states that “Fellows shall seek to upgrade their professional knowledge and skill and shall maintain awareness of technological developments, procedures and standards which are relevant to their field, and shall encourage their subordinates to do likewise” (item 12).
In training to be a graphologist handwriting specimens are important and the European Code mentions that “in education, teachers shall respect the anonymity of the writers of documents used” (item 13).
2. Promotion. The graphologist offers the service to prospective clients and here the world of marketing has many codes that cover sales promotions. The British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP code) is extremely useful as it condenses document of over100 pages down to these lines: “All marketing communications should be legal, decent, honest and truthful” (item 2.1). There is obviously much more, for example on the matter of using “endorsements” we see that Members of the Royal Family should not be shown or mentioned in marketing communications without their prior permission (item 13.4). This leads us to the ADEG European Code of Ethics which states that the graphologist shall not divulge the name of his clients without their prior consent (item 13).
Greater detail of the CAP code is best left to another time and place but if we take the idea of promotion being honest and truthful we can see that the European Code of Ethics states that “The graphologist shall undertake to use only methods relating to his practice and to work within the limits of his knowledge and experience” (item 05).
Forensic Document Examiners, who use chemical and paper analysis, are often confused with graphologists and indeed there is some overlap. However there is a risk that the graphologist may misrepresent services that are offered because the “marketplace” cannot recognise the difference. This has not been clearly dealt with by codes of conduct and may be worth investigating further. The occult is another area where graphology has had problems by association. There is plenty of evidence to show that many graphologists, past and present, have been fascinated by hypnosis, astrology, mediums, telepathy, and the paranormal. Put under the heading of the supernatural or the occult, the subject of graphology takes on a certain image; some would say it is reduced to a popular toy that has no place in academia or the world of work. It is perhaps for those reasons that many professional bodies reserve the right to reject members who associate themselves too closely with such subjects. The ADEG Code includes such a warning, it is item 7: “Any graphologist signatory to this code shall not display his graphology qualifications on professional documents if these are associated with an activity concerned with the occult or divination. He shall abstain from publishing or advertising in periodicals related to the above activities."
3. Briefing. The client explains the purpose of the analysis; the graphologist can ask questions and explain what service can be offered. This important liaison is ideally done face to face, but may be reduced to a telephone conversation, an email, a fax or even a traditional letter delivered by post! This is effectively the contractual agreement between the two parties and so it is important to outline the limits of graphology. Here there are numerous things to bear in mind, and the following points are not exhaustive.
At that meeting the British and French codes state that the graphologist “must not be influenced by flattery, bribery or threat and should refuse to carry out an analysis or make an interpretative statement "merely to oblige"” (BAoG Code of Ethics item 10. 1/9/1991 and SFDG item 08). It is also a good idea for the graphologist to tell clients about medical matters: the European Code states that the graphologist shall abstain from issuing diagnoses in fields reserved to the medical profession (item 06).
In France if a tool (such as graphology) is to be used, the Labour Code (Code de Travail) article L. 432-2-1 states that the company board (le comité d'entreprise) should be made aware of the fact, before the tool is used (see note 8).
In the UK Employers should be told by graphologists that they cannot insist on handwritten applications, if so there may be a violation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Michael Evans (2001) states: “employers that insist on handwritten job applications may put disabled jobseekers at an unfair disadvantage and could be in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act.”
4. Specimen collection and transfer
It is widely accepted that handwritten specimens should be produced spontaneously, where possible on unlined paper with a writing instrument chosen by the writer. It should be an original (not a copy) since the pressure will be evident and there will be no change to the dimensions. The specimen should be provided with the age and sex of the writer.
New legislation designed to protect citizens against the negative effects of age discrimination will be introduced to many European countries. This legislation is based on the European Employment Directive and will cover recruitment, selection, promotion, training and development. Graphology operates in all of these areas. It will apply to the UK from October 2006 and will mean that dates of birth and dates of education will sometimes be absent or should be removed from application forms. The Employers Forum on Age (EFA) has designed an “Age-neutral application form” (2005). This initiative is likely to mean that graphologists may not know the age of a writer if making pre-employment analyses.
The words “informed consent” are extremely important in collecting specimens. Many laws and many codes of conduct use this term, we see it in the codes of the Market Research Society, the Social Research Association and in many more. For example the Royal Statistical Society Code item 2 states: “Enquiries involving human subjects should, as far as practicable, be based on the freely given informed consent of subjects. The identities of subjects should be kept confidential unless consent for disclosure is explicitly obtained.” The code of the Swiss Graphological Society (SSG/SGG) states that the writer must be in agreement with analysis of the writing to take place (note 6 and 7).
This care must extend to documents of an unknown source; the graphologist should ascertain the origin of any document given for analysis because the European Code of Ethics says “He shall refuse to express an opinion on a document he knows to have been stolen” (item 10).
Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms says "everyone has the right to respect for his correspondence". Here it can be argued that the graphologist may not have the right to access materials. If a letter written from Mr. A to Mrs B is personal it should be kept personal. This would extend from the contents to the way in which it is produced, if the form it takes can give away information. This would mean that specimens would be provided with the permission of the writer, in which case the element of spontaneity in handwriting samples may be lost.
In 1992 a law on recruitment and individual liberties, the so-called “loi Aubry” (see Huteau 2004: 27) was issued. It stipulated that the candidate for a job must be informed of the methods that are used in regard to him, and that these methods should be “pertinent to the aims”.
In Finland a law on the protection of privacy at work was passed in 2000. The law stipulates that an employee can be tested, with his/her consent, to find the appropriate skills to perform the relevant tasks. The employer must ascertain that the testing methods are reliable, the tests are performed by competent professionals and the information obtained is correct (Eronen 2002).
However in criminal investigations there may not be an option to ask, for example in a hunt for unknown offenders who have left handwritten evidence. A case from Indonesia is also relevant, here police believe that through graphology, they will be able to detect latent personality disorders that could indicate a propensity for violence toward others, particularly if armed. Police in Jakarta plan to conduct psychiatric evaluations to determine whether a potential gun owner might have a tendency toward psychopathic, paranoidal or sadistic behaviour and could therefore represent a danger to public safety. They plan to analyze the handwriting of each first-time applicant as well as gun owners seeking to renew their licenses (Komandjaja 2005).
Although graphology may not be directly affected by copyright, Article 9 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is multi-faceted. If "everyone has the right to freedom of thought", and graphology is able to uncover such thoughts, to articulate them and identify individuals concerned, then that freedom could be affected.
Graphology can be used in marriage guidance, even pre-marriage compatibility. The same technique is also adapted to business partnership compatibility. Where analyses take place on two or more individuals there are privacy implications when sharing information between the people concerned and this must be addressed at the specimen collection stage.
In relation to the Specimen transfer from client to the graphologist the European Code of Ethics item 10 states that the graphologist shall refuse to work on documents transmitted by fax or photocopied, because these processes alter the quality of the handwriting trait.
5. Analysis by graphologist
The ADEG Code of Ethics item 10 states “that the graphologist shall undertake not to use the documents or the information in his possession for the purpose of causing harm to others. Being the sole judge of the worth of the documents submitted to him, he shall be able to refuse to provide an analysis without having to give any reason for doing so.”
European Code of Ethics item 08 “The work undertaken by the graphologist concerning the person imposes the respect of moral and professional values. The graphologist must safeguard, at all times, his independence, integrity and sense of humanity. He must not be influenced by any prejudice in respect of sex, race, politics, social class or religion.” But could the graphologist be influenced by the physical being?
This returns us to the issue of medical diagnosis; a controversial subject for graphologists. There is a school of thought advocating that graphologists must understand how physical (and mental) health is reflected in handwriting to avoid erroneous interpretation about personality. A book was published in the 1980s in an attempt to assist graphologists to see this distinction (Toomey 1984). Yet most codes of conduct state that graphologists should avoid the area unless they are qualified medical doctors. Let us remember the precise words of the European Code item 06: "The graphologist shall abstain from issuing diagnoses in fields reserved to the medical profession”. The Italian AGP code adopts the European code but adds other fields; namely the field of psychiatry and psychology.
If those that are knowledgeable in this area notice a medical problem that needs to be tended to by a medical doctor, what should they do? To alert the client or writer may give rise to unwarranted worry, and invasion of privacy, to avoid mentioning it may be seen, in law, as neglect. Here is an ethical dilemma.
Report writing gives the graphologist an opportunity to be selective about which observations are mentioned and which are not. European Code of Ethics item 09 states that in every analysis, “the graphologist shall remain tactful and discreet. Furthermore in work concerned with the selection of personnel, he shall avoid touching upon the aspects of the writer's personality which are not related to the criteria of the position to be filled. His language must remain clear, prudent and unambiguous. In his work, he must be completely impartial and refuse to provide any analysis of 'accommodation'.”
The Report is then communicated to the client, and the European Code of Ethics item 11 states that the graphologist shall respect the laws of his country regarding the person and, in particular professional secrecy, which must be respected verbally as well as in the circulation of documents. This is very similar to the BAoG Code of Ethics 1 Sept 1991 item 18 and the SFDG item 10 which says that the graphologist is bound by professional secrecy, which must be maintained both verbally and in the transmission of documents. It goes further and states that the analyses sent to the possessors of documents must not bear any device which identifies the writer by name. Interestingly the Swiss code (SSG/SGG) states that the graphologist’s name must appear.
The European Code item 12 continues by stating that the results shall be exclusively sent to the person who made the request.
Action is taken by the client and this clearly changes depending on the reason for using graphology. Two aspects of the analysis and report are worth considering. One is the ownership of the specimen; the other is the ownership of the report.
Copyright laws give some indications on ownership of specimens. Between 1989 and 1991 Diana, Princess of Wales wrote 64 letters to James Hewitt. He kept these “love letters” safely in his home but in April 1998, Anna Ferretti, his former fiancée, took the letters from his possession. They were given to the Mirror newspaper, which passed them to Kensington Palace. Hewitt issued High Court proceedings for recovery of the letters, which were returned to him in February 1999. The rights in private correspondence were thus brought into focus by this celebrated case. For copyright law, any original letter is a literary work. The copyright in a letter belongs to the author and not the receiver. There are exceptions: if a letter is written to a newspaper there may be an implied licence to publish, although copyright remains with the author. Another pertinent exception is where a letter is written in the course of employment. Here the copyright would belong to the employer, not the employee.
In layman's words, the content of a letter belongs to the writer, but what about the physical letter itself? It is established law that the property in the paper on which the letter is written passes to the receiver. So if I receive a letter from you I can destroy it, keep it and I can recover it if someone takes it from me. This is why Hewitt could demand the return of the letters from Kensington Palace. However, the copyright rests with the Princess's Estate, so Hewitt has no right to publish "a substantial part of" any of the letters.
The analysis is a different matter: the Swiss Code of the SSG/SGG states that the analysis belongs to the client. This is also the case in the European Code of Ethics: “The legitimate owner of a document shall be the sole person responsible for the subsequent use of the analysis” (item 12). The graphologist is like an art critic who describes the implications of a picture and the artistic approach used. To date there are few restrictions placed on art critics describing a painting and making profound observations about an artist's outlook. The commentator is in no way copying the work or taking possession of the physical entity.
Report storage. The report is stored by the client (and the graphologist), so it is useful to note that the European Code of Ethics item 13 states that the graphologist shall not communicate or publish texts, or analyses thereof, without the agreement of the interested party or the owner of the document.
In law most countries citizens have the right of access, modification, rectification and suppression of information concerning themselves, this is usually by a simple written request to the holder of records. There is a problem in doing this when graphology is used as a flash or in mass-sorting. One form of reporting is known as the “quick analyses”, sometimes known by the term “Flash-Grapho”, here an instant judgement is made. This “flash” is communicated swiftly by telephone or fax or email. It may be as simple as a recommendation to consider the candidate as Interesting/Possible/Not appropriate. Another method is mass sorting of numerous application forms, here individual portraits are not created but a sorting procedure is used. This would involve a massive administrative task to allocate records to each job applicant (the average job advert attracts hundreds of applications).
In France citizens have the right of access, modification, rectification and suppression of information concerning themselves thanks to the law "Informatique et libertés" (CNIL). In the UK this is explicit in the Data Protection Act. These do not mention the fact that graphological reports should be available to employees, but Swiss guidelines do mention graphology.
Successful job applicants in Switzerland can expect employers
to keep their graphological report with their personnel files. The Swiss Federal
Data Protection Commissioner (SDP) guidelines say that an employee can view and
have a copy of their graphological report. Interestingly the graphologist's
identity can be hidden.
(See: http://www.edsb.ch). This appears in the Swiss Graphology Code (SSG/SGG) which states that the analysis must be made available to the writer, either by the client or by the graphologist. The SSG/SGG code goes further and specifies that the writer can receive, without monetary charge, a copy of the analysis from the client.
A document by Helen Baron, writing for SHL, a Psychometric Test company says “Individuals do change and develop and so psychometric data can become less accurate over time. Care should be taken with results over 6-12 months old for selection purposes. Little reliance should be put on results over three years old for any purpose.” Ms Baron suggests destroying records older than three years. The same thing should apply to graphology. Perhaps employers should be given a warning when delivering a report, perhaps a 'health warning' on the life of analyses should be issued.
At some point the Graphological Report is destroyed by the client and the graphologist. Here the Swiss Federal Data Protection Commissioner (SDP) has another clear guideline; it says that graphological reports must be destroyed by companies who do not employ candidates. For those who were employed, at the termination of employment the graphological report must be destroyed. (Guidelines 4.4 see: http://www.edsb.ch). The SSG/SGG code is slightly different, it states that: if the writer wishes, member graphologists, in agreement with the client, must destroy the analysis after the investigation has come to an end.
It has been stated that the European Code has found its way into other codes. Regardless of the relationship between ADEG and the bodies that have adapted the code, from an ethical point of view there is an irony here. Whilst it is commendable to adopt the highest possible standards, is it ethical to take a code of ethics without attributing the source? Additionally: is it ethical to use a code, thereby implying that the source endorses the organisation in question?
On careful inspection of these codes we discover words or parts omitted, slight variations in wording and additional material; it must be said that modification, just by a few words can alter the spirit and create ambiguity. Alternatively we can see these as defects in the European Code. The observations of Lievens (1996) that the ADEG code does not consider the rights of the person being analysed graphologically was correct, but a decade later we see that Data Privacy initiatives have rectified this imbalance.
There are good arguments for self-regulation because practitioners can interpret their specialist field better than outside legislators. However what price is paid by people who do not follow the law or do not follow the advice laid down by other professionals? If we turn away from graphology to the field of advertising Drumwright et al (2004) showed that advertisers have various stances in regard to ethics: these include ignoring them, or passing responsibilities for ethics to someone else. The European Code for graphology item 14 states that “each association or grouping of graphologists, having signed this Code of Ethics, shall undertake to ensure that it is respected and applied by all their qualified members. Offences shall be dealt with by the disciplinary board of each association or grouping of the co-signatory countries”. In the case where other bodies adopt the codes, and change them, it can be said that the originals are weaker and less efficient. These are issues upon which we can reflect.
One thing is extremely clear, graphology can no longer be seen as a “secret weapon” for clandestine use, the graphologist must be fully “transparent”, particularly in regard to the person being analysed. This should be seen as an opportunity. Perhaps we are entering a new phase whereby graphologists can offer graphological services to both employer and potential employee. This enables writers to have a better knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses. The employer will make a positive contribution to society, something that is expected from the corporate entity.
4. Thanks to Sabina Maffei for translation assistance.
5. This paper was prepared for the International Graphology Conference, Milan, Italy, 22 May 2005. Copyright 2005 Nigel Bradley
6. Le scripteur doit donner son accord en vue de l’analyse graphologique http://www.sgg-graphologie.ch/fr/protection.html
7. Die Schriftautorin/der Schriftautor muss ihr/sein Einverständnis zur Analyse der Handschrift geben. http://www.sgg-graphologie.ch/de/datenschutz.html
8. The Code de Travail. Most French texts concerning the law of employment have been collected together in a document called the Labour Code (Code de Travail). The first Labour Code was introduced between 1920 and 1927; the current one dates from 1973 but is continuously updated. See http://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/WAspad/UnCode?code=CTRAVAIL.rcv
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