Tools for Coaching Mastery

This column is provided by an IAC Coaching Masteries®-Licensed School or Mentor.

I'm OK, You're OK: Transactional Analysis for Coaches
by Aileen Gibb

In his book I’m OK, You’re OK (AVON Publishing, 1967), Thomas A. Harris promotes the idea that transactional analysis (TA) is not just a tool for specialists, but a technique that many people can benefit from. As a coach I’ve found that one of Thomas Harris’ frameworks has been a hugely powerful tool for my clients–who have become some of those "many people" Harris hoped would benefit from his work.

When working with IAC Mastery #2, "Perceiving, affirming and expanding the client’s potential," we often hear that our client has assumptions, perspectives and unspoken beliefs that are holding them back. I call it the "programming" that unconsciously tells us one story, when our success depends on us living a more constructive, empowering version of the story.

One of the common scenarios I come across is the client who is giving up their personal power in favour of another person’s position or perceived power. I might expect to hear them use such language as "I can’t tell her that," "It’s not my place to point that out to him," or "I don’t think he’d listen to me on that point."

When I become alert to this as a pattern for the client, I will ask them to draw the following diagram on a piece of paper in front of them (this works equally well when coaching by phone):

I’m not OK
You’re OK

I’m OK
You’re OK

I’m not OK
You’re not OK

I’m OK
You’re not OK

Next I ask them to think of the situation in question and ask them which of the above squares they’re standing in as they look at this situation. Invariably, they will quickly realize that they are standing in either the upper left or bottom right quadrant.

There is usually an "aha" moment at this point. As soon as the client sees that this is what’s going on for them, their energy often immediately changes. "Gosh, I never realized that’s what I’m doing."

In the more therapeutic context this transactional model might be used to move into a counseling process for the client to analyse why they find themselves in this quadrant.

As coaches, we can let go of the need for such analysis and move our client forward by trusting that awareness is the first step to change. This will lead us to a future-focused question to support the client seeing their position differently:

"Which quadrant would you like to be standing in as you approach this?"

I have yet to come across a client who doesn’t want to step into the top-right "I’m OK, You’re OK" quadrant. I find that by this point the client has moved to being focused on self–and will almost unconsciously move out of any blame, victimization or defensiveness about the other person.

It’s one of those simple yet magically powerful coaching shifts that doesn’t even need to be named. A masterful coach will be aware of it and will hold it with empathy and understanding, trusting the client to step metaphorically into the top-right quadrant–thereby claiming more personal power.

Sensing and observing this shift, the powerful coaching question might be:

"What will it take for you to stand in that top-right quadrant in this situation?"


"What do you need in order to stand in that top-right quadrant in this situation?"


"What’s different when you stand in the top-right "I’m OK, You’re OK" quadrant?"

My experience is that the "aha" moment is often powerful enough to unconsciously clear a lot of the old programming, assumptions or beliefs. Once the client can see herself standing in the top-right quadrant it also becomes clear exactly what she needs or have or do in order to follow through to success.

I’ve used this tool many times in this simple way to help clients shift from a limiting belief and to feel more encouraged and empowered to take action–outcomes we expect to see in the effective use of Mastery #2.

To honour Dr. Harris and his work, I’ll often mention to the client that this tool came from the field of TA, though to be honest my client is generally so focused on their anticipated action or conversation that they’re not too worried about how they got there.

Months later, however, clients have told me that they still have that 4-square diagram on their desk or tucked away in their journal as a reminder to step into the top-right quadrant.

Thank you, Dr. Harris! I do believe many people are benefiting from your work and that it’s been a gift to the coaching field.

Aileen Gibb is founder and lead coach with IC International, dedicated to inspiring a better future in life and work. Her vision is to connect 100,000 people with their inspired future over the next 10 years. Email or visit her new website (coming soon!).

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