As I sit here twirling my daughter’s pink sparkly Smiggle pencil, I find myself pondering how best I can incorporate my new-found coaching knowledge and skill to better support my clients. I ask my son what he would change to make the world a better place and he said that he would make it out of sweets…
Interestingly, on the subject of sweets, I have experienced a number of recent examples of childlike behaviour in the workplace which led me to thinking about Transactional Analysis and the Parent-Adult-Child model.
Part one of this blog is an overview of the model, with part two taking a closer look at how it can be applied to better understand relationships and communications style in the workplace.
What is Transactional Analysis?
Founded by Eric Berne in the late 1950s, Transactional Analysis (‘TA’) is based on the theory that each person has three ego states: parent (which can be either nurturing or critical), adult (our rational selves) and child (which can be either natural/free or adapted).
Key concepts of transactional analysis
Ego-states refer to the three major parts of an individual’s personality, and they each reflect an entire system of thought, feeling and behaviour. These determine how individuals express themselves, interact with each other and form relationships.
- Parent ego-state – A set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our parents and other important people. This part of our personality can be supportive or critical.
- Adult ego-state – Relates to direct responses in the ‘here and now’ that are not influenced by our past. This state has nothing to do with age, it is concerned with collecting and analysing information and tends to be the most rational part of our personality.
- Child ego-state – A set of thoughts, feelings and behaviours learnt from our childhood. These can be free and spontaneous or strongly adapted to parental influences.
We access our Parent ego state when we make judgements about people or the world around us. The Parent ego state is filled with ‘should and should not’ attitudes and tends to be quite dominant.
If we need to act in a rational, thoughtful way then we utilise the Adult ego state. This state is like a computer and makes decisions based upon facts. The Adult ego state is the most ‘grounded’ ego state that we use.
Finally when we behave as we did when we were children, becoming rebellious, stubborn or overly compliant with other people’s wishes whilst disregarding our own, for instance, we slip into our Child ego state.
The Child ego state tends to be accessed quite often and ‘ties us in’ to behaviours which we developed as children (like ‘sulking’ to get our own way) but which we have never seemed to relinquish as adults.
How can Transactional Analysis help us understand workplace relationships?
By understanding how we move in and out of different ego states, we can begin to understand ourselves (and others), and the way in which we interact with the world in new ways. The workplace is no different.
These ego states may or may not represent the relationships that they act out. For example, in the workplace, an adult supervisor may take on the Parent role, and scold an adult employee as though he were a Child. Or a child, using the Parent ego-state, could scold her actual parent as though the parent were a Child.
There are four life positions that a person can hold. These are:
- I’m OK and you are OK. This is the healthiest position about life and it means that I feel good about myself and that I feel good about others and their competence. (Adult)
- I’m OK and you are not OK. In this position I feel good about myself but I see others as damaged or less than and it is usually not healthy (Parent)
- I’m not OK and you are OK. In this position the person sees him/herself as the weak partner in relationships as the others in life are definitely better than the self. The person who holds this position will unconsciously accept bad treatment as OK (Child)
- I’m not OK and you are not OK. This is the worst position to be in as it means that I believe that I am in a terrible state and the rest of the world is as bad (this could be an indication of possible mental health issues).
In part-two, I will look more closely at some of the scenarios where Transactional Analysis theory manifests itself in the workplace.