The answer is yes, inevitably, it is! It could be in a good way but then again, it could be sabotaging some of your relationships with colleagues and superiors – or their ‘child ego state’ (more on that later) could be harming their relationships with you.
The good news is that learning more about interpersonal transactions can help you ensure more effective communication. Pippa Isbell, everywomanClub member, trainer, coach and award-winning mentor, explains.
The quality of relationships depends on your ability to access a positive behavioural mode at any time.
One way of developing your awareness is to learn more about a theory called Transactional Analysis (TA). Made famous in the 1950s by Dr Eric Berne (who wrote a book called ‘Games People Play’ on the psychology of human interaction), TA is about the observation of spontaneous social activity and is based on a belief in everyone’s ability to learn and their potential for change. TA can be used in any field where there is a need for understanding of individuals, relationships and communication.
The premise is that there are three ego states present in all of us, each of which are perfectly valid and between which we unconsciously move, all the time.
As we move between the ego states, we experience shifts in emotions or feelings, which result in noticeable changes in behaviour. Interactions with other people are called ‘transactions’ and we can learn to analyse these transactions to better understand communication.
The ego states are called Parent, Adult and Child. There is much more to TA than this but even a superficial awareness of the ego states can improve communication and even relationships.
Negative Parent behaviours include being overly critical or autocratic - or the opposite, ‘marshmallowy’ and over protective.
The ‘Child’ ego state
The Child includes the thoughts, feelings and behaviours we developed as very small children, when our main concern was for love and safety. Child behaviours are categorised as ‘adapted’ or ‘free’. As an actual child, we learn to ‘adapt’ to fit in with what is expected of us. Over time, that behaviour and compliance with perceived rules becomes second nature and some is still appropriate when we are adults – for example, checking for traffic before we cross the road or showing good manners to others. We may have resisted from time to time and may still feel the instinct to do so as adults, for example being negatively over-compliant or unhealthily rebellious. The difference is that now, we can choose how to behave.
Positive natural or free Child behaviours are those we indulged in as children when we did not have to conform to parental rules or limits. They include creativity and spontaneity, for example when we let our hair down but can also be seen when we are selfish and egotistical, disregarding others, demonstrating immaturity.
The ‘Parent’ ego state
The Parent includes the behaviours, thoughts and feelings we have learned from our own parents or copied from significant adults in our lives. Positive Parent behaviours include setting boundaries and structuring, as well as nurturing and giving praise and attention. Negative Parent behaviours include being overly critical or autocratic - or the opposite, ‘marshmallowy’ and over protective.
The ‘Adult’ ego state
The Adult is the ego state that is logical and problem-solving, with thoughts, feelings and behaviours mindfully rooted in the present.
The critical Parent may have a sharp tone of voice or point a finger and ‘hook’ the negative Child in the other person.
Recognising ego states in the workplace
Our ego states are unique to each of us because our past experience is ours alone. As managers and leaders, we need to use and show all three ego states in our everyday dealings with our colleagues and be aware that there are positive and negative aspects to each of them.
As a manager, you will sometimes want to harness free Child creativity and spontaneity in your team members, for example when you want them to brainstorm or perhaps find new solutions to problems or challenges.
You need adapted Child co-operation as well as Adult reality checking to get things done. But you don’t want the joker in the meeting, who signals their rebellion by using humour inappropriately, derailing sensible discussion; or the sarcastic team member who drains the motivation from others with a pretense at co-operation.
We can only make an educated judgment of another person’s ego state at any point but over time, it is possible through awareness and observation, to make quite accurate assessments, based not only on the words but importantly, the tone of voice and body language as well as the behaviour.
The critical Parent may have a sharp tone of voice or point a finger and ‘hook’ the negative Child in the other person, who may hang their head and respond in a whining tone or alternatively stick their chin out and use aggressive language.
If another person is using a negative mode of behaviour they invite us also to respond from a negative state. When responding, if we sense a negative invitation, we always have the option of responding from a positive ego-state. The trick is to mentally insert a momentary pause between the stimulus of the communication and the response.
Assertive behaviour happens when we use positive ego states and is the most effective place to be for most business transactions.
Accessing Positive Behaviours
The quality of relationships depends on your ability to access a positive behavioural mode at any time. As a manager you may address someone from your Adult ego state, for example: “could you take on this project for me?” and receive an Adult response from the other person: “yes, I’d be happy to have a look at it. Can we discuss what it entails?”
Likewise you may offer consolation from your nurturing Parent state to someone who has suffered a setback or, in a lighter moment, may enjoy a laugh with colleagues, Child to Child. The skill, once the pressure is on, is to be able to access the Adult, for example, when giving feedback, to do it from structuring Parent positive behaviours rather than being bossy and critical.
No-one can make anyone else behave in any particular way but it is human nature that transactional patterns are repeated and habitual responses ingrained. The important thing is to develop your ability to resist negative invitations and respond from a positive ego-state even when under pressure.
It is for you to be aware when a certain communication, tone or look ‘hooks’ a negative response from you. Once aware, you can exercise your Adult ego state and respond in that way, defusing the situation and breaking the pattern by inviting the other person also to respond from their Adult. Assertive behaviour happens when we use positive ego states and is the most effective place to be for most business transactions.
About the author: everywomanClub member Pippa Isbell is a business consultant who shares her wealth of experience through training, coaching and non-executive directorships. Pippa previously held the positions of Chief Executive of PRCo Ltd, a Public Relations consultancy with offices in London, Paris, Milan, Munich, Dubai, Moscow and New York, and Vice President, Coprorate Comms at Orient-Express Hotels.