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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Psychological Strokes

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Recognition, Praise or Appreciation: Basic for Human Motivation
  • We always face the challenge of motivating others- our children, students, workers, subordinates, colleagues, bosses, service providers, customers and list can go on.
  • We also face the challenge of motivating self all the time.
  • Lots of motivational theories are discussed and debated for their superiority and application but there is a very simple theory of motivation i.e. giving recognition and praising or appreciating others as well as self (or receiving praise for self). Refer: (Motivation)
  • Praising or appreciating is called giving “positive strokes” in applied psychology or in the discipline of transaction analysis (TA). Refer: (Transaction Analysis- TA)
  • Appreciating or praising people is a basic technique and yet, very effective in motivating anyone, from a pauper to a king. Who does not need praise, tell me.

Why the Need for Praise?

  • In order for babies to survive and grow, physically, mentally and emotionally, they need to be touched, fondled and shown recognition. This physical handling stimulates the release of growth hormones from the pituitary gland.
  • Individuals deprived of such recognition and touch have been seen to be physically, mentally and emotionally retarded, at times so severely that death results.
  • As one grows out of the childhood, while the important need for physical stimulus decreases, basic need for other forms of recognition stays. This need stays with everyone throughout his life.
  • Inadequate recognition of the existence of the self often leads to mental anxiety, depression and illness.
  • The fact is all of us need to be seen and recognized by others.
  • To be starved of human contact and recognition is as bad as being starved of recognition.
  • In terms of this need for positive strokes, we can be compared with the pets. As our dogs and cats need to be stroked for providing them our affection and attention, so it is also with us human beings. We also need to be “stroked” to recognize our existence. It is then called “psychological strokes”.
  • Psychological stroke is a unit of recognition.

Range of Strokes

  • Strokes range from a casual nod to an intimate relationship.
  • Some forms of recognition have a negative impact on the recipients and result in mild discomfort or even intense bad feelings.
  • Other forms of recognition can have an effect on the recipient that can be described as ranging from no effect or neutral effect to intense pleasure.
  • Recognition at times is given spontaneously with no conditions or strings attached to it. This is “unconditional recognition”. For example, a mother showers her affection on her baby just for no reason; it is done absolutely unconditionally.
  • Other form of recognition is “conditional”. It is given subject to the fulfillment of some condition; for example, on accomplishment (or non-accomplishment) of some expected work or task. So, normally, conditional strokes are task related.

Classification or Types of Strokes

Based on this range of strokes, described earlier, the psychological strokes are classified into following five categories.

1. Positive conditional stroke.
2. Positive unconditional stroke.
3. Negative conditional stroke.
4. Negative unconditional stroke.
5. Neutral or indifferent stroke.

We will describe each type of these strokes in some detail below.

Positive conditional stroke

  • Here the person is appreciated or praised for having done or achieved something in an acceptable way.
  • There is condition: if you do well I will appreciate otherwise not.
  • So, having fulfilled a condition, if one is appreciated, he is receiving conditional positive stroke.
  • Person is thus appreciated for doing.

Positive unconditional stroke

  • Here the person is appreciated without any condition. To receive the praise, fulfilling any condition is not necessary.
  • Person is appreciated for being and not necessarily for doing.
  • Parents love their children unconditionally most of the times. Or a boss is all praise for his favorite subordinate.

Negative conditional stroke

  • Person is reprimanded or scolded or criticized for not fulfilling a condition in an acceptable manner.
  • Typical rebuff will be: you have not done it the way it should have been done. It needs correction or rectification. Therefore, I am critical of it and you do not deserve my praise.

Negative unconditional stroke

  • If a person gets rebuked or criticized for no rhyme or reason, he is receiving negative unconditional stroke.
  • This stroke is also not for doing but for being a person who gets criticized by someone else. The person giving this stroke just happens to dislike the other person for his own fancy.

Neutral or indifferent stroke

  • Meaning of this is that you are ignoring a person totally and act as if he does not exist.
  • You are showing a complete indifference towards that person.
  • It is an extremely cruel form of mental punishment.
  • You are taking no cognizance of either his being or his doing.

Tips on Giving Strokes

  • Be genuine in giving any kind of stroke. Do not fake it.
  • Give the stroke for just about a minute. Do not unfold a novel in the praise or criticism of other person. In short, do not overdo.
  • Choose the right words, phrases and sentences. It should convey what you wish to say via the stroke you are giving.
  • In case of every stroke, let the person know as to why he is receiving that stroke.
  • In addition, particularly in case of negative stroke, inform the person where he has made the mistake and guide him on how to correct that mistake.
  • Do give the positive stroke in public. Being praised in front of many people boosts the motivation and morale of the recipient.
  • But, make sure not to give negative stroke in public. It should be strictly done in privacy. Do not discuss with other what happened between you and the other person whom you gave the stroke.

One More Tip on Strokes: Stokes' Economy

It is generally wonderful to give strokes to other people by following strictly the tips given in the earlier paragraph. However, there may be few exceptional situations where you may to economize on giving the strokes (praise or criticism).

If you find that the after giving the strokes (praise or criticism), the receiver of the strokes gets disproportionately positively or negatively affected by them you have to put a control on giving the strokes.

What may happen is that because of your positive strokes, the receiver may start feeling falsely elated to the extent that he may become complacent and stop improving himself further. In such a case, you have to give the positive strokes to him with caution and restraint with a subtle or explicit warning not to become complacent after receiving the positive strokes.

Same way, with negative strokes some persons may get disproportionately dejected and may stop performing. There too, as giver of the negative strokes, you may have to ensure that your negative strokes do not harm the receiver in this manner.

Giving and Receiving Praise Helps You to Improve Your Life Position

You may know that there are four major life positions one can adopt. For details refer: (Life Positions and OKness) and (Transaction Analysis- TA)

These are:

- I am OK, you are OK
- I am OK, you are not OK
- I am not OK, you are OK
- I am not OK, you are not OK

  • When you give positive strokes to others, you are recognizing that others are OK too and you become “I am OK, you are OK” from “I am OK, you are not OK”. Or if your existing life is “I am OK, you are OK”, it further gets strengthened.
  • If you are “I am not OK, you are OK” type, receiving praise from others will improve your self-esteem and your OKness about yourself will increase. You then get converted from “I am not OK, you are OK” to “I am OK, you are OK”.

Biggest Advantages in Giving and Receiving the Strokes

  • They are free of cost.
  • They are the simplest yet, the biggest investments in emotional and psychological life of people.
  • They are great motivators.
  • They improve one's overall personality.
  • They increase the emotional bank balances of each other. Refer: (Emotional Intelligence)

For More Guidance, Assistance, Training and Consultation


Training on "Psychological Strokes" or "Positive Strokes", "Transaction Analysis (TA)", "Ego States", "Life Positions", "Psychological Games" etc is imparted by Prodcons Group's Mr Shyam Bhatawdekar and/or Dr (Mrs) Kalpana Bhatawdekar, the renowned management educationists and consultants and trainers- par excellence, with distinction of having trained over 150,000 people from around 250 organizations.

Also refer: (Prodcons Group), (Training Programs by Prodcons Group), (Productivity Consultants)

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