Thomas Harris, MD published “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” in 1969. I expect if I looked I still have a copy of it.
The thesis of Harris’ book is similar to Transactional Analysis as developed by Eric Berne. We all have heard of his 1964 book, “Games People Play.”
The gist of it is you don’t need to know what makes it work; you just need to know that some methods work reliably. You don’t need to be a psychotherapist to understand that in relationships, being patronizing, or disruptive or unfeeling will not work. Being a guide or mentor will.
Harris uses a 2×2 grid to generate zones of relationship nature. Transactional in Berne’s idea.
There are four.
- I’m Okay, You’re Okay is the desirable one. Adult to adult. Respectful, sharing, goal seeking.
- I’m Okay, You’re Not. Sometimes appropriate. Berne treats it as a Parent – Child relationship. Instruction, obedience, subservient. It works well for things like keeping children out of traffic. There is harm if the transaction is used in situations when Adult-Adult should survive. Politicians and political operatives tend to adopt this form because they “know so much more and don’t have time to explain.”
- I’m Not Okay, You Are Okay. Submissive, maybe passive aggressive, unmotivated. These people have retained too much of their child state. Child state is good in some ways. It is how we have fun and explore. Too much gets in the way of developing more fully.
- Neither of us are okay. Things are not good for me and the rest of the world is as bad or worse. The no hope position.
I doubt there are many of us who pick the appropriate state all the time, but knowing that our first response is a certain way or that the other is taking a certain position can help. We can then decide whether to pursue our position or modify or try to modify the other.
I don’t think children should negotiate with their parents about playing in traffic, but I think they should learn to negotiate as soon as reasonably possible. “Because I said so” does not help much. I have noticed that many children have developed some negotiating skills that parents handle poorly. They are persistent and they will offer alternatives if one offering is rejected. What else is there to know about negotiating? Encourage their skill and allow them to be heard. The skill is useful later and often deleted by overriding it. You will sometimes learn something useful, too.
Many parents and supervisors will improve their relationships with employees and with children if they encourage negotiation and encourage acceptance once the options have been heard and the decision has been made. That’s how adults in leadership positions contribute best.
You do not need to be a psychiatrist to implement what works.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.