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"The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing." ? Eric Berne, Games People Play

How many "new" and "exciting" new conflict management strategies have you tried over the course of your career? There are far too many theories on how leaders can and should approach conflict and negative feelings in the workplace. A new "expert" seems to pop up every day with a "fresh" perspective on the concept. The best course is to stick to tried and true methods that focus on you, not those around you. When you master your own behavior in a conflict or rise above your own negative feelings, you are in control. Others will rise up to meet you on your level, and the conversation will refocus on constructive solutions.

The Parent, Child And Adult In All of Us

Transactional Analysis was developed by Eric Berne in the 1950s but rose to popular prominence in the 1960s to become one of the most popular psychological theories ever developed. Berne theorized that face-to-face communication was at the center of all human social relationships. He studied verbal transactions between individuals and observed the way people change as their interactions with others change.

Berne concluded that all of our personalities, or "egos," are made up of three distinct components: the Parent, the Child, and the Adult. Let the reader beware: don't think of those three states in terms of age. Instead, think of them as descriptions of the behavior that someone shows when interacting with others.

The three ego states can be described in the following way:

  • The Parent - The "taught" state of our ego, the Parent is an authoritarian voice that derives from the lessons we learned at a young age. Our "Parent" ego state is a made up of the experience we had with our parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors - basically anyone we deemed to have authority. We picked up bits and pieces of their behavior as we developed. The Parent shows itself in phrases like: should, must, don't, always, never, under no circumstances, etc. Parent body language includes finger pointing, heavy posturing or patronizing gestures.
  • The Child - The "felt" state of our ego, the Child lets emotions drive the conversation.. Whenever we allow anger or sadness or other emotions to win out over reason, we are functioning as the Child. Body language can include eye rolling, covering one's mouth to speak to someone nearby, shrugging shoulders, or raising a hand to speak, even when there are only two people in a transaction.
  • The Adult -The "thought" state of our ego, the Adult is in control when we are able to think, process information, react, and determine action objectively. In the Adult state, we are attentive and interested, we ask questions of those we are interacting with, and our body language is neutral.

The good news? Transactional Analysis theory tells us that everyone has these three ego states, and how we operate is a function of how we choose to behave in a transaction. When you can identify the different ego states at play, you can make the necessary adjustments to manage conflict and emotions in a healthy and productive manner.

Put Your Adult In Charge

We all know what happens when a parent becomes critical or overbearing. They end up with a rebellious child. This is true of our ego states, as well. For example, if someone is in the Parent state, barking orders and making demands, it is only natural for the other party to react in the Child state, rebelling against the Parent. It is your responsibly as a leader to be self-aware at all times and know which ego state you are speaking from when interacting with others... It's easy to fall into the Parent state without thinking; however, once you identify that state, it's your responsibility to flip the switch before the conversation becomes unproductive.

Effective leaders operate in the Adult state when interacting with others. When you act as the Adult, those around you will follow suit, rather than reacting emotionally or making unrealistic demands. Transactional Analysis can help you achieve greater self-awareness and have a positive impact on your daily interactions both at work and at home, so be sure to put the Adult in charge in the workplace.


Larry Hart

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