I love a bit of self-analysis, but Thomas Harris’ work describing four life positions made for scary, if insightful reading. Here’s what he has to say.
The emphasis of I’m okay, you’re okay, a self-help classic from the 1960’s, is “helping people understand how their life position affects their communications (transactions) and relationships.” The positions outlined are:
- I’m not okay, you’re okay
- I’m not okay, you’re not okay
- I’m okay, you’re not okay
- I’m okay, you’re okay
Unsurprisingly, the healthiest mindset to have is 4. From this life position, you see the best in yourself and others. I’m okay, you’re okay people are “happy about life and work, and interact by collaboration and mutual respect, even if they disagree.” They are confident, steady people who give others the benefit of the doubt and are calm, attentive listeners.
The unhealthiest mindset is “I’m not okay, you’re not okay”. People who think this way often feel confused and demotivated, they don’t see the point in doing anything and are awash with pessimism. If this describes you or someone you know, battle the inertia and reach out for help. Some thinking suggests your GP is the best place to start.
Next came the bit that made me cringe and shrink: the description of “I’m okay, you’re not okay” thinkers. They (we?) are superior, competitive and see incompetence all around. Their favourite saying is “You’re not doing it right, let me show you.” They love to pen complaint letters and are often massive sticklers for grammar and spelling issues.
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That I was genuinely embarrassed to include links to my old articles which comprehensively demonstrate this mindset suggests I’ve mellowed with age and edged a bit closer to the ‘I’m okay, you’re okay’ thinking. I really hope that’s the case!
Finally, there are the “I’m not okay, you’re okay” people. “You’re so lucky” they say, whilst thinking “It’s okay for you.” I’ve seen this attitude in people struggling with change, including new parents. These folks are forever comparing, and perceive themselves as falling short. They undervalue their skills and withdraw from problems. Once confidence builds, these thinkers can adopt a more positive view.
The book emphasises that people alter their position depending on who they are interacting with. Indeed, Harris’ whole theory is a guide to “transactional analysis”.
I have found it exceptionally enlightening. For instance using Harris’ prism (dubbed “the OK corral”) I can intercept angry or hurt reactions by first interpreting other’s positions. Someone critiqued my rigorous editor selection process saying “you’re going to attract desperate idiots”. Previously, I’d have been gutted. Now I just think “That’s okay. He’s ‘I’m okay, you’re not okay’.” Plus he’s wrong as wrong can be.
What self-help books have opened your eyes? Share you’re thoughts here. It’s okay.