Strokes are the food for our psychological hunger

A stroke is a token of acknowledgment or reinforcement given by one person to another. According to Eric Berne (1961), it is the “currency of human relationships”.  It is like nurturing water to a growing plant, and crucial for well-being and satisfaction.

Free vector flat design young people giving high five collection

Through strokes, you either approve or disapprove of yourself or others (strokes can be positive or negative).  Positive strokes can be life-giving, helpful, and nurturing, and negative strokes can be insulting and devastating. 

You can give strokes verbally (with words) and nonverbally (like a smile, a pat on the back, or a handshake).  Stroking can be conditional (for what you do) or unconditional (respect for who you are, irrespective of what you have done or not done).

Free vector friendly handshake concept illustration



Positive unconditional strokes:  These are the reinforcements for acceptance.  You are being accepted for who you are or you accept someone for who they are.  These are the POSITIVE STROKES for BEING.  You receive these strokes unearned.

For instance:  “Thanks for being a part of our organization.”

Negative unconditional strokes:  Here, rejection of the person is taking place, which is unkind and disrespectful.  These are the NEGATIVE STROKES for BEING.

For example:  “You are just a burden.”


Positive conditional strokes:  With these reinforcements, you are getting validated or approved for doing something, and you need to earn these strokes.  These are the POSITIVE STROKES for DOING

For instance:  “I appreciate your attention to detail.” 

Negative conditional strokes:  These strokes disapprove of you for doing something.  These are the NEGATIVE STROKES for DOING.

For example: “ Your work is not up to the mark.”

Negative conditional stroking is what we call “constructive feedback” or “constructive criticism.”  By constructive feedback, we separate the individual from his behavior when we give feedback.

For example:  “I appreciate your hard work, but your technical skill needs to be enhanced.”

Receiving strokes is so very quintessential that it fulfills the basic psychological hunger.  Some individuals may even be okay with receiving negative strokes than getting no strokes at all.  They do this because this gives them the feeling that they are alive and noticed, but this may lead to psychological games between people.


What we choose to focus on is what we tend to cultivate and develop.

  • In an organization, a manager or an employee can give attention to the desired behavior (no matter how infrequent it may be), encourage, and develop it. 
  • Sometimes, even when a manager gives a lot of positive strokes, some employees might not be able to receive them because they may be adapted to receiving more negative strokes from childhood than positive ones.  So, a manager has to tailor the stroke package accordingly so that it impacts the employee.
  • It is important to keep in mind that providing “negative conditional strokes” or “constructive feedback” is most effective when it is given within a trusting relationship that has been established with a sufficient level of positive reinforcement. Moreover, when offering feedback, a more favorable response can be expected if the feedback is conditional (e.g., your communication skills need to be improved) rather than unconditional (e.g., you are not worthy).

Stroking can be extended to everyone irrespective of their age, gender, race, occupation and more. So, let’s suffice our psychological hunger by adequately stroking ourselves and others.

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