All people have an image of themselves, looking at themselves in relation to the outside world and the other people in it. Sometimes they feel good about themselves and confident of their worth at other times they feel less confident. They may see other people and their behaviour as acceptable but sometimes they may believe that the actions of others are unacceptable and devalue those people. However opinions and attitudes change about themselves and others, each person has a basic and favourite self-image, adopted in early childhood and operated throughout their life. It is said that this self-image is much formed by the treatment received by the child and the child’s perception of the world.
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A child, encouraged, loved and given mainly positive recognition, is likely to see themselves as OK and the people around as OK. A child, constantly criticised, punished and receiving mainly negative recognition, may see themselves as almost worthless and not OK and others similarly. These early decisions made by a person about themselves and others around them, in terms of being OK or not OK, provide four alternative ways of relating to the world. These alternatives are called Life Positions, expressing how people relate to others in thinking, feeling and behaving.
2. Characteristics of the Life Positions 2.1 I’m OK, you’re OK (I+ U+) – sometimes referred to as the “get on with it” position. People in this position are generally optimistic, confident and happy about work and life. They use time constructively, doing the things they most want to do. They exchange positive recognition freely with others, accepting other people and declining to put themselves or others down. They are assertive in reaching their aims. Their main working style with others is collaboration and mutual respect, sharing authority and responsibility and listening constructively, even if they disagree. Problems are faced and dealt with as constructively as possible. They are likely to succeed in life within the limits they have set themselves, experiencing satisfaction with work and in relationships.
This position is not seeing everything through rose coloured spectacles but a more realistic assessment of the situation. “I’m OK, despite my deficiencies” and “Other people also have deficiencies” but are acceptable. Criticism and conflict, tackled from this OK-OK position, is more likely to achieve satisfactory outcomes. “I care enough about you to fight and argue with you”, rather than “I am criticising you, to make you feel bad and put you down.” ?eferred to as the “get rid of” position, characterised by feelings of anger, fury and hostility.
Other people are seen as inferior, unworthy, incompetent, wrong and not to be trusted. Behaviour to others includes spite, victimisation, shaming, blaming, trapping, condescension, abuse and disregard. People in this position may try to destroy the sense of self-worth of others. Also, they can inflate their own self-worth, deny personal problems and find it difficult to give positive recognition. At work they are highly competitive, climbing over other people at whatever cost to achieve status and power. In social terms they exploit others, are dogmatic, believing their course to be the only right one.
2.3 I’m not OK, you’re OK (I- U+) – said to be the “get away from” position, typified by feelings, such as sadness, inadequacy, stupidity or a sense of being ugly, for example. People see themselves as inferior or powerless in relation to others. They put themselves down and find it difficult to accept positive recognition. They undervalue their skills and potential at work and avoid or withdraw from difficult situations and problems. In life generally they do not succeed, are unhappy, often ill and/or depressed.
Almost everyone experiences such feelings at some time, either in certain situations or in relation to certain other people. This, however, is an attitude and not a reality. 2.4 I’m not OK, you’re not OK (I- U-) – described as the “get nowhere” position, accompanied by feelings of confusion, aimlessness and pointlessness. “Why bother, what’s the point?” is the attitude of people in this position. They do nothing very much in life. Most people experience low times but tend to shake off those feelings. But people, who demonstrate this self-image for longer periods of time, are likely to show extreme apathy and are unproductive.
3. Origins of the Life Positions It is said that infants are fundamentally in an I’m OK, you’re OK position with trust being the starting point of a child but it is suggested that by the age of three to four years a person’s basic life position is established. Circumstances will bring about that position. People move through the life positions with differing severity of experiences in each Not OK positions. Some individuals, however, may spend most of their life in severe circumstances in one life position.
At work people act differently according to their assumptions and attitudes about a situation and the other person(s), with whom they are interacting. A manager may move from a I’m OK, you’re OK position with his/her team to a I’m not OK, you’re OK position with directors in a Board Meeting and then to a I’m OK, you’re not OK with an individual employee. He/she may not be aware of the changes in their thinking, feeling and acting. Some may rarely change positions, however, whatever the situation.
4. Discounting Self-image can be seen through the process of discounting, which refers to a situation, where some aspect of the work of a person or another person is diminished or ignored. People, whose basic position requires them to see other people as Not OK, frequently ignore or devalue the work or worth of others. Conversely people, whose own basic position is Not OK, will often discount their own value or worth. Such discounts may be verbal but can also be non-verbal, such as shrugs and facial gestures – “negative strokes”. A fine line needs to be drawn between constructive criticism and discounting.
5. Behaviour at work Many formal and informal policies and procedures in companies may be carried out in such a way to make managers appear more OK than employees. Outward symbols, such as large offices, lunch rooms, flexible hours, etc., given to senior managers, provide a sense of prestige and power. Managers should use those symbols, however, to get the job done effectively, not as ways to flaunt position and power. Attempting to make employees feel Not OK can lead them to become apathetic, compliant or rebellious.
In the work situation the four life or psychological positions can be explained, as follows: I’m OK, you’re OK – “This is what I think, what do you think?” The manager gets work done by committing, self-directing, co-operating, exploring and informing. I’m OK, you’re not OK – “Do it or else.” People are used but not developed. Work is done by threatening, controlling, dominating, manipulating and persuading. I’m not OK, you’re OK – “I never know what to do.” This person depends upon others and gets work done by abdicating and hiring competent employees.
I’m not OK, you’re not OK – “Nothing can be done.” This person gets work done by withdrawing or doing nothing. Key variables in I’m OK, you’re OK are: – information is shared – trust is built through teamwork – dilemmas are openly discussed and the basis of decisions is understood by all concerned. – people are basically solution-oriented, when they deal with problems alone or in groups. 6. Personal power Organisational power is often thought to be related directly to a person’s formal position and authority in the organisation structure. Power, however, can be seen in ways other than just formal authority and as something advantageous to both individuals and the organisation. Other sources of power not commonly recognised are:
Power of knowledge and skill – possession of such knowledge and skill, especially where few other people have that knowledge and skill, is personal power. Power of where you are located – where your job is geographically situated, such as in the organisation’s Head Office, may provide power. Power of who you know – people who know others with formal authority are often perceived as having some extra power, for example, directors’ secretaries.
Power of options – people who can generate alternatives in a problem solving situation create power for themselves as individuals. Power to think – people, who operate from a Not OK position frequently surrender their power to think. Managers operating from a You’re not OK position either ignore their employees’ ability to think for themselves – for example, by being over explicit in their instructions – or discourage them in other ways.