Eric Berne, Games and Blogs

I was reading @dw2‘s blog entry “Game Changers” early this week, when I found myself pondering about some of the rather agressive comments left by a minority of readers at the bottom of his post.

I have noticed this to be a common behaviour pattern in public channels such as blogs, forums and even twitter. I am not talking about comments disagreeing with the bloger, but rather comments that seem to be off the general tone of the conversation. I started thinking about why people get a kick out of leaving such comments, when I remembered Eric Berne’s Theory. Eric Berne is the father of  Transactional Analysis (TA) and author of  “Games That People Play”, although my favourite book of his is “What Do You Say After You Say Hello?

TA theory provides a framework for the analysis of human behaviour. The specific aspect that I thought relevant to these negative blog comments is “game playing”.

The basic concept is that each of us develops a “script” for our lives as we grow. Slogans such as “I am no good and I will always get fired” or “I have to do better” are reinforced by our behaviour as we face life.

However,  getting fired or achieving success does take some time and people need quicker reinforcements of their “scripts”. That is why we play games.

Games are easy to spot once they have been completed, as you are always left thinking “how that hell did that happen?”. This is called the switch.

It is called a switch because the players change their roles . In games there are 3 roles that you can play.: the persecutor, the victim and the rescuer.

The Hook

The game is played because one of the players wants to “win”.  This starts with a hook, or a recurrent tag line, that gets the game started.

In the case of the blog-comments scenario, it starts with an open message that sounds too agressive to be justified by the content of the article. The person commenting on the blog becomes the persecutor and starts attacking the blogger.  The blogger will become a victim (“not really sure why you are so cross, I am sorry if I offended you …”) or a rescuer (“lets try to see if we can work together to understand the issue”).

The Switch

After the hook, the game continues with a series of exchanges that are gearing up towards the switch. The blogger patience is wearing thin and at some point starts thinking: “why am I putting up with this?”. And bang! that is when it happens. The blogger goes into the attack becoming the presecutor, and this is the perfect signal for the commenter to  become the victim: ” There is no need to become so defensive,  you guys are always like this…  attacking anyone that  disagrees with you…”

At this point both players have switched positions on the “drama triangle”. The blogger is left thinking : “how did I get myself into this” while the other player walks away with the pay-off.  He has now been quickly reassured that , as he always suspected, the world is against him, and he is a lone ranger fighting against it.

Avoiding Games

Here are 2 ways of  avoiding playing games. First, you need to be able to spot the hook and avoid biting the bait. Just simply remain factual and don’t let him bringing you into the switch.

The second, and possible better, is not playing at all. Just ignore the hook… simply tell the other player: I don’t do games.

2 thoughts on “Eric Berne, Games and Blogs

  1. I love TA – and that role of reverting to neutral information provision to stay out of the game is spot on – of course people are pretty insistent that you come back into the game.

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