As part of the ADAPT programme, Professor Julie Hay describes four ways we see others - and how changing our view can help us to get on better.
Windows on the world are a metaphor for understanding how attitudes affect perceptions. It is as if we are looking out on the world through the equivalent of distorting glass.
The distortions will not be random; over the years we will have carefully ground them into the window glass so that we see only those things that we expect to see and that will reinforce our existing attitudes. Like rose-coloured spectacles, we notice only what we are already determined to notice.
There are four ways in which we may view the world. Known also as life positions because they reflect a position we take towards life itself, these windows on the world consist of four options based on our underlying beliefs about ourselves and other people.
The four are permutations of whether we think we are OK or not OK, and whether we think other people are OK or not OK. A similar concept is implied when we talk about win/win, win/lose, and so on in our interactions.
I’m OK, you're OK
Most of us recognise, most of the time, that the position of mutual respect is summarised by IOKYOK. This view of the world gives us the greatest chance of getting on with other people.
We will accept that compromises may be needed so that each of us can satisfy most of our own needs without impinging too much on the needs of others. We set out to problem solve and to look for ways of working and living alongside each other. In other words, we operate to a win/win philosophy.
Unfortunately, when we have an off day, we slide into one of the other life positions and see the world through a distorted frame of reference. When something goes wrong, we assume it is our fault; when something goes right we take the full credit.
I’m not OK, you're OK
If we establish this pattern strongly when we are children we will exhibit it also as grown-ups. We begin to have an air of helplessness. Because we have got used to being helped, we start to pause before attempting things, expecting that someone else will step in and do it for us.
People respond to our non-verbal message and do indeed take over the task. Faced with a new project, we hang back so that our manager starts to organise the work on our behalf. We may well be passed over for promotion because we fail to show our true abilities – it is likely we then get described as ‘lacking confidence’.
I’m not OK, you’re not OK
A different view of the world will have arisen for some of us when we were small. Perhaps there was insufficient evidence to support an INOKYOK view. We will then have experimented with an alternative scenario, in which we decide that everyone is at fault.
When we slide back to this window as adults, we see only the worst in everyone and everything. We expect to fail, we expect other people to fail, we even expect the fates to conspire against us.
We adopt a rather hopeless air, signalling to others that we have very pessimistic expectations. The self-fulfilling nature of our manner is such that people avoid our company (unless they are feeling miserable too).
We then conclude that this proves our point and that we are right to be wary when people seem to withdraw their friendship before we can really get to know them.
I’m OK, you’re not OK
Our third option as children is the I’m OK, You’re not OK, or IOKYNOK, combination. This arises when we decide that our problems are purely temporary. As soon as we are older, we will be able to do all the things the bigger people can do. In fact, we will do them better.
Now we look for evidence of other people’s failings in order to check that our theory is correct. We pay attention only to the times when we do something well, and blame others for any shortcomings on our part.
As adults, we will then appear to be conceited. We may make it our business to tell other people how they ought to behave, whilst at the same time letting them see that we really do not believe they are capable of taking our excellent advice. Our relationships may last only a short time, as we push people away with our criticisms and one-up attitude.
You probably recognise bits of each position in yourself and others. This is because each of us is likely to have considered the view through each of the unhelpful windows during childhood.
We may now show elements of each on different occasions. Sometimes we may even cycle through all three very quickly. However, there is likely to be one that we visit more often. We will have become accustomed to this more when we were young, and will now revert to this at times of stress.
The picture is not all gloomy. Fortunately, we will also have experienced occupying the IOKYOK slot for some of the time.
Provided we don’t apply IOKYOK like Pollyanna, and expect that everyone will always behave in an okay manner, there is a good case for arguing that this win/win position is actually different in kind and substance from the other three.
When looking through this particular window, it may well be that the view is clear and undistorted. We may see things as they really are. We are even able to recognise that other people may be viewing through their unhelpful windows.
This means we understand that they will sometimes behave illogically because their perceptions are being filtered by an out-of-date pattern. We can separate a person’s behaviour from their innate worth as a human being.
All of us have bad days sometimes, when we do things we regret afterwards. By keeping in mind that a skewed perception is occurring, we can be more tolerant of apparent shortcomings. In true assertive fashion, we can object to the behaviour whilst continuing to respect the individual.
Last updated 12/11/2013