The Back and Forth

I’m a big tennis fan. I spent some time over the summer watching tennis and was watching closely the Aussie players as they had some pretty tough matches in the Australian Open in Melbourne. One of the interactions I noticed, and it would be hard to miss, was how the crowd support for a player can lift their game and lead to some impressive tennis shots. The players would also often seek the crowd support, or try to rouse the cheers from the stands to help lift their game. This interaction, like a dance, where there is a ‘back and forth’ between the crowd and the player also happens in relationships.

When we are positively focussed on someone in our families or workplace, our focus often comes from a yearning to make them happy or help them cope better or something along these lines. So we end up doing things for that person that we probably don’t do for others that we are less focussed on. In turn, the person we are trying to make happy can feel hassled or like they are being controlled or they are not trusted to make good decisions (Kerr, 2019). We end up doing too much for that person or telling them how to do things, or even telling them how they will do things in the future. When we are so focussed on another person, it usually has its background in the family we grew up in or our extended family relationships. A worry a person can have about their child can, for example, be linked to matching their parent’s worry for their sibling and either feeling sorry for the sibling or not wanting their child to grow up to be like their sibling (Kerr, 2019). This reciprocal interacting, a back and forth, creates a groove in the relationship, where the groove can get deeper and deeper over time.

The emotional functioning of people in a family or a workplace system is interrelated (Kerr and Bowen, 1988). This reciprocal functioning, is about the back and forth between people and helps us understand relationship systems.  A relationship system can be our nuclear family, the family we grew up in, our workplace, a school, church or place of worship, sporting team or club and so on.

I talk about values in my work and sometimes I think that I am consistently living out my values, such as ‘being a nice person’. But then I check myself and think, am I nice to people who are not nice to me? If not then I am not living consistently with my values. When I am only nice to people who are nice to me then I am behaving in reaction to another’s person’s behaviour rather than based on my own values. This is an example of reciprocal functioning.  In families we can see examples of relationship reciprocities, such as where one is ‘over’ adequate and does everything right and can cope and another is ‘under’ adequate, does everything wrong and does not cope. Or decisive and indecisive, where one makes all the decisions and the other feels incapable of decision-making (Kerr and Bowen, 1988).  

When we are more emotionally mature, we can act more consistently with how we ‘choose’ to act, rather than based on our reactions to others. We can be less ‘over’ or ‘under’ in our functioning as neither is a reflection of emotional maturity. 

Leadership is about growing ourselves so we get less caught up in the ‘over’ and ‘under’ functioning with others, getting clearer about our values and acting based on our values and less in reaction to others. The ‘back and forth’ in our relationships is worth noticing. What can you notice about it in your family life, workplace, sporting team, place of worship and other groups you find yourself in?

Leadership In Mind works with you to grow your emotional maturity. Coaching is helpful for professional athletes, like tennis players, but it can also help the rest of us too. If you would like to ‘improve your game’ and have some coaching sessions of your own, please get in touch and make a time to meet with Veronica via email on or go to  to book a time for a coaching session.

The next question is, what will I do with myself now that the summer of tennis is over?


Kerr, M.E., 2019. Bowen theory’s secrets: Revealing the hidden life of families. WW Norton & Company.

Bowen, M. and Kerr, M.E., 1988. Family evaluation. WW Norton & Company.