Transactional Analysis or TA as it is commonly known as, is a tool used in many areas of business and education, and it’s a concept that once explained, makes complete sense and you’ll wonder why you haven’t used it before!
There have been many books and articles written on Transactional Analysis such as ‘Games People Play‘ and ‘I’m OK – You’re OK‘ . Their premise is to help us become more effective in the way we respond to and communicate with others. Read on, and in laymen’s terms I’ll explain the terminology and how to begin to understand why we communicate in certain ways, both in the work place and in our personal relationships. However, there are complexities to this concept, and so this series of articles will only look at transactional analysis on the simplest level. However, you can contact us if you want to explore various concepts further.
Transactional Analysis – What is a transaction?
Dr Eric Berne was a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, whose work on human behaviour was influenced by Dr Sigmund Freud and neurosurgeon Dr Wilder Penfield. At it’s simplest level:
“Transactional Analysis is the method for studying interactions between individuals”
This includes any form of verbal or non-verbal communication between two people. This communication is the ‘transaction‘, whilst the ‘analysis‘ is what you understand or take from the message you are receiving. Someone smiling at me is a ‘transaction’ and my ‘analysis’ is that the person is happy to see me. Berne’s work asks us to reflect on these interactions and try to understand our own behaviour as well, i.e. why am I smiling back and crossing the road to meet them, if I really want to avoid them?
Transactional Analysis – What are ego states?
To help us understand the nature of our transactions with each other, Eric grouped our ways of thinking and behaving into three areas, that he called ego states:
Parent -when we are thinking or behaving from this ego state, we are drawing on our experience of the parental figures in our lives which have been absorbed into our way of relating to others. These parental figures could be warm, loving, indulgent, distant, controlling, or ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ types. These characteristics could be attributed to our real parents, or people who we saw as parental figures in our lives. In a recent situation, someone hit my car from behind whilst I was stopped at a red light. The woman driving was so apologetic and shaken up by it, I forgot she had hit me and gave her a hug and told her it would be OK. It was my natural response to nurture her, once I realised everyone was OK.
Adult – when we are involved in transactions from this ego state, we are rational and able to think and make choices. In this state, we are able to recognise our potential child and parental responses but keep them in check and maintain control and deal with the facts of the situation. Again, in the car situation above, my initial response on getting out of the car was to ask what had happened, was anyone hurt, then later on to check my car and hers over and then take her details for insurance purposes.
In between these clearly adult ego state behaviours, I was shocked and shaking, but comforted her when I realised that she was worse than me emotionally.
Child – from this ego state, we are remembering how we used to respond to events outside of ourselves when we were small. We may use extremes of behaviour and language and have strong feelings about a situation or statement, and exaggerate our responses, i.e. in the car shunt situation mentioned above, I could have slammed the car door and screamed at the woman “You stupid idiot, are you blind?” and then burst into tears. This name calling and crying is a way of showing that a situation has overwhelmed us and so we can revert back to name calling and extreme displays of emotion, if this is how we remember dealing with situations when we were small.
We can move between the ego states depending on the situation, the people involved and the communication itself. As you can see in the above example, my thoughts were in the adult ego state and ruled my emotions initially, as I was very rational and dealt with the damaged car, before moving into my parental ego state. Not everyone is able to do this, and certainly not all of the time. We tend to have an ego state we naturally adopt when under stress and times of pressure.
Question: Do you know what your natural ego state is?
Do you handle situations from different ego states depending if it’s home or personally related, as opposed to a work problem? Most of us do, because we’ve learnt the types of behaviours expected of us at work and conform to them. However, at home and with our partners we can let rip and behave in an emotional way (child or parent), which would be unacceptable in another situation or in front of a different audience.
What type of language do you use?
Parent – “never”, “should”, “always”, “do this”, “don’t do that”
Child – “I feel”, “I hate”, “Always”, “I don’t want to”, “I like”
Adult – “probably”, “I think”, “I realise”, “perhaps”, “I believe”
In the next blog, I’m going to explore complimentary and crossed transactions, as well as ‘game playing’ examples, and begin to look at how you can change the course of a conversation or interaction that is going wrong.
In the meantime, please tweet me @therealme_PDP and give me examples of how you know when you are in a particular ego state.
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