The disposition diamond is the name I use for what Graham Barnes (1981) called the drama diamond. I first wrote about this in 1991 (published as Hay, 1992), having received Graham’s permission to reproduce his original diagram. Later (in Hay 1993) he again gave me permission although he asked me to point out that he did not believe his model was as useful as I thought it was. I still think that is one of the most useful explanations about life positions. It helps us to understand that Berne (1962) was writing about existential positions, or attitudes, whereas Ernst (1971) was writing about behaviours.
Graham Barnes’ diagram allows us to represent attitudes, behaviour and emotions (or the psychological level) as if they are on three different levels, as shown in the figure. In each level, we can insert the various Not OK options – we can use plus and minus signs for these so that I’m OK, You’re not OK becomes + -, I’m not OK, You’re OK is -+, and I’m not OK, You’re not OK is shown as --. At the top of the diamond is our attitude, or existential life position. In the middle is our behaviour in terms of whether we appear to act in a superior, inferior or pessimistic way. At the foot of the diamond is our emotional, or psychological, level. This is often hidden from others.
When we are operating as I’m OK, You’re OK at all three levels, we are not on the diamond. Taking into account that there are three levels and there are three main not OK options, we could end up with 27 possible variations. However, the diamond becomes particularly helpful if we assume that there will be a different not OK option out each level – this means that there are only six combinations for us to think about. These are shown in the figure below. In 1992 I described these in terms of the patterns of attitude, behaviour and emotion; in 1993 I added some names for them – the Martyr, Moaner, Bully, Sufferer, Do-Gooder, and the No-Hoper.
The following summaries are extracted from my latest version (Hay, 2009).
Attitude + - Behaviour - + Emotion - - is a typical pattern for people who feel compelled to engage in counselling. We believe that we know better than most when it comes to understanding people and relationships, the areas that people ask us about. We then behave in a way that implies that we are here to help them, regardless of any plans we might have had of our own. Staying around late to listen patiently to a course member when we should be preparing or resting is an example of this. We give the impression of being wise and caring, if somewhat of a martyr. Psychologically, however, we may well be feeling despair when it becomes clear that we lack the skill and they lack the willpower to change.
With Attitude + - Behaviour - - Emotion - +, again we believe we know best. However, we feel that we are inadequate in some way. We are likely to behave, therefore, as if we do not expect to be listened to. We probably grumble about how stupid people are to ignore what we think is the obvious solution to a problem. “No-one takes any notice of me, even though I’ve seen it all before. I’ve told them what to do but they’re incapable of acting on advice!”
The Attitude - + Behaviour + - Emotion - - pattern matches the archetypal bully. We believe we are less able in some way than others. We feel despair. So we camouflage these underlying doubts by behaving as if we know it all. We tell others how to behave; if challenged we become even more autocratic and unreasonable. Outside our awareness, we are digging in for fear that our weaknesses will be exposed. Some trainers are like this. They are scared of being found wanting in technical knowledge so bluster and blame the students when the class activities go wrong. Teaching is run on school lines, with expectations that participants will be like children who have to be kept in order. Anyone foolish enough to ask a question is made to feel it is their own fault they cannot understand the lesson.
If we have Attitude - + Behaviour - - Emotion + -, we behave as if we are hurt but cannot be helped. We develop an aura of suffering but signal to others that they are so unfeeling that they could not possibly offer us comfort. We believe that we are less capable or intelligent than others but that we experience more genuine emotions. We feel, therefore, that our own emotional needs should take precedence over the feelings of others. Indeed, we may be so ‘emotional’ that we fail to recognise that other people have any feelings.
Attitude - - Behaviour + - Emotion - + means we will secretly believe that no-one knows what they are doing. The world is probably doomed. However, other people’s feelings are more important than ours, so we must help them. We set out to save people from themselves. They perceive our behaviour as arrogant, even though they may sense that we are doing it for their own good. We are the typical do-gooder, out to tell everyone how to live their lives better. We may well campaign for censorship because we believe that all of us must be protected from evil influences as we are incapable of making responsible decisions. At work, we put our energies into setting up procedures so that no-one will make mistakes. We are poor at delegation because we want to save people from their own incompetence.
With Attitude - - Behaviour - + Emotion + - we again believe that no-one is really capable. In spite of this, we need to deal with our emotions, which are so much more valid to us than the feelings of others. We therefore display our emotions and excuse ourselves by claiming we just can’t help feeling as we do. We seek out others to lean on, expecting them to take care of us in some way. We are likely to confide in others and then act as if they are responsible for resolving the situation for us. At an ulterior level, though, we have no real expectation that they will succeed any better than we would.
Barnes, G (1981) On Saying Hello: The Script Drama Diamond and Character Role Analysis Transactional Analysis Journal 11:1 22-32
Berne, Eric (1962) Classification of positions Transactional Analysis Bulletin 1:3 2
Ernst Franklin (1971) The OK Corral; the grid for get-on-with Transactional Analysis Journal 1:4 231-240
Hay, Julie (1992) Transactional Analysis for Trainers Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill, (republished 1996) Watford: Sherwood Publishing
Hay, Julie (1993) Working it Out at Work - Understanding Attitudes and Building Relationships Watford: Sherwood Publishing
© 2018 Julie Hay
Julie is a fan of open access publishing so feel free to reproduce any of these blogs as long as you still attribute it to her.