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Leary’s rose – say it with flowers?

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By Bert Bleyen

Head of Talent Development at ORMIT Belgium

Leary’s rose is an interaction model that is used for describing and influencing interaction. Its founder, Timothy Leary, was an American psychologist who led a large-scale investigation about the healing of psychiatric patients. He discovered that people’s reaction on certain behaviour can be predicted in some situations, and that behaviour evokes behaviour. In other words: by behaving in a certain way, you can steer other people’s behaviour.

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8 different behaviours

In his model, there are two different axes: First you have the horizontal axis, which tells us something about the relationship with others (opposed versus together). Together means people can work together as a team, opposed signifies they don’t agree with each other. Then you have the vertical axis, where you see the attitude towards each other (above versus below). Above stands for dominant behaviour ( “I determine what you have to do”), below implies submissive behaviour (“I will do what you ask me”)

There are 8 different behaviours that thus arise:

  1. Above together – Leading
    This behaviour shows itself as giving advice, influencing someone, suggesting something, arranging things for someone else.
    Strength: It can be functional when you’re an expert and you need to share knowledge or insights or when there’s a need for an efficient meeting.
    Pitfall: It’s rather dysfunctional when the other person needs to make a decision for himself, or when other people want to express their ideas as well. 

  2. Above together – Helping
    It’s helping the other person, comforting someone, being friendly, offering a service, …
    Strength: It can be functional when the other person isn’t feeling well, or a safe environment is needed to improve the collaboration.
    Pitfall: It can be dysfunctional when the other personal is already criticising you, or when no decision is being made by the group.

  3. Below together – co-operative
    Co-operative behaviour can be agreeing with the other person, supporting him/her, admiring the other person’s input, justifying the other person’s behaviour, etc.
    Strength: It can be functional when you agree with the other person, if you want to get something done from the other person or if calmness is important in a group.
    Pitfall: It’s rather dysfunctional when you need to manage a meeting or a team, when the other person is annoying you or when you need to solve a conflict.

  4. Below together – dependent
    Asking for advice, explaining your problem to someone else, asking for permission, … those are all examples of dependent behaviour.
    Strength: This can be functional when you’re stuck and don’t know how to solve something.
    Pitfall: If you want to have an impact on other people or if you’re angry, this behaviour is dysfunctional.

  5. Above opposed – aggressive
    Aggressive behaviour shows itself as punishing someone, frightening another person, interrupting or insulting them, …
    Strength: It can be functional when the other person is hurting or damaging you, or when someone is making group work impossible.
    Pitfall: It’s rather dysfunctional when someone didn’t make a mistake (or not on purpose), or when someone is used as a scapegoat.

  6. Above opposed – competitive
    Competitive behaviour can be bragging about yourself, being competitive and jealous towards the other person, …
    Strength: It can be functional if you want to gain prestige, or need others to trust on your expertise.
    Pitfall: If you want to have an equal relationship with the other person, this is dysfunctional behaviour.

  7. Below opposed – withdrawn
    Expressing self-blame, breaking yourself down or discoursing the other from doing something with you is withdrawn behaviour.
    Strength: When you failed the other person or feel guilty, this behaviour can be functional.
    Pitfall: If you want to be part of the group or if you want to interest the other person, this behaviour is dysfunctional.


  8. Below opposed – defiant
    Defiant behaviour can be distrusting the other person, ignoring positive feelings of the other, pointing to the difference between yourself and the other, being sarcastic or cynical, etc.
    Strength: This behaviour is functional when the other isn’t genuine or when someone wants to avoid conflict at all costs.
    Pitfall: It’s rather dysfunctional when there’s a need for a safe environment – for example to talk about a personal problem. 

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Leary found that people tend to react with the complementary behaviour towards ‘above’ or ‘below’ behaviour. Unconsciously we tent do respond submissively to above behaviour: when someone tells us what to do, we’re inclined to do so. This works the other way around as well: when someone shows submissive behaviour, we tend to take them by the hand and guide them (we tell them what to do).  Alternatively, opposed behaviour provokes opposed behaviour as well: when the other person is negative or critical, we tend to be more negative and critical ourselves. When the other person is working together, this often stimulates together behaviour.

How can you use this model in your working life?

  • By being aware of these unconscious reactions, it becomes possible to resist them. By choosing the right position (certain behaviour), you can positively influence the other to get the best out of your collaboration.
  • When you want to stimulate certain behaviour, you can change your own behaviour to do so. Example: one of your co-workers is always very dependent and asks you what to do. Next time he or she shows this behaviour, instead of behaving in a ‘leading’ way, try showing some ‘below’ behaviour yourself (being dependent as well). This will push your colleague towards a more leading style him- or herself.
  • We recommend this book "Influencing others? Start with yourself" by Bert van Dijk - a step by step guide using practical and accessible tools to understand why you behave in a certain way and how you should adapt to influence other, following the principles of Leary.