When we want attention, we behave in ways that we believe will produce desired reactions in others. But when such behavior goes too far, the desired result often is not just attention but also manipulation. When people repeatedly manipulate others, they eventually are met with resistance and other negative reactions.
Psychologists refer to these behavior patterns as the games people play. Once we understand the reasons behind these games, we can take steps to avoid them in others and ourselves.
Psychiatrist Eric Berne, MD, first reported on this “game” behavior in 1964, in his best-selling book Games People Play. He explained that people play games to get attention and fill up time if intimacy or productivity is not available. Even stirring up negative attention—anger, outrage and hurt—is more gratifying than being ignored or feeling bored or useless, he pointed out.
In my own research, I have explored the very important role that games play in the workplace, where people use them to exercise power, deal with risk and manage interpersonal relations. It has become clear to me that spotting the games others play—and those we ourselves play—can be crucial to our mental health and often our economic survival.
“See what you made me do.” In this game, a spouse or parent becomes irritated at being interrupted while performing a task, such as cooking or balancing the checkbook. Then, when a mistake is made, the spouse or parent blows up at the person who made him/her slip up. In the workplace, a manager who is failing and/or has lost the motivation to succeed asks subordinates for suggestions on how to execute a project or solve a problem. Then, when the suggestions fail, the manager blames the subordinates.
Why the game is played: Feeling victimized puts the player in a morally superior position of power—as opposed to having to recognize the failure.
What you can do to stop it: Instead of falling into the trap, firmly refuse to provide suggestions unless you are empowered to act on them.
“Now I’ve got you” is played by someone who seems engaged in a meaningful activity but whose real aim is to trap others when they slip up. The player often is heard to proclaim that no one does anything right around here.
Why the game is played: It allows the player to feel justified. The player can “righteously” vent his anger.
What you can do to stop it: Make rules and obligations explicit—who is responsible for what and by when—and strictly adhere to them.
“Kick me.” In this game, the player behaves in a way that others find obnoxious, irritating and arrogant. The negative response by others always arouses a hostile reaction by the player, often followed by an injured wail of “Why does this always happen to me?” The player is like a person wearing a sign that reads “Kick Me.”
Why the game is played: The player enjoys watching others lose control while he remains calm. He likes being victimized while feeling superior.
What you can do to stop it: Don’t rise to the bait. Instead, point out the unnecessary provocation.
“I’m always late—but that’s too bad for you.” People who play this game always do what they’re supposed to but insist on being irritatingly late.
Why the game is played: The player is seeking control and resents being controlled by others. He takes the upper hand by determining the pace of his life and yours without open rebellion.
What you can do to stop it: Discuss the problem openly, making it clear why promptness is vital to you. Negotiate mutually acceptable limits—and hold the player to them.
“What do you think? Thanks, but I disagree.” In this game, the player complains about a problem and fends off every suggested solution by explaining why it won’t work.
Why the game is played: It provides the player with reassurance. The player assumes the role of a child, and his listeners are transformed into sage parents giving him their wisdom. And he can feel superior to his failed “rescuers.”
What you can do to stop it: Remember that the player isn’t looking for a real solution. React with sympathy, not advice. Offer suggestions such as, “That is a difficult problem. What will you do about it?” or simply, “That’s too bad.”
Source: Martin G. Groder, MD, a business consultant and adviser to Bottom Line since 1976. He contributed many valuable articles over the years—and this one, which first appeared in December 1997, is one of our favorites. The insights it offers are just as useful today as they were when it was first published. We are running the article in tribute to the memory of Dr. Groder, who died in 2007.
Date: August 17, 2017
Publication: Bottom Line Personal