Transactional Analysis! It was founded by Dr. Eric Berne and although it sounds a bit of a mouthful and may look a bit complicated, once you have a basic knowledge of how it works, it’s a brilliant way to improve communication by understanding how we communicate and behave as well as how others do.
Basically, it works on the idea that our brains have three distinct ego states, the parent, child and adult and in any communication between two people, each person will tend to move into one of those particular ego states.
So it means whenever we communicate with another, we will operate from one of these three ego states, as will the other person.
When we communicate with another, each exchange is known as a transaction. (Hence Transactional Analysis! Which is simply examining communication!)
A lot of this does go on at the subconscious level, we are not aware of the “ego ” we are talking from or the “ego” we are talking to. So having an awareness and taking notice in any communication we have, helps to improve our communication skills and rapport.
Complimentary transactions occur when both people are at the same level such as Adult talking to Adult. Both are in the same ego state, so both are thinking in the same way, making communication easier. Problems can occur in what is known as crossed transactions, where someone is talking to another, without knowing or understanding the ego state that person is in. For example, if an individual in the ego state of Parent, starts talking to someone as if they were in Child ego state, (Could be a telling off or dressing down), the conversation is not going to go well if that person is actually in an Adult ego state and will not appreciate “Being spoken to like a child!” Many of our problems come from transactions which are unsuccessful, due to being crossed.
By understanding and recognising which particular ego state we are in when communicating with another and more importantly, recognising their ego state at that time, it enables us to have much more successful transactions, resulting in much better communication.
So a brief insight into how these ego states work.
Tone and volume of voice, words used, posture, gestures and emotional state are a good indicator of the ego state you or someone else is in. So they are worth paying attention to.
The Parent ego state is based on our own childish understanding of what parental rules and nurturing are. Nurturing, which is positive, or Critical which is negative. When we are in Parent ego state, our communication is subjective and has emotion attached. If we are using a soft, warm and gentle voice, it’s a good indication that we are in the Nurturing Parent ego state. We may say something along the lines of “How are you feeling?” or “Are you ok?” On the other hand if the voice we are using is harsh, loud and critical, then we are likely to be in the Critical Parent ego state. We may say something like “You need to listen to what I’m saying” or “You are doing it wrong!” And you may also accompany this with the dreaded wagging finger!!
In the Adult ego state, we are rational, objective and unemotional. The adult ego state functions by gathering information and making decisions based on fact. Tone of voice in this ego state would be even, unemotional, calm and clear. The language used will be factual with no emotion attached, such as “Would you tell me what time the meeting is?” And our expression is likely to be a thoughtful one.
The Child ego state is actually the part of the personality we keep from childhood. Free which is the fun loving, spontaneous, inquisitive child who wants to be liked. Adapted in which we respond to the world around us and either change to fit in or rebel. As with Parent ego state, Child ego state is subjective and emotional.
In Free Child ego state we are likely to have cheerful and/or emotional voices and use language made up of short phrases or one word such as “Brilliant!” “Wow!” “That’s great!” And we may use excited gestures such as clapping, jumping up and punching the air, a few little dance moves! If we are in Adapted Child ego state, particularly if we are in the rebel state, our voice may have a whining tone to it and we may use phrases like “Why should I?” “I don’t want to” “I’m not doing that” all said with a surly expression on the face!! In the fit in state we are likely to nod and agree with what is being said, without questioning it as we want to comply and fit in! (An example of this may be the boss giving you extra work, even though you may have more than enough of your own, you take it on, because you want to be seen as the good girl/boy!)
A few tips on how to recognise and respond to these ego states.
If you were asking somebody directions, there is no emotion involved, so it is likely to be an Adult to Adult transaction. You ask, they respond.
If you were having a conversation in Adult ego state with a work colleague, about a mistake they had made and they get angry, chances are they will be in Child ego state. To get communication back on track, you could speak to them from Nurturing Parent ego state, then switch back to Adult ego state.
If you and a friend were on a night out (remember them??) enjoying yourselves, giggling, joking around, you will probably both be in Free Child ego state, so communication between the two of you will be just right!
You may have something you are worried or upset about and need reassurance. You are likely to be in Child ego state, so ideally the person you are confiding in, needs to be in Nurturing Parent ego state, for you to feel reassured and comforted.
If you are in Adult ego state and somebody is speaking to you in Parent ego state, it may feel as though you are being patronised. Just continue to speak to them from an Adult ego state and you will probably find they will switch to that too.
If you are in doubt about which ego state the person is in that you are speaking to, the safe rule to follow is Adult to Adult. An adult acting like an adult is difficult to argue with, even if the other person is quite obviously in Critical Parent ego state! At least you are aware and can do your best to influence and change their ego state, even if they are unaware of it!
Having a basic understanding and awareness of how these ego states work and how to recognise them in yourself and others, means that you will not get lost in transaction!
Article blog written by Janet Wilks, NLP Practitioner and coach.