Prof R K Gupta
BE (Hons), MBA, FIE
Aravali Institute of Management
Jodhpur (Rajasthan)
E-mail : /


"There lives a child in all of us".

This article attempts to present in simple language and in as brief format as possible the background of psychological Games People Play and how Transaction Analysis can help in interpersonal relations and group dynamics to improve productivity.


1.) an easily understandable yet sophisticated psychological theory about people's thinking, feelings and behavior and, 2.) a contemporary and effective system of psychotherapy, education, organizational and socio-cultural analysis and social psychiatry.

EGO STATES AND TRANSACTIONS: People's interactions are made up of transactions. Any one transaction has two parts: the stimulus and the response. Individual transactions are usually part of a larger set. Some of these transactional sets or sequences can be direct, productive and healthy or they can be devious, wasteful and unhealthy.

When people interact they do so in one of three different ego states. An ego state is a specific way of thinking feeling and behaving and each ego state has its origin in specific regions of the brain. People can behave from their Parent ego state, or from their Child ego state or from their Adult ego state. At any one time our actions come from one of these three ego states.

THE PARENT : The Parent is like a tape recorder. It is a collection of pre-recorded, pre-judged, prejudiced codes for living. When a person is in the Parent ego state she thinks, feels and behaves like one of her parents or someone who took their place. When the Parent is critical it is called the Critical Parent. When it is supportive it is called the Nurturing Parent.

THE ADULT : When in the Adult ego state the person functions as a human computer. It operates on data it collects and stores or uses to make decisions according to a logic-based program. It is most objective and result oriented thought pattern (Ego state)

When in the Adult ego state the person uses logical thinking to solve problems making sure that Child or Parent emotions do not contaminate the process.

THE CHILD : When we are in the Child ego state we act like the child we once were. We aren't just putting on an act; we think, feel, see, hear and react as a three or five or eight year old child. The ego states are fully experienced states of being, not just roles. When the Child is hateful or loving, impulsive, spontaneous or playful it is called the Natural Child. When it is thoughtful, creative or imaginative it is called the Little Professor. When it is fearful, guilty or ashamed it is called the Adapted Child. The Child has all the feelings; fear, love, anger, joy, sadness, shame and so on. The Child is often blamed for being the source of people's troubles because it is self-centered, emotional, and powerful, and resists the suppression that comes with growing up.

In transactional analysis (TA) the Child is seen as the source of creativity, recreation and procreation; the only source of renewal in life

By means of an Ego gram we can show the relative strength of a person's ego states at any one time. This is very useful in diagramming the way people change over time, especially how they reduce their Critical Parent and increase their Nurturing Parent Adult or Child.

Complimentary and Crossed Transactions. A complimentary transaction involves one ego state in each person. In a crossed transaction the transactional response is addressed to an ego state different from the one, which started the stimulus

Covert Transactions. Covert transactions occur when people say one thing and mean another. Covert transactions are the basis of games and are especially interesting because they are deceptive. They have a social (overt) and a psychological (covert) level.

STROKES. Stroking is the recognition that one person gives to another. Strokes are essential to a person's life. Without them, Berne said, the "spinal cord will shrivel up." It has been shown that a very young child needs actual physical strokes in order to remain alive. Adults can get by on fewer physical strokes as they learn to exchange verbal strokes; positive strokes like praise or expressions of appreciation, or negative strokes like negative judgments or put downs. Therefore, the exchange of strokes is one of the most important things that people do in their daily lives.

GAMES : The essential aspect of games is that they are crooked or covert exchanges of strokes. A game is a recurring series of covert transactions with a beginning, middle and end, and a payoff. The payoff is a hidden advantage, which motivates the players to participate. This is most important in management situations in he organization

PAYOFFS : There are a number of payoffs of this game; every game pays off at three different levels: 1. The biological pay-off of a game is strokes. Even though games end badly, all the players get a considerable number of strokes-both positive and negative-out of playing them. 2. The social pay-off of a game is time structuring. People are able to filled time which otherwise might have been dull and depressing with an exciting activity. 3. The existential pay-off of a game is the way in which the game confirms the existential position of each player.

SCRIPTS : People, early in their lives come to the conclusion that their lives will unfold in a predictable way; short, long, healthy, unhealthy, happy, unhappy depressed or angry, successful or failed, active or passive. When the conclusion is that life will be bad or self-damaging this is seen as a life script

The Script message: "don't think, drink instead" delivered from Child-to-Child-is more influential than the Parent-to-Parent counter script message to abuse moderately: that is why the script messages will usually prevail unless the person changes his or her script. When scripts are not changed they are passed down the generations, like "hot potatoes," from grown-ups to children in an uninterrupted chain of maladaptive, toxic behavior patterns.

In the Introduction of the book "Games People Play", Dr. Eric Berne (The creator of Transaction Analysis) laid out stroke theory and made clear that he considered strokes to be the fundamental motive for human behavior and the reason why people play games.

He writes: "The individual for the rest of his life (after infancy) is confronted with a dilemma upon whose horns his destiny and survival are continually tossed. One horn is the social, psychological and biological forces which stand in the way of continued physical intimacy in the infant style and the other is his perpetual striving for its attainment."


Concept #1: Transactional analysis was designed for, and is ideally practiced, in groups. The role of the Transactional Analysis practitioner is defined by a contract arrived at consensually between the client and the therapist, teacher or consultant.

Concept #2: The basic existential positionó"I am OK, you are OK"óreflects the belief that people are born with an inherent tendency for health and healing. To facilitate natures helping hand by encouraging beneficial behavior and discouraging toxic behavior are the transactional analyst's principal tasks.

Concept #3: The three operations of the process of Transactional Analysis are permission, protection and potency.

Permission to change unwanted behaviors, protection from the Critical Parent and other influences that will resist or counteract the desired changes, and potency-the transactional analyst's information, skills and personal support and investment in the process.

Avoiding the three basic game roles (Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim) by learning how to get strokes directly is the fundamental lesson of the transactional analyst. A potent transactional analyst will also bring all additional available science and proven, practice-based information to the completion of the contractual relationship with the patient or client.

Transactions can be adult to adult (desired), adult to parent, adult to child, parent to parent, parent to adult, parent to child, child to parent, etc. We need to learn to quickly mentally diagram transactions if we wish to avoid offending others and initiating conflict.

Adult-to-Adult Parallel - Stimulus: "It is time to go." Response: "I'm ready let's go."
The parties in this transaction are maintaining an objective dialog, which can go on indefinitely in that mode. It is the ideal transaction.

Parent to Child Parallel - Stimulus: "You are always late, why can't you be on time?" Response: "I'm sorry; I did not see the time.
The person receiving the reprimand is submissive in response to the person issuing it and that keeps the transaction parallel and under control. However, this is not an ideal transaction to be involved in long term as it is a put-down and can become a habit by the person in the parent mode.

Child to Child Parallel - Stimulus; "Wow - this is fun!" Response: "It is great- I love it!'
Both involved in this transaction are involved emotionally with their "happy child" and enjoying themselves. They may also share hurt feelings (unhappy child) with each other and remain parallel.

Parent to Child crossed - Stimulus: "Your customer service sucks!"
Response: "If you do not like it go somewhere else!"
Crossed transactions of this type are to be avoided at all costs. This can lead to anger, argument, physical confrontation, serious injury or even death


I'M OK - You're Not OK

This is a distrustful life position. It often results from a person being brutalized by grown-ups when they were small. The people who base their lives on those recordings spend much of their energy getting rid of other people. It is also called the super-ego mode. Some people in authoritative positions can employ this mode to treat those under their authority as someone who is not important, who have no value or who do not count.

Often the person with a criminal mind resorts to this position. Here is comments of a law enforcement manager who attended one of TA seminars. He said he was interviewing a suspect in a liquor store murder and asked him why he had killed the storeowner. His response was "he was a chicken. When I put the gun to his head during the robbery he cried like a baby. He was a chicken so I shot him." This individual had no conscience as to what he had done and simply justified his action by stating the victim was a "chicken." His position was that the victim was "Not OK" and that he was OK so whatever he did was justified.

    Most often a person who is in the I'M OK-You're Not OK mode is there for survival in that they would be in the "I'M Not OK-You're Not OK mode otherwise, and no one can remain in this dead end mode long term and survive. When a person is in this mode it can lead to anger, arguments, and violence such as rape, robbery and even murder. It is a life position one must avoid at all costs. This person has the super-ego, talks down to others, is always right and may have a criminal mind.

I'M Not OK - You're OK

This is the life position held by many people, especially during the growing up years. It is a conclusion based mostly on early negative or Not Ok feelings about you rather than on a more comprehensive later review of data available in all 3-ego states. We are bombarded in our early childhood years by the numerous parent commands, the does and don'ts, and the always and never statements from those in authority over us. As a result it is easy to place oneself in I'M Not OK-You're OK mode often.

It is interesting to note that even animals can be in this mode at times. Your pet poodle may place his/her tail between their legs and hug the floor with his head down when you scold him/her. We all experience moments of I'M Not OK-You're OK as we progress through our daily activities and interact with others.

The key to this program is to recognize this as normal through our adult ego and return to a I'M OK-You're OK mode as soon as we can. This is an early life position and we find ourselves in this mode on occasions, and those in this mode have an insecurity complex and poor self-image. A majority of persons are found in this mode.

I'M Not OK - You're Not OK

This is a despairing life position. From it, life appears hopeless. People in this position use up much of their energy getting nowhere with other people in their own lives. Someone who is in this mode is often very depressed, withdrawn and may experience serious mental problems which can even lead to suicide. This individual has a very poor self-image, negative feelings, and is in a dead end position.

We each need to take inventory as to which of the above modes we are predominantly in. One of these four life positions dominates each person's life. Through the Adult we can modify our behavior to achieve a happier I'M OK-You're OK life position.

A variety of tools in addition to the transactional analysis tools are available to us to achieve this position, for example spiritual tools. Consider the personal options available to you that will work. It is not always easy and it takes perseverance, but the end result will be rewarding. It is a healthy and worthwhile goal to achieve a I'M OK-You're OK life position


Some typical games are:

If It Were Not For Them-This is a game where individuals or groups can blame someone else above or below them for problems. The payoff is the player takes himself off the hook for working on a problem and places the responsibility on someone else's back.

Why Don't You---Yes, But- This is also a hierarchy game. People use it or groups who appear to want others to help them solve their problems but usually want to prove the "would be helpers" less OK than themselves. They do this by rejecting all "helpful suggestions" which are offered. "Helpers" commonly include parents, friends, bosses, staff "experts," and outside consultants. For these reasons, this game is perhaps one of the most commonly played games employed.

I'M only Trying To Help you- This is the flip side of "Why Don't You---Yes, But." The "would be helpers" use this game to explain their behavior and also to justify their anger or irritation at having all their ideas rejected.

Now I've Gotcha, You SOB-This is a "trapping" game in which the player tries to "catch" another individual or group in a goof, lie, moment of stupidity, or some negative situation. If the player is successful in "trapping" his prey he earns a payoff, which is usually justification for taking some negative action (disciplining someone or firing them, etc.) These negative actions can be taken by the player without guilt since the other individual was "caught" and therefore "deserved" what he got." It is sometimes used as a substitute for problem solving.

Kick Me-White opens this game with a series of discounts (or worse) to Black. After a while, Black has had enough abuse and wallops White, who at a Child level wanted a reaction. Common these days in domestic disputes where one spouse verbally assaults the other, provoking a physical response. Seeking from Persecutor to Victim.

You should recognize games for what they are: a means of handling feelings (usually Not OK feelings) and for satisfying stroke hunger. (Strokes are methods used to achieve recognition). They are not to be confused with problem solving activities or authentic encounters. People sometimes try to substitute games for problem solving because it is more predictable and less risky; easier to enlist colleagues in game playing; and many people feel "Not Ok" about themselves and need games to mask this feeling.


The theory of Transaction Analysis and the Games can be gainfully used in organizational Training programs to make employees aware of the ego states, the scripts and how they influence the inter-personal skills. Continuous training and efforts can shape the change in our behavior pattern. Positive attitude towards self and others (I am OK-YOU are OK) is the desirable position to be attained through reinforcing the Adult, the Nurturing Parent and the Natural child. Parallel Transactions should be used by practicing mental imaging of the pattern of Conversation (Transactions).It is though a mystery as to why people like to be liked and loved. Why people demand attention and recognition.

A good understanding of Ones own Script and analyzing transactions as they happen and responding suitably, may improve inter-personal skills a lot. As they say, the most productive is the one that is most motivated and satisfied, in a group.


Three Masterpieces are given hereunder:

Dr Eric Berne; "Games people Play"
Dr Eric Berne; "What do you say after you say hello!"
Dr Tom Harris; "I am OK, You are OK"

Prof R K Gupta
BE (Hons), MBA, FIE
Aravali Institute of Management
Jodhpur (Rajasthan)
E-mail : /

Source : E-mail September 2003




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