Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are


Few people will have heard of the relatively obscure Belgian philosopher Pierre Oussez, yet he can provide a significant contribution to improving how we all get on with each other. Before I say more about him I need to explain how his thinking can help most of us. This is probably best illustrated by a story.

 About five years ago I went along to my local library to return a DVD. It had been due back a couple of days previous. As I handed it over to the woman behind the counter, the following conversation took place.

 CM –“I’d like to return this DVD please” hands over DVD

 Woman looks at DVD, then looks at CM over the top of her specs and says in clipped tone – “ You do realise you should have brought this back on Saturday and that now you’ll have to pay a £2 fine?”

 For some reason this really annoyed me. As a result, I found myself saying the following:

 “Excuse me, can you tell me how old you are?” – (oblique)

 Her energy changed completely – she became giggly and coquette-ish saying “I can’t tell you that, I’m a laaaady!”

 CM – “Well ,let me tell you, I’m 50 years old, I’ve been going into libraries since the age of 7 and I know the system, I am aware I need to pay a fine, and I have the money to pay, but please do not speak to me as if I am a naughty child!”

 At which I handed over the money and left – feeling furious.

 Why furious?

 It was a question of her choice of language, along with her patronising tone:

 “You do realise you should have brought this back on Saturday and that now you’ll have to pay a £2 fine?” (sub text – “you naughty boy!”)

 This is the judgmental, patronising lingo that is a feature of the critical parent (CP) ego state as defined in transactional analysis (TA). This ego state is one that we use when we want to wield “power over” and is steeped in the notion that “I’m OK” and you’re “Not OK” or, more simply, “I’m right, you’re wrong”. Yes, she was “right” inasmuch as the DVD was late, but could she have dealt with the situation in a way that would retain my goodwill, whilst getting the job done?

 Most of us learn CP language from our own upbringing. It’s here that I creep into “blame the parents” territory! However, as well as parents it can also be our teachers, bosses, religious and political leaders, the media etc. who will foist upon us how we should or shouldn’t conduct ourselves. This may be deemed to be appropriate at times when dealing with children (although I’d personally question even that), but when applied to another adult it can be particularly risky.

 Few of us like to be judged or shown to be wrong in some way. Yet, CP language seems to abound.

 So, what’s the alternative?


 Eg: “I notice the DVD was due back on Saturday, so there is a £2 fine to pay”.

 When I told this story on a course recently, a delegate said “blame the DVD”, which was an interesting way of putting it: “the DVD was due back”, rather than “you should have brought the DVD back…”

 Neutralising  still makes the point, but minimises risk of upset or conflict.

 There may be any number of times we create difficulties for ourselves without even realising it. The woman in the library wasn’t being overtly abusive towards me. I’d have a tough job complaining to her boss about her language. Yet it did result in a strong negative reaction. By the way, I wasn’t pleased with the way I did react to her, I’d have liked to have dealt with it in a “cleaner” way but, hey I ain’t perfect either!

 Other examples of CP language include: must, have to, ought to, not allowed and even it’s policy. In a customer care context it could be called jobsworth lingo.

 Now, you may be saying that surely there are times when we need to be definitive and firm about something. In which case:


 “It is necessary to…”

“It is absolutely vital that…..”

“I recommend that…”

 I wonder how many workplace relationships may be tainted by CP language, especially between a manager and his/her team members. Many of us have a reaction that comes from our rebellious child ego state, whereas the manager wants us to be compliant to their demand.

 Neutral language has its root in what may be called the adult ego state. As I communicate with you from that place, you are then more likely to respond in a considered, mature way to my request or comment. Relationships are then more likely to thrive.

 Finally, I almost forgot – what about our Belgian philosopher friend Mr Oussez?

 Well, next time you are told what you “should” or “shouldn’t ” do,  simply mention his name:

 “Oussez?”   – “who says?”

 Bye for now



One Response to “Oussez”

  1. Hey congratulations on stopping and reflecting on the exchange. If we don’t, we can’t squeeze the learning out as you have here – very useful.
    It overlaps with Emotional Intelligence concepts. As you know the core EI concept is self awareness. Now when the woman talked to you patronisingly, what happened? You became CP to her, but crucially I think, to yourself first. Your emotion was triggered by her ‘aggression’. You were then physiologically alerted to ‘fight’. Your brain would have been alarmed at losing contol to your emotion and would have said to your emotion something like “don’t be rude to her, you shouldn’t overreact”. Your emotion will have then reacted to your brain like a free child to a CP and said something like “shut up brain” and blurted out the unhelpful response to her.
    Whereas if you had calmed yourself down internally by a friendly self dialogue like “ok emotion, I know you are wound up. But look at her, it must be pretty boring taking fines off people all day”, you would have calmed yourself down in that critical instant, and would have had, not just an adult exchange, but a friendly Supportive Parent exchange that could have gone something like”You are right, dealing with scatty old guys like me must be a bit much!” To which she would probably have replied “Not at all, you don’t look scatty or old to me, and actually I’m not going to fine you this time at all!”
    What “oussez?”

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