Home/Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – How To Get Out of Psychological Games

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – How To Get Out of Psychological Games


My name is Sari van Poelje I’m the director of Intact Academy. We give training programs for coaches and consultants all over the world, from beginning coach to team coach to organizational consultant. At the moment we run team coaching training programs in five different countries. You can find them on IntactAcademy.com. My other business is Team Agility. I am an Agile Business Innovation Designer: I help companies innovate their business more quickly than their products so that they’re always on time to market. 

We’re recording a series of videos to teach you about transactional analysis. We use TA in executive coaching and team coaching because it’s simple, easy to understand and easy to transfer. Clients love it. In this series we’ve been talking about ego states, transactions, games, rackets. This time I want to talk to you about how to get out of conflict or psychological games. 

Last time we talked about the Formula G, which explains how you get INTO conflict or psychological games. Every conflict follows the same steps. You have stress. You do ulterior transactions. You have a moment of cross up, where the monkey comes out of the sleeve. And then the conflict ends in a payoff, your favourite rotten feeling linked to your basic assumptions about yourself, others, and life. 

This time we’re going to talk about how to get out of conflict or how to get OUT of psychological games.

How to get out of conflict:

We’re going to cover three principles: 

  1. Why do people play games, and are there ways to diminish your possibility of getting into games? 
  2. Can we use Formula G to look at each step to see if there’s an option or exit? 
  3. Do we switch roles? And are all roles bad?

Why do people play games in the first place? 

Eric Berne said there were six advantages to playing games, and if we invert those we’ll have six ways to get out of games as well. 

1. Unconditional Recognition

We play games and get into conflict because it’s a way to get a lot of recognition and attention. Anytime we’re into a conflict, it feels like you’re the only people on the planet engaged in this really intense conversation. It’s a source of what we call strokes. Negative recognition is better than no recognition at all. So if people can’t get positive recognition, they go for the negative ones and get into conflict, because at least in conflict you’re sure to feed that hunger. Berne called this the biological advantage.

One of the tricks to stay out of games is to stay out of stress. A great way to stay out of stress is to make sure you’ve got enough recognition in your life. 

QUESTION 1: Do you have people in your life or colleagues who actually see you and give you strokes for who you are and what you do? 

We call that unconditional recognition. If your tank is full then the chances of getting into conflict are minimized. If you don’t have unconditional recognition, where could you get it? You can ask for it. There’s a myth that if you ask for recognition it’s worth less than if you get it spontaneously. Well, I can tell you that’s not true. In society it seems that there’s not enough recognition to go around, so we give it out sparingly. But the truth of the matter is, it’s very easy to give recognition. You see someone on the bus, they’ve got a nice sweater on. You could go up to them, and say, gosh, I really like your sweater, without it meaning anything else except an exchange of compliments. That person’s day is better and so is yours. 

RULE 1: If you want to stay out of conflict, make sure your tank of recognition is full and that you also give other people recognition for who they are or what they do. 

2: Confirm Basic Assumptions

Berne said a second reason that people get into conflict is because it confirms the basic assumptions they have about themselves. He called that an existential benefit. Last time we talked about the anecdote of people wanting to put out the trash and them ending up fighting about their relationship: “If you love me enough, the trash would have been outside.” Well, if you are caught in a loop of confirming your basic assumptions about yourself, others, and life, then the chances of getting into conflict are very high. Some people go around life wanting to reconfirm: “Nobody loves me,” or, “The world is a difficult place,” or, “It always happens to me.” 

The trick is to really be open and curious, and you might  find out that life is actually different from what you think. That can be in small things, random kindness, for example. So if people hold open the door for me, I’m really happy about that. If a restaurant offers me an extra drink, wonderful. This only happens if you’re curious and open to life being different than you think it is. 

QUESTION 2: Are you open to life being different, to being surprised about what life can bring? 

What would life be for you if you decided that you were open to something else? The chances of getting into conflict might be much lower. 

RULE 2: Be open and curious.

3: External Psychological Advantage

The third reason Berne said we get into conflict is because it gives us an external social advantage. Sometimes people get bored and when they’re bored they look for a degree of stimulus. So what do they do? Well. Intimacy is one source of stimulus, but people think it’s scarce. So what they can do is they start a fight. 

You can see that in kids. When they’re bored, they escalate until you start to fight with them, because that’s a way to relieve boredom and to get their social advantage of passing time without really having to accomplish anything. 

QUESTION 3: Are you bored?

I’m often called into teams where they’ve had six managers and they don’t have enough to do. The myth is that people need to reduce work pressure when they’re under stress or in conflict. Well, I think you need to up the ante. Set a new purpose and a new challenge for a team, and they might have to work harder and get into conflict less because they have something to do. They ‘ll simply have less time to get into conflict. 

RULE 3: If people get into conflict to relieve boredom then increase your demands on them. 

4: A Sense of Pseudo Intimacy

Remember, when you’re in a conflict with someone it feels like you’re the only two people in the world. Everything else disappears and suddenly you’re completely focused on this other person. It’s better to have pseudo intimacy than no intimacy at all in your life. People replay old relationships during a conflict, becoming top dog, victim or rescuer.  And every time you get into a conflict and you replay those roles, you feel pseudo intimacy. 

The great thing about being an adult is there are no rules. You can create any life you want to. And one of the decisions you can take is: “I’m not going to go for pseudo intimacy anymore. I want real intimacy”. So another way to get out of games is to really make sure that you have a couple of really close relationships in your life because the nourishment you get from that will help you diminish your hunger for conflict. 

QUESTION 4: Do you have nourishing, close relationships?

I don’t see conflict as a negative thing. You can have positive conflict, where one and one leads to more than two. However, psychological games are non-problem solving patterns of behaviour, which means that you loop your past in your present. 

I had an ongoing gamey friction with a colleague for 20 years. I called him up last year and said, “I don’t even remember why we are in conflict. Can we go have a cup of coffee somewhere and talk it over?” And we started to talk. And we found out we share loads of values. Now he’s my best buddy. We’re going to work together. It’s fantastic what real dialogue can do. 

RULE 4: So my invitation to you is if you’re in conflict, look to love. Look for those moments of pseudo intimacy that you can switch into moments of real intimacy. 

5: Avoid Solving Problems

Another reason people get into psychological games is because they want to avoid solving their problems. This sounds really psychological, but it’s a way to avoid situations that challenge your frame of reference. 

Every time someone offers you a hand and you go, oh, no, my life is not like that, you start a conflict about it. Why did you give me your hand and why did you do it now? Oh, you’re too close. It’s a way to recapture that frame of reference that you have your belief about yourself, others, and life. 

QUESTION 5: What status quo are you protecting?

There’s almost a biological need to maintain status quo in your life because it’s predictable and anything that’s predictable costs you less energy. But being predictable when it’s good is a very different story from being predictable when it’s bad. If you want predictability because life is bad, then it’s time to recalculate and rethink your frame of reference. Ask yourself: Is this really true? Maybe your life has been like that. And maybe there have been events in which you’ve experienced that life is not so difficult. Or maybe you experience that people have betrayed you or done things that have trespassed your boundaries. Or maybe you have experienced moments where you thought you weren’t competent or good enough. And the truth of the matter is, every day is a new day. And every day you can rethink what frame of reference to have. Take a piece of paper and write down what you think in your unprotected moments, in the darkest time of night. What do you believe about yourself, others, and life? Are you prepared to let that go? And what would happen if you would let that go? What will life be like? 

RULE 5: Challenge your own frame of reference, because sometimes life is different than you thought it was. 

6: Internal Psychological Advantage

Berne said sometimes it’s easier to create pain in the here and now to then to feel the pain that you had before. It sounds a bit strange, but sometimes people create pain in the here and now because they’re in control. When you were young you weren’t in control, you were dependent and you had no control about the pain you got. All of us, no matter how good our pasts are, no matter how wonderful our parents were, have had moments where we’ve lost contact with self and others. 

You’ve experienced pain. All of us have. But sometimes that pain is so severe that a child  decides that they’d rather have control of the pain, so they create situations in which they create pain because then they are the locus of control. And that’s much easier than feeling powerless or impotent or not in control.

QUESTION 6: What old pain are you avoiding?

It’s easier to create a fight than to feel the depressive state that goes with a bad experience. To really change, you have to go into a what we call a depressive state where you relive the pain. And some people don’t want to do that. So they create conflict before they can feel that depressive state. But if you don’t feel that depressive state about what you missed and what the hurt was, you can never change. 

RULE 6: Feel the old pain and embrace it.

If you don’t embrace the old pain it’s really hard to open your frame of reference to not being in conflict.

To summarise, Berne said there are six advantages to being into conflict:

  1. Internal psychological advantage, which means that it’s easier to create pain in the here and now. 
  2. External psychological advantage, which means that you avoid situations that challenge your frame of reference. 
  3. Internal social advantage where you have pseudo intimacy, which is better than no intimacy at all. 
  4. External social advantage where you pass time because you’re bored. 
  5. Biological advantage. It’s a source of recognition. Negative recognition is better than no recognition at all. 
  6. Extent social advantage where you confirm your frame of reference, your belief about self, others and the world. 

I’ve given you in this talk some ways to get out of that. And I hope you’ll use it to your advantage. 

Further Reading

Options, Stephen Karpman, MD : https://www.karpmandramatriangle.com/pdf/Options.pdf

Did you like this video? Then please share it. Click the share links below….

Published On: March 26th, 2020By Categories: Leadership, Videos


Latest News and Articles

Please view our weekly vlogs and articles on agile business innovation.

View all News and Articles
Go to Top