Psychological games that people play : 1.Introduction


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Asian society has always focused on traditional values such as filial piety, respect towards elders, harmonious relations with loved ones, and patriotism. Western culture also has their own beliefs that they adhere to, such as independence, freedom of speech, free markets and democracy.

While such values and beliefs progress the nation states and increase political and societal stability, it doesn’t ensure smooth relations between individuals. One can easily see domestic disputes and conflicts within families and nation states globally.

“This is because values and beliefs provide common channels to abide by for societal harmony but when it comes to interpersonal communications, there will still be friction among people when communicating, because each individual possess unique personality types that are so different that rubbing shoulders with one another can sometimes be painful, if not brutal. “

Hence, to be an effective communicator in life, one has to go beyond values and beliefs (which are often imposed upon us) , and make an effort to understand social psychology. More specifically, one has to understand human nature, which, in essence, is the core of the human psyche.

Western psychology has often used personality type assessment test such as Myers-Briggs Types Indicator or DISC to categorise individuals into their respective personality types. Other assessment tools include that of using archetypes, which are symbolic representations of an individual’s personality and inclinations. These instruments are useful and may even be instrumental in getting people to know themselves better.

However, once that is achieved, we cannot leave it as that. We need to take it a step further by understanding the mechanics of how to interact with others of different personality types.  Many authors have tried to solve this age old mystery, as can be seen in contemporary book titles, such as “How to resolve conflict in the workplace”, “Ways to handle office politics”, “Improving your Emotional Quotient”, “Enhancing your conflict and negotiation skills”, “Improve your classroom management skills” etc.

While the titles may differ, the topic of interest is always the same. To put it simply: “How do we communicate with one another?” This issue cuts across all context. It can be a communication process between people of authority (such as bosses, teachers, parents or project leaders) and their followers (such as subordinates, students, children or team members respectively). It can also be interactions between individuals of the same social or corporate standings, such as interactions between schoolmates, colleagues, friends or siblings.

This books often focus on techniques, which is all well and good. Some may not take well to techniques though. Furthermore, human nature is complex and multi-layered.  A better way would be understanding the games that people play.

Games that people play?

Please let me explain.

By “games”, I do not mean psychological manipulation or sheer exploitation of others. Rather, “games” here refer to the “natural psychological flow”  between two individuals, who often inadvertently take on the respective roles expected of them within a specific context, which is often aligned with their personalities.

“In fact, to be frank, we perform at our best when we are able to identify the primary roles that align well with our personalities, as well as the roles we are expected to play in specific situations. In other words, it’s our personalities that define the roles that we usually take on, and we ensure our personal success in life once we understand the strengths and weaknesses of our roles, as well as how to adapt to varying situations by taking on other roles when the context changes.

Think about how our colleagues’ behaviour changes when they are promoted to a Manager or a Director. Is this due to their obligation to meet the social norms of acceptable behaviour for someone in a leadership position? Or is it that behaving in an appropriate behaviour increases their chances of success in further ascension up the corporate ladder? I leave that to your judgement. Regardless of the reasons behind their changed behaviour, one thing is apparent – a strict adherence to behave in a manner expected of others and befitting of their position are vital to their future success. “

There are two schools of thought in this world. One is that of Shakespeare, with his famous quote( which I regard as his most famous quote that is almost life-changing for some of us): “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.“. Then there are some who feels that it is best to be ourselves.

“While I would like to agree that sincerity and candour are key to any personal success in work and life, one would not get along well with others at least some of the time if one does not understand that we are expected to take on roles at times and in specific context and situations, not to deceive with out acts but to use them to serve as social lubricants to facilitate exchanges of conversations and strengthening one’s rapport with others. Hence, this author’s conclusion is this: Shakespeare was right, and he has always been right, right from the beginning. “

Please note that taking on a role in specific context and situations is not about acting or putting on a social mask. Yes, we may not be expressing who we are at this point in time but we are doing the best thing possible for communication to take place, and for goodwill to build. Think of how a salesperson will behave towards a client and ask yourself if that is his true self. If not, why is that so?

“If the roles that everyone is supposed to play is disrupted or reverse, the result could be disastrous. Think of bossy subordinates lording over their subservient bosses and errant teenagers rebelling against their relenting parents. “

By understanding the primary role(s) that we are attuned to, the subtleties of situations, as well as what roles we are expected to play to facilitate the dynamics and inner mechanics of our communication and by playing along, we will enable ourselves to communicate well with all if not most personality types over time.

Taking on roles is also different from associating with archetypes as while archetypes primarily define the characteristics of one’s personality, understanding how the characteristics of different roles and how our role interacts with another enable us to effectively enhance our communication with others, thereby establishing and building rapport within a short time.

With regard to this interactive dynamics that happen when we select roles to take on in a bid to interact with others, I call it “psychological games that people play”.

So, are you ready?

If so, we will move on to the first role that some individuals possess, sometimes known as “The Clown/ The Jester“.


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