‘What are you reading?’
I look up from my book and see the interested look of a man who has sat down next to me. I am reading while waiting for my connection, at a gate in the airport. I am on my way to Riga where I will teach at the SSE (business school).
“A book about Transactional Analysis,” I answer.
“I thought TA no longer existed,” he responds. He introduces himself as Marco and we start talking. He tells me that he manages a team of 16 people in a large company and that he would like to learn how he can do this even more efficiently. Because he wants to listen to his employees, but he also wants the work to get done. (As if the two were contradictory, but I’ll write more about that later.)
As long as they stop crying
Marco sometimes doesn’t know how much attention to give to the problems his employees experience in collaboration, and when he should “put them back to work”.
“Especially when my co-workers cry,” he says, “then I don’t know what to do anymore. In fact, the only thing I want is for them to stop crying. I don’t care what I promise them, as long as they stop crying.”
From there he ends up with a story about his wife. She cries “occasionally” he says, or she gets angry, while he really doesn’t understand why she’s angry. He doesn’t know what to do for her either. He wants her to feel better and wants to solve her problems.
Ego states in TA
The TA model of the ego states makes it very clear why communication goes wrong. Understanding is half the battle. And luckily this offers a way to see new possibilities.
You can communicate from three positions: Parent, Adult and Child.
- If you communicate from your Adult, you are happily focused on solutions. You listen to your conversation partner with an open mind and without judgment. You express your feelings in an adult manner, and you are interested in the experience of the other. When you disagree with something, you quietly tell about your own values and norms.
- If you communicate from your Parent, you place yourself above the other. Or you’re critical and you tell the other person what he is doing wrong. Or you are going to patronize the other and treat them like a child. That doesn’t work if you work together. Because the other person will either adapt to you as an obedient Child, and make themselves smaller. Or, the other person is going to rebel strongly so that no destination can be reached. Then the problems, of course, won’t be solved either.
- The opposite also applies: if you act as an obedient Child or as a Rebellious adolescent, you invite your conversation partner to behave from their Parent position. They often become very critical or treat you like a child.
Nobody likes that. Communication is then a painful, difficult and frustrating experience.
The TA model of the Ego states helps you understand why communication goes wrong and also gives you options to improve communication. So that you understand each other better
This is how to communicate better:
In your mind, go back to a conversation that didn’t go well at all, and use the step-by-step plan below to understand why that was the case.
- Draw two columns of three circles below each other:
- Identify from which position you communicated (Parent, Adult or Child)
- Identify from which position the other person was communicating. (Parent, Adult or Child) Connect these two positions with two arrows (as you see in the drawing)
- You will probably get a better view of what went wrong.
- Decide what you have to change in your communication:
- If you determine that you were communicating from your Parent, you could communicate more from your Adult. Less critical or less concerned.
- When you determine that you were communicating from your Child, you could also communicate more from your Adult: say in an Adult way what you feel and what you need. Less obedient and also less rebellious.
- Go to the other person and say that you want to do things differently. Saying sorry also helps.
- Start a new conversation from the Adult position.
- Stay in the Adult position as much as possible, even when the other person is communicating from his Child or Parent. This is how you change your communication patterns.
After all, everyone has patterns that we use in our communication. These patterns are often based on what we have learned in the past. Fortunately, we can change them and learn new communication patterns.
Module Ego states
Marco really thought this was an eye opener and wanted to know more. Do you also want this now? In the Leadership Programme of my TA training I devote a whole module to it. The TA training is an ongoing programme in which you can follow all modules over a one calendar year period. You can board at any module. Click here for the current dates for this training.