Monday, August 5, 2013

What are you playing at?

Funny how something as playful as play can have negative connotations. 

On one hand, when we play we express our joyfulness, imagination and freedom.  In other contexts, we can be seen as self-indulgent, manipulative and childish.

Perhaps Transactional Analysis, a model of communication gives us insight into this.  One of its core ideas is that we have 3 parts to our personality or ways of being, which in TA are known as ‘ego states’.  In terms of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, our child ego state includes those we developed as we grew up; our parent ego state includes those we have copied from significant people in our lives; our adult ego state includes those available to us in the ‘here and now’.

Each ego state has its positive and negative sides.    So with our Free Child, we can be natural, creative and spontaneous – and self centred, irresponsible and immature.  With our Adapted Child we can be positively cooperative and confirming - and overly compliant and be ‘locked-in’ rebellion.

It was interesting to see the press grapple with the fact that the mayor’s office in Roma, il Sindaco all went off to a retreat recently to ‘play motivational games’ under the guidance of training organisation Impact Italia.  The fact that they were casually dressed, having fun, experimenting and playing seemed frivolous to many a critic.  However the experiential projects they undertook provided powerful forums for raising awareness about the communication and decision-making behaviours amongst the team.  Plato would have supported them investing in the 2 days.  As he said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." 

Sometimes it seems the prevailing opinion in adult life, is that if we play we are not serious, we are not learning, we are not doing what we should be doing.  Furthermore for our own valued reasons, we often keep our personal and professional selves separate – which can mean we often leave our playful self at the door.   However, if we are to let that hidden quality of ourselves shine a little more at work, we learn more profoundly,  become more expansive and open and we create a more positive and constructive environment.  A leader was keen to tell me that although he had often used ‘games’ as a Scout Leader, he had not thought of doing so in his ‘real job’ until he had seen how valuable it was in highlighting issues, as a result of his own experience on one of our programmes.  Now using more team building activities with his group, efficiency and engagement has improved markedly.

How can you bring more play into your leadership? your work?

For me,  I am looking forward to playing shock start boxes, sensorials and other fun things with a group in Connecticut this week.


Napper, R and Newton T (2000) TACTICS: transactional analysis concepts for all trainers, teachers and tutors and insight into collaborative learning strategies, TA Resources Ipswich, UK, section 4

Nuns, Peru photographed by Melissa Farlow, National Geographic as posted by Vivid Greeting Cards on Facebook 4 June 2013.    Vivid Greeting Cards – celebrating the world's wonders with gems found in cyberspace and Gallery Windows of VGC art - Sign up to Vivid Greeting Cards Facebook Page at


  1. Connecticut? My how you get around these days. When is Sydney one of your destinations? I'd just been reading about the concept of our inner child - I tried to be more mindful of allowing the playful, creative child come out rather than the petulant, inflexible, self-centred one. If only my children could take this lesson too! Thank you for reminding me of this xo

  2. hehe, no mean feat.

    Come over to my house and play!xx