Here’s a 40 year old “secret” for getting ahead.

It involves research done back in the 1960’s by Dr. Eric Berne. His work back then has become a time-tested and easily implemented communication tool. It’s called Transactional Analysis, or TA, by those who practice it.

Berne said that verbal communication, particularly face to face, is at the center of all social relationships. His work became a very common method of examining every conversation (still used by psychologists and therapists today) to improve communications success between individuals.

It works in business too. TA is premised on: “I do something to you, and you do something back.” The theory is predicated on the idea that every person is made up of three alter ego states: Parent, Adult and Child.

In TA, these terms have different definitions than in normal language:

Parent – our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes from when we were young. We were conditioned by our real parents, teachers, older people, and other “authority figures.” Parent is our Taught concept of life.

Child – our internal reaction and feelings to external events form the Child. This is the seeing, hearing, feeling, and emotional body of data within each of us. When anger or despair dominates reason, the Child is in control. Child is our Felt concept of life.

Adult- this state is our ability to think and determine action for ourselves, based on received data. The adult in us begins to form at around ten months old, and is the means by which we keep our Parent and Child under control. Adult is our Thought concept of life.

Ideally all communications between two people should be Adult to Adult. In that way, one thoughtful and reasoned individual is processing information from another equally mature thinker. But in the real world, certain individuals fall into the role of Parent or Child, and when we try to work with them like an adult, their emotions and pre-programmed reactions come into play and they behave in a manner which can sabotage the whole communication.

Imagine that you are being addressed by someone who is playing the role of the Parent. He will usually take the tone of someone who “knows better,” or has all the answers. On the other hand, if you are trying to get someone to understand a new concept or theory and he insists on reacting emotionally, the whole dialog is going to be derailed. We see and hear these misfires all the time and don’t understand the reason behind the behaviors at the time.

Berne noted that two people can have a successful dialog if they’re both in the same ego states. So two individuals both in the role of parent can usually figure out a way to get aligned, and so can two people acting in a child mode. The ideal place is that of two adults both listening and reacting in a mature place; but as long as you can identify where the other person is coming from, you can tailor your communications to make them the most successful.

If this all sounds too “soft,” stand back and watch a few dialogs taking place. You may be surprised by how many managers around you quickly try to assume the role of parent. And it usually causes a failed communication.


Success Coach