The Most Important Question You'll Ever Have to Answer

Written by: Stan Mann | Results Producer

Are You OK?

“It’s probably the most important question you’ll ever have to answer. Because right now—whether you’re aware of it or not—all the relationships with the most important people in your life are strongly influenced by a combination of how you feel about yourself (OK or not OK) and what you think of them (again, OK or not OK).”—Thomas A Harris, MD Having the ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ attitude is extremely important if you want to be a winner and achieve ultimate happiness and success. It affects your love life and your business/career life. This article describes the four basic positions, their meaning and implications for business success.

Here are the four basic positions. Eric Berne called this the “OK Corral.”

I’m OK, You’re OK: “I’m sure we’ll find a good solution together.” I’m OK, You’re Not OK: “Here’s the right way to do that.” I’m Not OK, You’re OK: “I couldn’t possibly do that as well as you.” I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK: “It’s no use—we’ll never make it.” You will spend most of your time in one of these four positions based upon your early life experiences and view of the world. This is your basic position. People will occasionally move into different positions depending upon the situation.

The story of Mary is an example of how these concepts work in business. Mary was very bright and graduated top of her class. She was ambitious and when she became the manager she wanted to show her stuff. She felt smarter and better than her subordinates. She was in the ‘I’m OK, You’re Not OK’ position. To maintain her position she felt she had to have all the answers and tell her subordinates exactly what to do and how to do it. She worked very hard at this. However, results were very disappointing. Because she demanded so little creativity from her people, they did not develop their abilities. Some went along with this and were happy to let her do most of the work while they did the minimum to get by and collect a paycheck. Her more ambitious subordinates became frustrated and left for places where they could use their talents and develop their abilities.

Fortunately, Mary got a coach and learned how to shift to an ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ position. As a result, she worked together with her supervisees so they collaborated together to create acceptable goals and solutions. They co-created action plans to overcome problems and achieve their goals.Mary no longer believed she had to have all the answers. By invoking possible solutions from others, she helped them stretch and grow. Sometimes the answer from her staff would be better than anything she could come up with. Instead of this threatening her, it now delighted her. She felt good and her subordinate felt good.Mary went a step further. If a subordinate came up with a plan that wasn’t the best plan, but workable, Mary let him a run with it. Mary understood that if an employee was following his own plan, he would be more involved and invested in having his own plan work well.

A Quick Review of the Four Basic Positions

I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK

Obviously, people who think they are not OK and everybody else is not OK have extremely poor relationships. It’s a desperate position. They feel life is not worth anything, withdraw and may become suicidal. Work that involves human interaction is very poor. Misunderstandings, resentment and pessimism abound.

I’m Not OK, You’re OK

Those that take the position that they are not OK, while other people are OK, are subservient. They have low self-esteem, what Alfred Adler called an “inferiority complex.” Although their feelings are easily hurt, they want to please others and can be good workers.However, feeling inferior is painful and people used tactics to avoid the feeling. Many people prop up their not OK feelings by treating others like they are not OK. That makes them feel more OK then the other person.This is the basis for jokes and negative gossip.

Clerks may make comments after customers leave, laughing at their foibles. Not a healthy situation for good customer relations. A receptionist may try to impress those waiting to see her boss with how important he is and how they should not mind waiting a long time to see him. This makes her feel more OK, at least for the moment.Clever salespeople understand this phenomenon. They take pains to be sure the prospect is never made to feel that they’re not OK. They’ll even go so far as to put themselves in a not OK position. For instance, they may introduce themselves to someone they met before and say, “I don’t suppose you remember me.” This protects the patient’s pride in case they’ve forgotten. It also conveys the message that the salesperson doesn’t consider himself more important than his prospect.People who take the position that ‘I’m OK but you’re not OK’ can range from the bully who intimidates others, to the arrogant snob, to the condescending “helper”—like Mary was at the start of her career.

I’m OK, You’re OK

Lastly, ‘I’m OK, You’re OK,’ is a healthy position. The ‘I’m OK’ position says: “I’m smart. If I don’t know something I can learn it. I am adequate. I’m as good as anybody else.”The ‘You’re OK’ position says: “You’re OK with me. I can learn from you, you can learn from me. You have great potential. I like you, you like me.”“I’m OK with me and you are OK with me.” You can take this position even though the other person does not feel the same way. You have high esteem for yourself and high esteem for others. This makes for win-win situations. This attitude is essential for long lasting, constructive relationships.This position is a mentally healthy position. It serves as a basis for constructive problem-solving. Expectations are likely to be valid. People are significant.Taking the ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ position is an Adult decision that you need to make moment to moment in all your transactions. To be a winner, in the deepest sense of the word, you need to be in the ‘I’m Ok, you’re Ok’ position as much as possible. It takes perseverance and real soul-searching.

So, are you OK? Am I OK?

Related: How to Make Sure Your Prospects Know You’re Right for Them