How is your ‘OKness’?

Richard Erskine, a clinical psychologist, and author described OKness as:

“The belief and associated feeling of comfort that no matter what happens to me, no matter how bad the situation, I will learn and grow from the experience”

The concept of ‘OKness’ is probably familiar to most people and is a transactional model (TA) that is an immensely powerful tool for raising your awareness to your behaviour and even your overarching life position. 

It is a core model of transactional analysis, both in terms of its philosophy, and of its contribution to the understanding of people and their interactions: the analysis of transactions. 

OKness has been variously used to describe a philosophy of how we regard other people (Berne, 1972/1975), a frame of reference governing a person’s whole outlook on life, and the minute-by-minute behavioural responses to what happens to us (Ernst, 1971). 

It was Ernst who developed the ‘OK Corral’ which shows the four basic positions we can occupy in terms of the way we view ourselves and others. We can be either OK or Not OK with ourselves, and either OK or not OK with the other person:

How is your OK-ness?

If I am in the position of, I’m OK, You’re OK then I will see both myself and “you” in a positive and accepting way – which may or may not include agreeing with you. If this is my existential life position, it will represent my predominant way of being in the world. I am therefore likely to “get on with” you in that moment, even though I may not like “your” behaviour. This arguably leads to difficulties people have when undergoing appraisal in the workplace, for example – any “negative” comments about their behaviour lead them to feel Not OK as a person. 

Maintaining the example of the world at work, by adopting an ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ attitude, you allow room for optimism and collaboration. As a leader, you will come across as more self-confident in your own abilities and create a good team environment in which employees are less likely to self-criticise or critique their colleagues. Ultimately, this reaction is the goal for all forms of communication! It conveys mutual respect and allows for both parties to find a constructive approach to issues.

However, the other positions can create communication problems

I’m OK, you’re not ok

Maintaining this position can develop into an unhealthy competitiveness with others and can often result in looking for opportunities to highlight other’s mistakes. 

I’m not ok, you’re ok

In some instances, people may have feelings of inadequacy to the extent of feeling powerless. In a work context, this is when you will often see employees withdraw from their role and even undermine their own abilities to do the job.

I’m not ok, you’re not ok

With this mindset, the result can be hopelessness and negative dialogues in response to a situation, mood, or behaviour. You might also note an element of stubbornness from a person or employee when asked to complete certain tasks.

So, the question is, how do we use this powerful model in our toolkit? It requires a certain amount of self-analysis, and you would need to ask yourself two questions:

  • How do I view myself when I am ‘OK’?
  • How do others perceive my OK status?

In order to adopt the ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ reaction, it is important for you to re-evaluate your own emotions before entering a discussion. You can do this by checking in with yourself and ensuring you are feeling confident. If you are feeling frustrated by a situation, begrudged by a person’s behaviour, or feeling apprehensive about a meeting, then put quite simply, the chance of having a constructive and collaborative conversation is limited!

Whilst everyone may have their particular existential life position, this may not necessarily fit with the observable, social level of their interactions with others. This model can be used with a person to assist them in understanding their transactions with others and to put words to some of their experiences. It can also be used from the perspective of a manager to help make sense of an employee’s responses in relation to others.

It has been successfully used in organisations with teams of individuals struggling to relate to each other in effective ways. In that context, once they recognise the patterns they perpetuate, individuals frequently make changes, or at least set out to make them.

Take a moment…, make a drink, check in with yourself…how is your OKness? If you are struggling with this, or the attitude in your team or group is not OK, perhaps you would like help. Why not take the FIRST STEP, and contact me?



Berne, E. (1975) What Do You Say After You Say Hello. London: Corgi. (Original work published 1972)

Ernst, F. (1971) OK Corral, The grid to get on with. Transactional Analysis Journal, 1(4), pp. 231-240