Collecting stamps is a term often used in Transactional Analysis to describe someone who is storing up emotions and feelings for things they may have buried or do not address. These feelings stem from childhood and are linked to anger, sadness, fear or guilt. Collecting these feelings is like collecting stamps and we continue to do this until our stamp book is full.

Why does this happen?  There are many reasons collecting stamps may take place, for example; out of fear of voicing our true feelings, avoidance of our true feelings, the way we have been brought up to deal with certain feelings, or, simply storing up feelings until there is an appropriate time to voice or deal with them. However, in reality we tend to put off ever doing this.

What happens when our stamp book is full?  We ‘cash in’ these stamps.  This happens when we reach ‘the last straw,’ i.e. the one comment or action from someone which pushes our emotions over the edge. This may be a minor comment or action on someone else’s part, but results in us ‘cashing in’ all our stamps in one go and an emotional, often irrational, untimely outburst.

Stamp collecting can form a regular pattern of behaviour with some people and therefore, helping clients understand this concept and the pattern of behaviour involved, enables us to support them throw away their stamp collections (rather than cashing them in).

How do we do this?  By helping the coachee learn how to deal with each situation as it arises; recognising the situation and consequently the feelings and emotions involved. Once this is acknowledged, learning to take the correct action is the next step. For example, this may involve holding an open conversation to understand someone’s response or approach or reflecting on why this situation is causing them to collect stamps in the first place.

For coachees involved in leading teams, helping them to explore the importance of ensuring team members do not collect stamps is fundamental, especially, when they are faced with managing difficult team members.

How do they do this ? Through building trust within the team by creating the right environment for team members to have open conversations, challenge policies, plans and opinions and raise issues in a safe environment without judgement or blame.

Stamp collecting is a harmful and destructive process for the individual and ultimately the team. Of course, trust within teams, or between boss & subordinate, coach & coachee, takes time to develop.  However, the benefits of open, honest communication far outweigh the downside of each team member collecting their own set of stamps.

Helping coachees to understand that solutions may not always be achieved in an initial conversation, is important, as is helping them to understand that by raising awareness, through open dialogue and sharing what may be a source of frustration for either party, can enable progress to be made towards a ‘win win’ solution. This is more desirable than the other person collecting stamps, with possible ‘cash in’ at a later date.

Exploring with coachees how they can face their fears, issues and misconceptions and take responsibility for their own responses to situations, helps them create healthier relationships, whether in a one to one, group or team environment.  Resulting in moving from “I’m OK, you’re NOT  OK”  to an  “I’m OK, you’re OK” scenario and consequently throwing away the stamp book.

Sources: Eric Berne 1950’s TA theories.

TA Harris (1967), I’m OK  

Sue Brown is an accredited Senior Practitioner with EMCC UK and approved DiSC trainer, including Disc 363 for Leaders. Sue is passionate about people being the heart of business and has over 20 years’ experience leading and coaching corporate teams and is the Founder of Smart Coaching UK. Sue develops and implements leadership programmes for high potential candidates and senior management teams.

Sue is also a Business and Leadership Mentor for EMCC UK for newly qualified coaches and also an Accreditation Mentor for EMCC Global. Sue recently led the project team to update and re launch the Mentoring Programme for EMCC UK members.

Read more blogs from Sue: 360 degree feedback models – insightful or inhibiting?