Yes, yes, I know in this day and age stroking your team could leave you with a harassment case on your hands. But for one minute take your mind out of the gutter and bear with me.
What I am actually referring to here is the emotional stroking or ‘cup filling’ as put forward by Eric Berne in his theory, Transactional analysis. Now I know this is an old theory having been developed in the 1950’s, but for me this view on how we ‘transact’ with each other on a daily basis, remains one of the easiest interpersonal languages to understand and master.
For those of you not familiar with Transactional analysis theory, a quick summary would be that it’s a theory that helps us understand and manage our behaviour, and the behaviour of those we interact with. You see, it’s all about the ego state we choose to interact or transact in. His theory builds on the Freudian concepts of the id, ego and the super-ego. For Berne the ego, or the conscious self is made up of three co-existing systems, or “ego states” which he refers to as the parent, child or adult states. During a ‘transaction’ i.e. an interaction either with self or others a person one of these mental states would be dominant. It is also entirely possible for us to move through several of these states during a single transaction. If this intrigues you I’ve included a hyperlink to a quick 10 minute video to kick off your research into the world of Transactional Analysis.
A quick overview of these states is included below:
How do you generally know which state you are in. Well each state is characterised by specific actions or gestures and can be typically characterised by some common phrases. Observe yourself during your interactions and see which of these you catch yourself doing most often and around whom to identify your dominant interaction style in each transaction.
The Parent Ego State:
Informed by the actions and behaviours displayed by our parents. We often assume this state when we need to assert ourselves or we feel as though we are in a position of power.
We can use this state to either nurture or criticise, either way during a difficult conversation both the nurturing and the critical parent are disempowering.
The Adult Ego State:
This is the most rational of the ego states it is able to explore challenges with a solution focus as opposed to a blame focus.
This is the best state to be in when having a difficult conversation as it remains focused on the facts, is calm rational and outcomes based.
The Child Ego State:
The child states are the most fun to explore and the behaviours associated with these often pop up during our adult transactions.
Typically, when we transact with someone who assumes a parent state, it forces us to respond either as a rebellious child or a compliant child. Neither of these states are effective when dealing with challenging situations when we need to remain factual and solution focused.
The natural child state is our fun, relaxed and playful side – its where our spontaneity resides and definitely deserves to come out and play more often.
Every time we transact with each other we adopt one of these ego states which drives our behaviour and by effect causes the other person to adopt a responsive state which can either enable or disable the interaction.
When we “transact” or communicate with others we are in effect exchanging “strokes”. A stroke is defined by Berne as a unit of recognition that provides either positive or negative stimulation to an individual. We are all in need of strokes, either physical or psychological. A stroke could be a handshake or the symbolic “touch” of a smile, or even of a telephone call. Stroking is needed to keep our emotional cups full. As the level of positive strokes in our cups decrease, we begin to feel tired, empty, angry, resentful, hopeless. If we lack positive strokes through our transactions with each other we seek any recognition we can, even if it is negative.
This is because at the end of the day we are all driven by the need for recognition to some extent. When we find ourselves in recognition deficient environments it may trigger us to respond with greater negativity basically because getting at least some recognition even if its negative is better than getting no recognition at all.
Claude Steiner coined the term “stroke economy” to define our stroke-based transactions. Its important to realise that this economy is based on making regular deposits and these should be positive to ensure that you keep filling either your own cup or your teams cup with positive interactions and recognition. This remains the best way to get people to continuously make regular positive deposits and ensure a thriving stroke economy. After all, you can’t drink from an empty cup, and neither can a depleted team.
So, I’ll ask again…Have you stroked your team today?