Some frustrating conversations just seem to keep cropping up – and not always with the same people! They are frustrating because we know that failure to move them on is reducing our effectiveness and keeping us from the outcomes we need.

This month’s thinker has some ideas to help you break these patterns to get better results.

The games people play (yep, that means us!)

Eric Berne took Freud’s ideas and made them accessible by focusing, not on the individual but on the patterns of interaction (transactions) between them. His seminal 1964 book ‘The games people play’ introduced not only the Discipline of Transactional Analysis (TA) but was also, arguably, the birth of ‘pop psychology’.

Before we look at the ‘games’ (the recurring relationship patterns) that we all play, we need to understand the underlying ideas in Berne’s work on TA.

Some (now) familiar ideas… Berne explains that we play ‘games’ from one of three basic roles (‘states’):-

Parent. In which we play the part of an authority figure. This is almost always influenced by parental role models (although usually unconsciously so) and can take positive (nurturing, permission-giving) or more negative (critical) aspects.

Adult. In which we process data dispassionately, see the world objectively and are most free of psychological distortions from our histories.

Child. In which we behave, feel and think as we did in childhood – usually taking criticism badly (sulking or becoming aggressive) and/or seeking approval and security. It is also, however, the state from which we find our emotions, creativity, spontaneity and intimacy.

The state we are in, and the interactions that flow from it, give us both feelings we crave and reinforcement of our beliefs. We can, therefore get stuck in inappropriate states even when they are not appropriate.

Three common games (and some pattern breaking antidotes)

Each of these games will be happening in your workplace and each will be reducing performance. If you recognise any of them, try the antidote and see what new or better results you can generate.

Remember that, whichever role you are playing, there’s something that you are getting out of playing it. To overcome any resistance you may feel to changing your role, it will help to be honest with yourself about what you are getting (or avoiding) by maintaining the status quo.

Game 1 – Why don’t you? – Yes but. 
In this game Person A takes a problem to someone (the Child role) and Person B  suggests solutions (Parent) that are all rejected by Person A because they ‘won’t work’. Most managers play this game every day!

Breaking out.
Person A –  “This doesn’t seem to be moving me forward, can you help me think it through for myself” (a shift to the Adult role)
Person B – “How much do you really want to solve this problem? What ideas do you have” (Adult)

Game 2 – If it weren’t for you.
In this game Person A and Person B both place responsibility for the situation/problem on the other (Child). It is most common between peers but can also occur between manager and subordinate.

Breaking out.
Either party – “If you really want to solve this you have to take responsibility” (Parent) or
“I acknowledge that I have some responsibility, what is your part in the situation and how can we work together to solve it?” (Adult)

Game 3 – Look how hard I’ve tried.
In this game Person A seeks acknowledgement for their efforts and/or absolution for their results (Child). Person B either comforts them or criticizes the results (Parent).

Breaking out.
Person A – “I’m just not cracking this – can you help me?” (Adult)
Person B –  “Let’s look at what’s happening and why your efforts aren’t getting the results we need” (Adult)

Learn more about Eric Berne and Transactional Analysis

If you’d like to read more you could look at:-

Wikipedia provides a good summary of Transactional Analysis and the work of Eric Berne

‘Games people play’ 
is Eric Berne’s definitive book. Penguin (7 Jan 2010)  ISBN: 978-0141040271

‘TA Today : A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis’
 by Ian Stewart and Vann Joines gives a more detailed account of TA. Lifespace Publishing; First edition (1 Sep 1987)  ISBN-13: 978-1870244008