Transactional Analysis (TA), Life Scripts (The OK Corral) and the Johari Window

Have you ever felt someone’s pushing your buttons?

Whether it’s a family member or a work colleague, we can all think of a time when someone said something that brought out the worst in us. Maybe it was deliberate, maybe it was unintentional, but what if I told you it’s possible to work on changing the way we react?

We explore the idea of ‘Who’s Pushing Your Buttons?’ in a short video based on the Transactional Analysis theory developed by Dr Eric Berne way back in the 50’s. Berne came up with the idea that whilst we’re all born ‘OK’, we develop a life ‘script’ as children, and the decisions we make about life and people as children, determine how we unconsciously lead our lives every day. Whilst we might like to think we are always consciously in control of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, heightened stress and anxiety can unconsciously affect our mood and cause us to repeat behaviours based on our script.

Berne identified three psychological ego states used to characterise how we think, feel and behave depending on the people we are around and how these people communicate (or transact) with us.

 

In a HR context, you can often see this heightened stress and anxiety in play when a manager needs to have a difficult conversation. Let’s imagine how a manager could handle an allegation of misconduct. In an ideal world, they’d have an ‘Adult’ conversation with the employee to investigate the allegations and establish their version of events. But when a manager acts from their Parent (critical) ego state, accusing an employee of wrongdoing, it can tap into their Child ego state and result in them becoming quite defensive!

 

Parent – Child interaction

 

Adult Interaction

 

So that’s one example, but what about the heightened stress and anxiety in play during a pandemic…

At a time when lots of feelings and opinions are being expressed and supressed, it’s worth remembering that we’re all looking at the same pandemic through different lenses.

There’s:

  • Exhausted parents trying to juggle working from home and home-schooling;
  • Furloughed and non-furloughed workers;
  • People following or breaking the Government COVID rules;
  • People in and out of work;
  • Anxious business owners and anxious employees;
  • People who have benefitted from Government support and those who have fallen through the cracks,

to name a few….

Frank Ernst went on to develop Berne’s ideas, and in doing so, created the ‘OK Corral’ identifying four life, or OK positions. He theorised that every person is disposed towards one of the positions from childhood that will act as our basic script for a lifetime and influence how we as individuals begin to picture ourselves and perceive and react to others from a very young age.

 

In an ideal world, we’d all be operating from an I’m OK, you’re OK position, where we’re confident and happy with ourselves and comfortable with others. No-one is superior or inferior and people get on, even if they don’t always hold the same opinions. Too bad then that many of us aren’t set up in life to see ourselves and others in the world this way…

If your life position is You’re OK, I’m not OK you may find yourself comparing yourself against others and find fault with yourself when you don’t match up. Maybe you had a critical parent who made a point of picking you up on the thing that wasn’t right rather than all the things that were. Maybe you have feelings of low self-esteem and are real people pleasers! 

Then there’s the person with an I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK life position. If you meet someone like this they are likely to feel a sense of hopelessness and won’t be able to see that anyone or anything is OK. It’s the least common of the life positions and may be as a consequence of deep routed trauma.

And lastly, there’s the person running the I’m OK, you’re not OK life script. If you know of someone running this script, they may come across as self-assured, exerting an air of superiority and actively criticising or putting others around them down. Unfortunately, people who behave this way often do so to make themselves feel better at someone else’s expense and to mask the fact they are ‘not OK’. They’re not always consciously aware of it though. 

If you know someone like this, try not to fall into the trap of thinking that they are better than you and remember the Johari Window – it may all be a façade. They may be projecting what they want you to believe about them, but there may be a lot more to them that is hidden…

Having read this, can you recognise which default life script you’re running? If you recognise you’re running a You’re OK, I’m not OK script, scrape beneath the surface and you might find that some of the people you imagine are OK, are not as OK as you think.

Let’s consider the furloughed and non-furloughed worker example and imagine the scripts the non-furloughed worker might be running in relation to a furloughed colleague, from each of the four life positions.

Non- Furloughed Worker

Now let’s flip it and imagine the scripts the furloughed worker might be running in relation to a non-furloughed colleague from each of the four life positions.

 

Furloughed Worker

This brings us nicely on to the Johari Window developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, in 1955.

 

Being open with others might encourage them to open up to you too and between you, you might just discover things about each other that you did not appreciate before. 

 

All of these concepts are great for increasing self-awareness and mutual understanding in your relationships with others, and by practicing them, you never know…any black and white thinking might just turn a little grey!