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The Games People Play
The Games People Play

As professionally trained salespeople, we enjoy what we do most of the time. But once in a while a prospect or even a client can say or do something that gets under our skin and causes us to feel crossed up. When that happens we can:

  • enter our Child Ego State, respond from our inner Victim, and feel hurt, angry, or abused;
  • enter our Parent Ego State and become a Persecutor or a Rescuer;
  • or stay ADULT and realize we’re about to get drawn into a psychological game.

Recently a business owner visited me to discuss training for his company. I invited him to sit down and he replied: “I don’t need to sit, I only need you to tell me two things: What makes you think you are so good that you can help my people, and how much is this going to cost me!?”

WOW!  Not a whole lot of good answers to an opening like that. I took a deep breath to allow for time to think and realized I was being invited into a game.

Some reasons people play games are to elicit psychological strokes (positive AND negative), to justify their own life position (e.g. “I’m NOT OK, You’re OK”) or to get something they want, but are afraid to ask for. Most of us have played games at some point in life. Games hinder communication by enabling the players to avoid the real issues at stake and directing people’s energy towards the game rather than resolving those issues.

The best way to deal with a game you have been drawn into is to stop playing. Revert to your Adult Ego State when you think a prospect is drawing you in. Don’t Rescue the prospect, don’t go on the attack and Persecute, and don’t take on a Victim role. In the case mentioned above I knew that there were two very tempting game-y responses that would get me nowhere: Fight and Flight.

  • Fight: George, I don’t like the way this meeting is starting; unless you sit down and answer my questions I don’t think I’ll be able to answer yours!
  • Flight: Sure thing, George. Here is a list of testimonials, a price sheet, and my card; take the info, think it over, and call me if you have any further interest.

I’ve botched enough sales calls in the past to know not to do those things anymore. Since I can’t use either of these responses, what then does an Adult do? What would Mr. Spock from Star Trek do? He was the ultimate Adult – never emotional, never on the attack; he sorted things out logically and figured out the best course of action.

Here’s how the conversation proceeded with George.

Me: I’m uneasy that I may not be able to help you or your people at all.

George: Why would you say that?!

Me: I get the feeling you’re more worried that I might sell you something than you are interested in us working together to figure out a possible way to help your team.

George: Well, I still need you to answer those questions!

Me: Perhaps you would let me ask you a few questions first? At this point I don’t know if I can help your folks at all. What they’re doing now may already be better than what I can teach them and I won’t know the cost until we map out a solution together. How should we proceed?

George: All right, let’s talk.

The goal is to get the prospect into an Adult-to-Adult conversation. Unless your prospect sees you as a peer, and not somebody to boss around, it is likely that you will be selling on his terms, at best, or worse, providing a lot of unpaid consulting.

Stay out of games by:

  • Learning to recognize a game as it is forming. Understand what ego state people are coming from and don’t let them hook your parent or child state.
  • Taking ownership of your feelings and vulnerabilities in front of others. Don’t be afraid to tell prospects (or others) if you don’t think a conversation is going well for both parties.
  • Staying Adult. In transactional analysis this is known as calling the game. E.g. Suzi, I do not wish to continue our discussion in this manner.


Games like Chess, Monopoly, and Canasta produce real winners and real losers. Psychological games produce only losers both in sales and in life. If your buyer says something that makes you feel crossed up it’s possible that the game is starting. Call the game early; everyone will come out a winner in the end.

Copyright Sandler Training 2013.

Brad McDonald is owner of Sandler Training Hampton Roads. He can be reached at or 757-227-9996


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