Strokes, Games and the Drama Triangle

Human beings are stroke junkies. By stroke, I mean the TA term for a form of recognition, be it a smile, or a frown, or recognition for a job well done, or punishment for poor performance.

What is the stroke economy of your organisation? How much recognition is given for a job well done? How much attention is given for a job poorly done? If your employees are conditioned for negative strokes, they will do things to get them, and vice versa. This lends some credence to the idea of catching people doing things right.

Experimentation has shown us that we would rather receive negative strokes than no strokes at all. In fact, research in the 1950s has shown that stroke deprivation can actually kill us - hence the penchant for solitary confinement as a passive, yet rigorous form of torture.

We also know that we are conditioned from childhood, for certain types of strokes. In fact, Id go so far as to say we become addicted to certain types of strokes. For instance, if a child only receives negative strokes, it is likely that positive strokes have little or no impact on him, and he will go about looking for negative strokes to feed his stroke hunger. He has developed what we call a negative stroke economy.

Effective leaders know that the more emphasis they put on good performance, the better the performance they get. While poor performance is not acceptable, it is also not stroked. Poor work is merely returned, without criticism, and requested to be re-done. When done well, the stroke given is sincere, and potent.
Our stroke economy does not change overnight, but organisational well-being depends on it. The key is consistency; consistent non acceptance and non-attention for poor performance, and consistent, deliberate recognition for good performance. And most of all, when the changes come, and come they will, remember to stroke yourself (yes, I said it!) for a job well done.

Another TA model used in organisations is Karpmans Drama Triangle, (Karpman, 1971) which describes the three roles of the Persecutor, the Victim and the Rescuer.

An example of the roles played in a typical drama triangle at work is as follows:

You might have a manager who believes "My staff are useless, lazy, and untrustworthy. He would be seen by his staff as the Persecutor. The subordinate might think, "I can never do anything right. The boss is cruel and demanding and unfair. He would be playing the role of Victim.

The drama might unfold when one day, our Victim employee has had enough, and goes to HR to lodge a grievance against his Persecutor boss. We have a switch! The Victim has just become the Persecutor, and is now blaming the boss. The boss has just become the Victim.

HR, if they do their Rescuing role quite right, will get a turn to be Victim soon enough, as the boss blames them for siding with the employees, and as the employee blames them for not being able to solve their problem.

In the end, all three prove their beliefs about themselves and others to be right. Beliefs such as "you can't trust anyone these days" (Victim) or "nobody appreciates me" (Rescuer), or "give them a hand and theyll take the whole arm" (Persecutor)

Get the feeling that this is a game? It is. It is a psychological Game (Berne 1964), and it may even have a name, such as "Why Dont You, Yes But", or "Now Ive got you you SOB"

We may wonder why, instead of just getting on with it, we spend our time and energy being caught up in these Games. The answer is in the power of strokes which I referred to in my previous blog. Strokes are as necessary to human life as food, water and shelter (Steiner, 1971) , so it is no wonder that games are played in order to win strokes.

Those of us who have learnt that we get a lot of strokes for being the Victim, will get into Victim positions as often as possible. And so on, for Persecutor and Rescuer positions. Imagine going home to your wife and saying you had a great day. How much attention does that ever give you? Not a lot. Go home and tell her it was absolutely terrible! Clutch your forehead desperately, and tell her about your useless employees, or your horrible boss, and what do you get? Loads of attention. Imagine sitting in the company canteen talking about your great boss. Boring. But get into a whine about your terrible boss, and the strokes come a-pouring in.

So therein lies the dilemma. Games and their negative strokes are seductive, yet dysfunctional, unhealthy ways of getting our needs met. They negatively impact on the organisation's effectiveness and fluency. They interrupt our ability to get on with it.

What we need to do is resist the invitations to enter into Games, or play a role on the Drama Triangle. Acey Choy came up with the Winners Triangle, where it's okay to be Vulnerable, instead of being a Victim. It's okay to be Potent, rather than being a Persecutor, and it's okay to be Responsible, instead of being the Rescuer. In your organisation, reward healthy attitudes with lots of attention, and the Victim stance with less attention. And when your team does well, shout it from the rooftops. Give that recognition the substance and impetus it deserves. People will follow you. People will want to perform well for you. Energy will go, where your attention flows.



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