Effective and successful communication

Chose the right “ego” state Transactional Analysis tells us

Transactional analysis helps us identifying which ego states are present in your transactions (conversations) so you can become more conscious and have better, more constructive transactions.

Especially in a professional environment, we want to move from a “Parent / Child” relation and evolve to an “Adult / Adult” relation.

A Parent/Child relation will lead us to a clear unilateral subordination relation, when an Adult/Adult relation will lead to co-responsibility principle.

The ego states express themselves during conversations (called transactions) through different channels: words used, tone of the voice, gestures, slips of the tongue. And sometimes, one Ego state takes over all the other ones.

The child: sends us back to our past, to what we experienced as a child (thoughts, feelings, behaviors). It is the most creative, emotional and intuitive of our ego states. When we speak or act following an emotion, we are in contact with our Child ego state. The child can be rebel, natural or adaptive.

  • Adaptive: guilty, afraid, anxious, trying to please
  • Natural: curious, creative, open, loving
  • Rebel: opposing, revolting, protesting

The parent: sends us to our past too, to what was incorporated from our parents. We respond (attitudes, feelings, behaviors) as one of our parents would have. The parent can be nurturing or controlling.

  • Nurturing: caring, loving, helping
  • Controlling: criticizing, reprimanding, punishing, censoring

The adult: it is our present. We think and act based on what’s happening here and now. It is characterized by the spirit of analysis and deduction, our more rational side, in contact with reality.

Communication breakdowns

What Transactional Analysis says is that communication breakdowns happen because we are not fully present in our conversations (transactions). We activate all of our Ego states during our transactions, this can lead to conflict, negative emotion, pain …

Let’s have a look at a few transactions as examples.

Situation 1:

Complementary transaction: communication of egos which answer in a perfectly parallel way (maybe not the best for a professional environment though)

A – You should know that punctuality is important! (1)

B – It’s OK… not a big drama really, it is only 10 minutes (2)

Situation 2:

Simple cross transaction: communication is interrupted or hijacked. This type of transaction is unexpected and create frustration.

A – Where is the meeting please? (1)

B – You could have noted it when we told you (2)

Situation 3:

Double cross transaction: when specific egos apparently respond to each other (adult for example) and at the same time, at an underlying level, other egos (parent-child for examples). Here it is the hidden level which determines the outcome of the communication.

A – You know Boss, now many companies stop working at 3 pm on Fridays (1)

B – Every company does what it wants (2)

Situation 4:

Trapped transaction: these are called double messages. We believe the message is such, but in reality, it is quite different. Here, our emotions inform us that there is another underlying message and we learn to trust them.

A (with tight lips and furrowed eyebrows says when you arrive a little bit late) – I am very happy to see you arrive … (1)

B (with an adult response) – Thank you

But you have a feeling of unease, of anger while you wonder. Is he really happy or has he criticized me for being late???

Some transactions are more likely to present a manipulation hazard. This is particularly the case for Parent-Child and Child-Parent transactions. Manipulators are particularly skilled in double messages. Under the cover of Adult to Adult message, they will look for a rebellious Child (revolt, aggressiveness, anger) or submissive Child (fear, fear) response.

This is why, as a Manager or Leader, it is important that you chose the Adult ego: knowing how to spot imbalance, listening to understand the point of view of the other, what he really wants. Then direct the conversation towards a favorable outcome for everyone using objective reasoning. Lead to an adult – adult communication.

Situation 5:

Redirecting to an adult – adult transaction

A – Do you think I will be promoted?

B (the manager) – If you carry on like this you have a good chance of getting there.

Situation 6:

Adult – Adult transaction

A (Manager) – Have you sent the report?

B – Yes, I have sent it this morning.

A – My goal this quarter is to have a promotion to the position X. Would you have any feedbacks for me that could help me achieve this?  

B (Manager) – If you carry on like this you have a good chance of getting there. Let’s set-up a 1:1 to discuss your plans further and see how I can help.

A – Where is the meeting please?

B (Manager) – In room Y.

A (Manager) – I have noticed that you have arrived late in the last 3 meetings. Do you want to talk about it?

B – Yes, I am sorry, but I am finding it very difficult with all those meetings back to back and I never dare leaving the previous one until all is finished.

A – How could we improve this? Have you got any idea?

B – Yes, we could make sure that meetings are facilitated, maybe with a timekeeper? And also, we could set-up a social contract having meetings that are on 55mn only …

Adult – Adult transactions will promote analysis, decision making, deduction and constructive transactions.

This should not stop us from using our Child or Parent ego sometimes, when the decision is founded on the current situation, chosen by our Adult ego.


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