Insights From The Leadership Whisperer

Not all stamps are cashed in for Free Gifts

Have you ever found yourself in a position where someone did something, said something or used a particular tone – and as a result of their action or in-action, you felt hurt? This person might be a friend, or a work colleague, your partner or your child, a sibling, a parent, or indeed someone with whom you simply want to ‘stay on the right side of’.

So you do nothing, you say nothing.  You convince yourself that it’s nothing really, it’s only a small thing and you’ll get over it, maybe you’re even over it already! Until, it happens again – they are so thoughtless! What was they thinking? So now you stew on this again, for a few days. You still say nothing – Ah sure, it’s OK really. Now they do something else, this one surprises you! You’re a bit shocked and quite angry.  They have no awareness, make no apology. That’s it, the next time something happens, I will give them a big piece of my mind. On the next let down, they didn’t get back to you, they postponed a meeting, they delayed you… Days pass by… On the next phone call, they say “Well? How are ya?” “How AM I??? Followed by a series of profanities and screaming down the phone and a list of the reasons the length of your arm why you are annoyed.  Then you hang up! That feels good! 😊 Hmmmmm. So what’s happening here? Transactional analysis (TA) has a lovely term to describe what could be going on.. ‘Collecting Stamps’.  Every time something that causes a reaction in us and we let it pass and never address it (most likely because of fear of some kind), what we’re actually doing is collecting a stamp.  In essence, we save up our bad feelings, as if they were trading stamps.  We paste them into an imaginary book.  As the days, weeks and months pass, our stamp book collection is filling up – soon we will have collected enough to cash in and claim a prize.  Our ‘free gift’ comes in some form of action or behaviour that we believe is justified by our collection. The ‘last straw’ or the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ always relates to a stamp collection.

The emotional build-up of collecting our stamps is vented through an outburst as in the example above. We have just cashed in all our stamps in one simple interaction – we were simply asked “how you are”? And so, we have inappropriate outbursts, we get our own back, we sabotage – and we believe it’s always justified, it is someone else’s fault. We start to behave in ways worse than what we’ve experienced ourselves and feel justified. The truth is that nothing good comes out of cashing in our stamps.  There is no ‘free prize’ – but what we can certainly expect to claim is broken trust and potentially losing friendships and relationships.

Understanding of the TA concept of stamps can enable us to throw away our collections (rather than cash them in).  We can concentrate on dealing with each situation as it arises; if something occurs that we are uncomfortable with, we can recognise this at the time and take appropriate immediate action (which might mean holding a courageous conversation or simply asking for some time to talk through something important to you) which will help us to avoid the unnecessary stress of carrying unhelpful feelings into the future with us.

If you want to learn how to build trust, have stronger and more fulfilling relationships, have more collaboration with your team and colleagues at work, create a genuine psychologically safe environment for all then choose to NEVER collect psychological trading stamps. They are lethal, always.

The call is to embrace our vulnerability and learn to become more comfortable with naming your truth, and having the appropriate conversations to let someone know (respectfully) what has upset you. Invite, ask, check, be curious, rather than projecting – and apologize when one is called for. Stay away from the terrible trio: Shame, blame and judgement – they destroy everything. Own your feedback, take responsibility for your own responses, and ask for what you need yet be OK if you don’t always get it.


If ‘collecting psychological stamps’ is a pattern that you’d like to change, get in touch to find out more about our Executive coaching and/or Meta Navigator Programme