The rose of Timothy Leary

Psychologist Timothy Leary developed an interaction behaviour theory which demonstrated a strong and consistent interdependency of behaviour between people. (Book: Interpersonal diagnosis of personality)

Based on his research Leary arranged a set of interpersonal variables into a circle and which lead to an interpersonal circumplex model for assessing interpersonal behaviour, motives and traits. The construct of the model is formed by two main dimensions, (1) the degree of dominance / submission and (2) the degree of friendliness / unfriendliness. The first set of behaviour is located on the orthogonal y-axe of the model; the latter set of behaviour is located on the orthogonal x-axe of the model. Interpersonal behaviour plotted in the model reflects the degree of friendliness and dominance of that specific person at a given moment in time. See Figure 1.

The rose of Leary - interpersonal circumplex 

Figure 1. The rose of Leary - interpersonal circumplex

The interpersonal circumplex model consists of two orthogonal axes with 16 segments, two-by-two segments forms a octant; total combined the model counts eight octants, each octant reflects a progressive blend of the two orthogonal dimensions. The vertical axis (dimension) refers to the degree of control, influence and dominance (Top and Bottom). The horizontal axis (dimension) refers to the dimension of intimacy and affection (and Together Against). The model thus created is also called "the Rose of Leary".

Leary showed that certain behaviour elicits a different behaviour, so called behavioural interaction patterns. Firstly symmetry patterns and secondly patterns of complementarily. See Figure 2.


 The Rose of Leary - behavioural patterns of interaction

Figure 2. The Rose of Leary - behavioural patterns of interaction

Symmetry means:

  1. hostility provokes hostility
  2. togetherness attracts togetherness

Complementary means:

  1. Dominance provokes submissiveness
  2. Submissiveness provokes dominance.

What's the added value of the model in daily practise? Actually a lot if you aware of the basic principle and once properly used. The theory itself is a nice tool that could help you to communicate and collaborate at a higher level of effectiveness and efficiency. By choosing the right position (read; choose consciously certain behaviour), you can positively influence the other eventually to get the best out of your collaboration.

Just take a look at the red and orange arrows in Figure 2, you've probably noticed by now that hostility (the conflict) remains as long as there is no change of conscious behaviour. In other words, influencing one another begins with yourself. Let that be your perfect starting point for personal leadership.

Years ago I bought a very nice book which I can recommend anyone. It is pragmatic and clearly written using a familiar case. The book is appropriately called, "Beïnvloed anderen, begin bij jezelf" and available in English "Influence others? Start with yourself - written by Bert van Dijk.

Personally I love these kinds of communication theories; it's informative and even better, it is immediately applicable. As with most models and theories it has a certain level of "Aha-erlebnis" a high level of insight that manifests itself suddenly, like.... aha that's why I do what I do and that's why the other responds so predictable. The theory can be easily mirrored to everyone's daily routine, though it is not always easy to apply - here the adage practice makes it perfect. The theory works also as a piece of self-reflection; always confrontational, educational and enlightening!

How does the Rose of Leary works?

A brief explanation using three short examples:

  1. The aggressor (the dominant unfriendly)
  2. The unfriendly Calimero (the submissive unfriendly)
  3. Triendly Calimero (the submissive friendly)

Example 1, the aggressor (the dominant unfriendly)

argumentConsider a practical example in which your communication partner is more then happy to impose his/her opinion, or a situation in which your communication partner give you a straight forward overview how he/she thinks about the situation without any restrictiction at all– so called Judge Dredd pose.."I am the law". See arrow 1 figure 3. A wonderful and fruitful base for a nice conflict that even easily escalate into a violent (political) power struggle. After all if the intensity is high enough you will react symmetrical; in a dominant natural defence, remember "an eye for an eye - a tooth for a tooth". That could be very forceful in case the other person has violated your rights, privacy and personal space. Behold, your conflict is born.

Reverse intervention is key to convert the latent conflict into a constructive dialogue - arrow 2 in figure 3. You can grab initiative by taken a paradoxical friendly and dominant position. Maintain this position as long as needed and do not deviate. Accordingly to the submissive symmetry and complementary principle your communication partner will finally behave friendly. Unless there is no willingness to keep up the dialogue.

Such an intervention requires some practice because it goes against your natural feeling and behaviour. Ask open questions and give the other time to let off steam and to answer your questions. Once he/she is calmed and show a degree of positives susceptibility to your questions, you can get in control (right arrow in Figure 3) and turn it in an open and respectful dialogue.

The Rose of Leary - the aggressor (the dominant unfriendly) 

Figure 3. The Rose of Leary - the aggressor (the dominant unfriendly

Example 2, the unfriendly Calimero (the submissive unfriendly)

calimero-onvriendelijkConsider a practical example in which an employee is behaving like a real recalcitrant Calimero and bitterly complains – an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Or a manager who is always in the mood to unleash a waterfall of complains towards his/her management team, each and every MT communication signal is a potential starting point and all sorts of top down decisions will used to demonstrate that everyone is against him, that they don't understand him, don't listen to him, etc. Arrow 1 in figure 4. Virtually all meetings run onto conflicting dialogues and monologues.

With an unfriendly Calimero opponent you is probably tend to react symmetrically opposite; dominant unfriendly. Arrow 2 in figure 4.

Just think about it and maybe you recall a similar situation. You might have react aggressively dominant; telling the other that he/she have it by the wrong end and to finish the job you have treaten him/her with a nice monologue explaining what it is all about. Actually this is what our Calimero wants; be aware that every vestige of dominance is "grist to the mill" of our Calimero. (sounds familiar?)

To create a breakthrough under the given circumstances of submissive unfriendly behaviour one needs to take a friendliness and openness position. In other words, you need to anticipate paradoxically and mirror the submissive unfriendly behaviour and communicating in a submissive friendly manner. Arrow 3 in right figure. Ask open questions and give the initiative back to your communication partner. If you can hold on long enough, the other shall eventually behave symmetrical dominant friendly according to the symmetrical and complementary symmetry principle.

The Rose of Leary - the unfriendly Calimero (the submissive unfriendly) 

Figure 4. The Rose of Leary - the unfriendly Calimero (the submissive unfriendly)

Example 3, friendly Calimero (the submissive friendly)

calimero-vriendelijkConsider a practical example in which your communication partner is of a docile nature and readily deferred to you and your ideas – an overload of cooperativeness. Dependence / submission plays also an evident role in problem solving and challenges. Our Calimero often request a certain solution for a given challenge. Once given he/she starts complaining that you never consult him/her for his/her professional opinion. Arrow 1 in the right figure. The picture of the friendly Calimero.

With a friendly Calimero in front of you, by nature you tempt to respond symmetrically opposite; dominant friendly. Arrow 2 in figure 5. You easily take control and provide a turnkey solution or assignment. Hopefully you notice the self-fulfilling prophecy of your communication partner.

To create a breakthrough in the submissive friendly behaviour of your communication partner, you need to take a friendliness and openness position. In other words, anticipate paradoxically; mirror behaviour and communicate submissive friendly. Arrow 3 right figure. Ask open questions and give initiative back to your communication partner. By asking specific questions you can express your support, trust and confidence in your communication partner. The magic word is trust; read Covey "The speed of trust". According to the symmetry principle your communication partner will behave dominant friendly.

The Rose of Leary - friendly Calimero (the submissive friendly) 

Figure 5. The Rose of Leary - friendly Calimero (the submissive friendly)


Lessons learned: Influence others? Start with yourself!


  1. The (Dutch) website of Rongen
  2. The (Dutch) website of 123management
  3. The (Dutch) website of "testjegedrag"
  4. Rouckhout, D., & Schacht, R. (2000). Ontwikkeling van een nederlandstalig interpersoonlijk circumplex. Diagnostiek-Wijzer, 3, 96- 118.
  5. Dijk, B. van (2000), Beïnvloed anderen, begin bij jezelf. Plaats van uitgave: Thema Uitgeverij - Check his website