At the core of the theory of Transactional Analysis (TA) is the belief that from early childhood we develop the ego-states of Parent, Adult and Child. All three ego-states (and their sub-categories) are present within us during our lives and will feature to a greater or lesser extent depending on how we interact and socialize with others. The ego-states display themselves in our attitudes, emotions and in our language. When we are being supportive we may use the language of the Nurturing Parent: “Let me help you”. When we are in control we may use the language of the Critical Parent “I need you to do this”. When we are rational, aware and free to choose we will tend to use Adult language: “So, here’s the challenge, what are our options here?”. And, when we are feeling insecure or perhaps playful or rebellious, we may use Childlike language: “Please give me some heIp”; “I’ve just had a great idea” or “Who are you to tell me what to do?”.
It is worth noting that when we refer to the use of certain styles of language, this might be either private (our “inner voice”) or public (expressed in our interactions with others). In some circumstances, the inner voice and the expressed communications are unaligned … i.e. we are playing a role that is unauthentic to our natural self. This may be functional or dysfunctional.
None of the ego-states (Parent, Adult or Child) are good or bad and all have a role to play in building and maintaining effective relationships with others. Sometimes, we need to take the lead and enforce standards (Critical Parent); sometimes support others in difficulty (Nurturing Parent); sometimes be intuitive and pick up the unexpressed words and/or emotions of others (Primitive Adult); sometimes be logical, fact-based and self-aware (Rational Adult); sometimes openly express our vulnerability or joy (Free Child); sometimes break some rules (Rebellious Child); sometimes ‘please’ others (Adapted Child).
Though none of the ego states are intrinsically good or bad, each might present problems if overused or inappropriately applied. For example, if overused, the Critical Parenting ego-state might result in becoming over-bearing or domineering; the Nurturing Parent might become stifling or disabling; the Primitive Adult might suffer paralysis through analysis; the Rational Adult might result in emotional detachment or a lack of imagination; the Free Child might lead to narcism or unrealistic optimism; the Rebellious Child might result in aggression or sabotage; and the Adapted Child might lead to dependency or exploitation.
We use these ego-states in a dynamic way, as we interact and are influenced by others. If a manager uses a Parenting style, it is likely to trigger either a Childlike response from a staff member or a confrontational riposte from a peer. If, however, an Adult style is adopted, it is more likely to trigger a “parallel” Adult response.
It is the implications of TA in group dynamics and in human development that make the subject such an important one for organizational leaders.
The crucial point is firstly to recognize our own ego-states. Here are some questions that may help in your personal explorations:
- What ego-state predominates in your personal thoughts and interactions with people?
- What triggers a change of state in you as a leader?
- How are you different with certain people?
- What particular situations lead to a shift in your mind-set and/or behaviour?
- What are the implications of these patterns on your success as a leader?
- What can you do to improve the leadership you provide to your team?
Next, you might consider what’s going on in your team. What language do you hear? Are you hearing the language of Adults who are problem-solving and making confident and functional decisions? Maybe you are hearing the language of Children who are trying to please at all costs (Adapted Child), or fighting against every attempt at change or improvement (Rebellious Child). Or maybe you are hearing Critical Parents who are blaming others for the ills of the operations.
Next, think about your work culture. Is your organization kept in check by a powerful directive leader (Critical Parent)? Is it ‘looked after’ by caring and supportive leader (Nurturing Parent)? Is it continuously developing and improving through a leader that empowers (combined Primitive and Rational Adult leader)? Is it allowed to run like a country-club (Free Child leader)? Is it overly influenced by a leader who is in conflict with external forces (Rebellious Child leader)?
Here are some further questions that may help in your explorations:
- What is the impact of the organizational leader’s style on the way work gets done?
- What behaviours are encouraged/discouraged by the organization’s over-riding culture?
- What can you do to most effectively work within the organization?
An awareness of TA ego-states can make us become better leaders by increasing our awareness of the hidden “scripts” that shape our mind-sets and behaviours. A presumption underling TA theory and practice is that increasing the amount of Adult-to-Adult interactions we have accelerates the growth and development of ALL individuals involved in the interaction.
Adult-to-Adult conversations are indicated by four main competencies:
- The readiness to listen to others in order to build awareness;
- The use of questioning to generate options and choices;
- The exchange of frank and open feedback to build mutual understanding;
- Taking ownership for decisions and outcomes.
If you’ve found this article interesting, here are some of the other places that I make resources available:
My website … http://www.theknowledge.biz/
My YouTube Channel … http://bit.ly/1GoYfOg
My Facebook page … http://on.fb.me/1Kb34m5