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Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on October 13, 2021

Making Contact

Why do we make contact?

We attempt to make contact with others because we have a need:

  • To structure time
  • For stimulus
  • For recognition

Eric Berne called the basic unit of social action a transaction because all those involved gain something from it, much the same as business transactions.

Time is structured through rituals, pastimes, activities, games, (Play – addition by Boyd and Boyd) and intimacy. These are forms of social exchange.

Intimacy includes the ability to give and receive strokes. The original meaning of the word “stroke” was to indicate that all forms of recognition can satisfy the need for contact and can be life sustaining.

When considering contact within the business world we need to think about a range of different levels including: multi-national companies with their own branches world wide; customers with the organisation; management with employees; peers with each other; trainers and coaches with clients; and communication and honesty with oneself.  

Naturally, this list is not exhaustive. However, with each of these areas there needs to be a contract

Without a contract it is easy to invite the client into areas they, and you, should not be straying into. Taking care of the boundaries in the relationship is key to potency for all concerned, whatever the nature of that relationship.


Contracts specify:

  • Who is involved
  • What they are going to do
  • How long it will take
  • What the goal is
  • How they will know they have completed the process or task
  • How this will be beneficial to those concerned
  • Steiner outlined four requirements for contract making:
  • Mutual consent               
  • Valid consideration
  • Competency
  • Lawful Object

At the basic level there are three types of contract:

  1. Administrative
  2. Professional
  3. Psychological

In summary, getting the contract right is key to setting the boundary. 

  • What are you and the client there to do? 
  • How long will you work together this session, over time?
  • Where will you meet?
  • How often will you meet?
  • What will you be paid?
  • What are the organisation’s expectations of the work you are doing together?  In other words what is the outcome they are looking for?
  • Are these expectation’s workable?  Does the client agree with them?

Psychological Distance

Nelly Micholt highlights the need to be aware of the varying levels of closeness and distance between the different contractual parties. There are many variations on this theme of distance and closeness and Micholt draws these on triangle to highlight the difficulties around this issue.

It is important that all parties to the contract are experienced as objective and the triangle would then be equidistant.


Psychological Distance Triangle 1                  

Psychological Distance 2

A coach going into an organisation and working with the coachee’s team can also cause difficulties. The team is likely to perceive the coach, now acting as trainer, as subjective toward the person they have been coaching. 

Micholt’s work is seminal in the organisational field as it ensures clarity of role and relationship enabling the development of awareness required before, during and after setting up the contract. This awareness leads to the greater engagement of the Accounting Adult Ego State and therefore fewer games.

Congruence At All Levels

Chris Argyris asked “How can a group where everyone has an individual IQ of 130 get together and collectively end up with an IQ of 65?”  (1993, quoted in Cooper & Sawaf).

Unless account is taken of how people are sharing and relating and being honest, then productivity suffers.  

One of the ways in which communication goes array is when we forget that there must be congruence at every level of the organisation and between every area: environment; behaviour, skills and knowledge; values and identity.

Corporate marketing makes corporate personalities and these need to be manifested throughout the organisation so that congruence exists.

What are the different personalities in the following organisations:

  • Body Shop/Boots Chemist
  • McDonalds/KFC
  • British Airways/Virgin
  • Harley Davidson/Yamaha

Marketing makes the image real and observable. Therefore, everyone needs to operate within it and be congruent. 

Thomson (1998) quotes the Novell Survey of June 1997 that explored issues of workplace bullying. They found that electronic mail had become a major source of workplace bullying. Over half the respondents admitted they had received  “flamemails”, and 54% said that the bullying came from their superiors. One in 70 of the employees said they had left a job as a result of abusive e-mail. Nearly a third said they had wanted to stop communicating with the colleagues in question; 14% said their relationship had deteriorated as a result, while 6% stopped communicating altogether.

Thompson came up with his own equation about how to improve market value:


Emotional capital (what we feel, believe, value) x Intellectual Capital (what we think and know) + Business Capital (tangible, physical assets) = Total Business Value (Market Value)

We must get the communication right in order for the workforce to enjoy working in the organisation and increase productivity.

Cross-Cultural Communication 

Is the tenet I am OK and You are OK enough?

The workplace is increasingly diverse. Understanding communication differences and accounting these differences will lead to effective relationships.

We need to ensure that we do not use stereotypical language and also reduce violating any cultural rules.


With regard to stereotyping we need to ensure that we see people as individuals rather than lump them all with one group – “He is always late, but then (ethnic origin) always are”.

Avoid qualifiers such as “The articulate African-Caribbean worker”, which implies that African-Caribbean workers usually have low verbal skills.

The way in which different cultures listen to each other varies. Some experience constant eye contact as a violation. In some cultures it is also acceptable to interject with a viewpoint. This would not be seen as discounting the other person.


Once the overall contract has been set it is then easier to establish a contract for the session and then the boundaries to that contract.

Other ways to consider boundaries is to consider ego states. In coaching we need to work with Adult ego state in executive, whereas in psychotherapy we our contract is to “treat” someone, which might require regression for the client and working with the Child ego state. 

Jongeward and Blakeney (1979) note “Adequate protection means starting where people are, building on a level of deserved trust, developing the strengths and opening up the affective in productive ways people can deal with” 

Without clear contracts we will have difficulty making and maintaining contact.


Cooper R. & Sawaf A (1997), Executive EQ – emotional intelligence in Business, Orion Business Books

Jongeward D & Blakeney RN (1979),Guidelines for Organizational Applications of Transactional Analysis, TAJ 9:3

Micholt N. (1992) Psychological Distance and Group Interventions, TAJ 22:4

North West Regional Educational laboratory web site:

Steiner C. (1982 ed.) Scripts People Live, Bantam Books

Thomson K (1998), Emotional Capital- maximising the intangible Assets at the Heart of Brand and Business Success, Capstone