Archive for November, 2010

Complementary, Crossed and Hooked

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

In my last two posts, I have started to explain Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis (TA). In this post, I will outline how it can be used in conversation management. Berne calls a conversation between two or more people “a transaction”, hence the name for his theory.

An example of a transaction between two people where both are in the Adult ego-state would be Jo: “What time is it, Sam?” Sam: “Eleven o’clock”. They are in the Adult ego-state because Jo is asking an objective question and she receives an objective answer.

It is possible to depict this theory as a model. Use the ‘dice’ picture on the left. Write ‘Jo’ above the three circles on the left, and Sam above the three on the right. Then label the top two circles as ‘Parent’, the middle two as ‘Adult and the bottom two as ‘Child’.

Complementary Transactions 

The first example I gave, about asking the time, is an example of a ‘Complementary transaction’ where each party gets the type of reaction that they are expecting. Jo’s Adult ego-state was seeking to engage Sam’s Adult ego-state, which they did. So, if you drew this theory as a model, you could have an arrow from Jo’s Adult (left middle circle) to Sam’s Adult (right middle circle), and an arrow in the opposite direction for Sam’s response. The two arrows would be parallel with each other, hence why this is called a ‘Complementary Transaction’ (and sometimes a ‘Parallel Transaction’).   

Crossed Transactions

Later in the day they have a further conversation, after Jo has received feedback on a report saying that it is not to the standard they require. Jo: “I’d like you to explain what you want me to do differently”. Sam responds curtly: “I haven’t got time, go away”.

So, Jo’s Adult ego-state is seeking to engage Sam’s Adult – but this doesn’t happen. Sam responds from her Critical Parent ego-state (because what she says is from her values, not an objective explanation as to why there is insufficient time, and due to the tone of delivery). The use of the Critical Parent ego-state in this manner is attempting to engage with Jo’s Adapted Child – because Sam doesn’t want Jo to continue the interaction. Jo is supposed to feel negative, and therefore less likely to respond.

If you were to draw this on our diagram, you would have the same arrow for Jo’s transaction, however, for Sam you would have an arrow from the top right circle down to the bottom left circle. The lines cross – hence we have a “Crossed Transaction”. Such transactions lead to ineffective communication and often to conflict.


The skill in using this theory in managing conversations is to ‘hook’ the other person into their required ego state.

If Jo continued this second conversation, Jo might well respond by saying, “I don’t want to be a pest, and I don’t want to waste your time, but how specifically does the report need amending?”

By responding in this way, the first two parts of the sentence are from the Adapted Child ego-state (‘feeding’ Sam’s Parent ego-state), and the last part (asking for specific information as to how to amend the report) is from the Adult ego state – thus attempting to ‘hook’ Sam’s Adult.  

Hooking is a very powerful skill and one which many people use to great effect – both in the workplace and in their leisure time.


How to tell an ego-state

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

My last blog post introduced Transactional Analysis (TA). Here is a little more detail on the ego states themselves.

The Parent ego-state:

This contains patterns of behaviour from significant authority figures (primarily parents or carers) including morals and values, their idea of right and wrong, good and bad.

The Parent state has two sides to it:

1. The Critical Parent (CP) – typified by statements such as, “You shouldn’t”, “How dare you”.

2. The Nurturing Parent (NP) – with “I’ll take care of you”, or “You did really well”, being statements that could be driven by a person being in the NP ego-state.

A typical tone of voice could be stern, condescending (CP) or caring, sympathetic (NP). Gestures might include frowning, crossed arms, finger pointing/wagging (CP) or supportiveness by arm on shoulder or pat on back (NP).

Often these characteristics are the same as or similar to the influential people from a person’s early life.

The Adult ego-state:

This is the clear thinking, rational, analytical way of dealing with the reality of the present.

In the Adult ego state (A) the individual is commonly problem solving or dealing with information in some logical way.

Characteristics are typically the calm and even tone of voice, asking open questions, seeking and evaluating options and proposing alternative courses of action.

The Child ego-state:

This does not mean behaving childishly but is concerned with behaviour and feelings as they were experienced in childhood.

The Child state has two sides to it:

1. The Free Child (FC) is spontaneous, fun loving, uninhibited.

 2. The Adapted Child (AC) – Typical characteristics of the Adapted Child are, “please”, “sorry”, “I’ll try harder”; whining voice or mumbling, perhaps taunting or manipulative; polite; spiteful; looking away or down.

 As the constraints of dealing with others (particularly authority figures, either through their positions or their behavioural characteristics) take effect, the Adapted Child (AC) emerges.

 Summary of drivers

 Put very simply, the ego-states are driven by the following drivers:

  • Parent driver = beliefs
  •  Adult driver = thoughts
  • Child driver = feelings

None of the ego-states is intrinsically better than any of the others, but each is appropriate in different situations and will have a different effect on those with whom we communicate.

And I’ll explain more about its use in managing communication and conversations in my next post.


Theory or Model?

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

During an event I was running last week I was asked what the difference is between a Model and a Theory. The short answer is that a Model ‘represents’ and a Theory ‘explains’.

A Theory usually starts with a number of assumptions, which are then tested. The assumptions generally relate to a logical chain of objective reasoning. The testing leads to conclusions and possible further testing. And a Theory is born. The theme for the testing of any effective Theory is that of validity.

A Model, in the learning and development  environment, is generally accepted to be a symbolic or graphic representation of a theory, system or intricate process. It will often show the inter-relationship between the differing aspects of the theory.  It is intended to explain and as such is often a simplification and does not contain all the detail. The theme for the testing of and effective Model is that of utility.

Incidentally, this reminds me of a quote I once read somewhere – and successfully remembered for some reason. It was explaining what a Model was and it stated, “A Model is a theoretical reflection, an approximation of reality, but like a map it helps us see the ground a little more clearly”. I do wish I could forget some of these things I have learned in the past and remember things that are of more use.

Anyway, a week before being asked the Model and Theory question – during a management development programme – I was asked what was the best Theory that I knew. I found (and find) this a very difficult question to answer. It’s a little like asking me what my favourite piece of music is – it will depend on the situation and circumstances. Having said that, whilst it will depend on the setting, I would probably have to go for Transactional Analysis (TA). I would choose TA for a number of reasons:

  • It is perhaps the most versatile Theory I know in that it is applicable to so many situations.
  • It is fundamental to so many situations as it improves communications and assists in building rapport.
  • It is relatively easy to understand.
  • I have witnessed more personal and professional development by individuals and teams through the application of this Theory than any other.

This Theory was developed by Dr Eric Berne in the 1960s and has since been popularised in books such as his own, “Games People Play” and Harris’ “I’m Okay, You’re Okay”.

Berne developed the theory that at various times individuals behave in different ways which are identifiable through different types of behaviour. These different types of behaviour he called “ego-states” and he labelled named them as “Parent”, “Adult” and “Child”. 

According to Berne (and no one has really threatened this theory in the intervening years) people are always operating in one of these three ego-states.

The ego-states are so named because they reflect behaviour typically exhibited by parents, adults and children. It should be understood from the outset, however, that the states have nothing to do with actual ages. For example, a 5 year old person can be in the Adult or Parent ego-state, and a childless person can be in the parent ego-state.

Earlier this year, having delivered a session on TA on a Leadership Programme, I found that one of the delegates had found the input so impactive, he had resigned from his job and returned to his native France to find an ex-girlfriend as it had enabled him to understand why the relationship had initially failed. I say initially failed as they are now back together again.

Whilst this level of impact is an extreme example, it is testament to the powerful understanding this theory can deliver when applied to personal or professional situations.

In my next blog, I will explain more about TA.


Deliver Outcomes, not Outputs

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Where at all possible, I try and steer clear of discussing governmental politics. This is because I don’t really want to be perceived to have particular party allegiances. But rules, as with policies and directions from Sat-navs, are there to be broken where there is good reason – they exist to provide effective guidance for the majority of situations as opposed to the answer for all situations.

I am very interested by the Business Plans that the ruling coalition has published this week (I feel like a very sad person as I write that, but please bear with me …).  It’s the approach behind some of the Plans that I find particularly interesting.

When the coalition first came to power, they talked about financially rewarding private contractors for ‘housing’ prisoners and stopping them reoffending – whereas currently they are paid for merely ‘housing’ them for the duration of their sentences.  As someone who is very keen on the use of outcomes rather than outputs, I found this very refreshing.

More detail on this approach has now been published – it is within the Ministry of Justice Business Plan which was published last Monday. The first two objectives within that particular Business Plan are:

1.1 Develop an overall strategy for the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ for adults and youths, including paying local private and voluntary organisations by results.

1.2 Introduce payment by results schemes, working with local, voluntary and private sector organisations that specialise in the rehabilitation of offenders.

I am interested in this approach as I believe that society as a whole should move more towards an outcome focussed approach to business. This is particularly true of learning and development providers – and clients.

If a client seeks and purchases a course, event or programme to address a particular area or aspect of business, it is likely that it will be delivered and there may well be a short end of event questionnaire. It is rare, in my experience, that there is much further evaluation of the benefits of the event.

So, how about the client publicises the issues or skills they require addressing on the event and these are then quantified into measurable outcomes (not outputs).  The provider who then gains the contract only gets paid once these targets have been achieved – perhaps 6 months after the event. The probable consequences would include:

  • A greater focus on outcomes as opposed to outputs.
  • Only providers who have confidence in their abilities bidding for the contract.
  • Clients ensuring and demonstrating value for their money.
  • Far greater interest by clients, providers and delegates’ line managers as to how the learning is put into practice in the workplace.

Who wouldn’t want these consequences?

So why does this approach generally not happen at the moment?


Ofsted – head in the sandpit?

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

As we focus on where we could save money and where we waste money in the UK in order to balance the books, I am becoming increasingly unsure of why Ofsted continues to exist – at least in its current form.

Earlier this year (15 August 2010) I blogged about my thoughts on what Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) had been saying about schooling. In The Times (25 July 2010), whilst talking about English Literature classes, he wrote, “The aim should not be to develop ‘critical thinking skills’”, and added that children, “should not be encouraged to express their opinions on the texts. Who cares what they think or feel?” I find that harder to believe every time I read it. And, incidentally, I care what they think and feel.

His more current collegues were also involved in the tragic Baby Peter case. You may recall that Ms Shoesmith’s was the Director of Children’s Services in Haringey at the time, and she appealed against unfair dismissal by the Council. During the appeal Ofsted suddenly discovered thousands of pages of undisclosed evidence which they had previously said could not be located. These contained snippets such as notes relating to Ofsted inspectors being told to delete all emails on the case, and evidence that an additional finding was popped in stating, “There is insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight …”  Ofsted had also given Haringey’s Children’s Services a glowing 3-star rating only a few weeks after Baby Peter had died. The subsequent revelations didn’t make things appear that 3-star to others.

And last week Ofsted again hit the headlines for their part in the awful Little Ted Nursery case. The Plymouth Safeguarding Children Board completed the Serious Case Review into the Nursery in March 2010, and sent it to Ofsted as is required. Apparently, Ofsted didn’t respond until October 2010, thus delaying the publishing of the Report until last week.

The purpose of a Serious Case Review is to ensure that lessons are learned and practices are changed so that incidents such as this should not recur – so that society safeguards and promotes the welfare of children. How is taking 7 months to respond to a report an effective way of protecting children? I thought that there must be a good reason for this delay, so I went to its website and had a look at the ‘News’ section. Not a mention – even though they’ve had 7 months to think about it.  

Paragraph 5.44 of the Serious Case Review states, “It has become clear from this review that whilst the Early Years Service had many concerns about the nursery there was no formal mechanism for informing Ofsted, since they did not reach the threshold of a breach of regulations. Similarly Ofsted had no means of discussing with Early Years the support need of the nursery. It is notable that whilst Early Years had the nursery identified as red or amber on its own rating system, Ofsted inspections were good or satisfactory”. Again, Ofsted making a judgement that is far removed from reality.

So why is this happening? There is a theme, and that is the ‘tick-box’ culture that Ofsted appears to support. This was noted by Deborah Orr when she wrote in the Guardian last year (26 November 2009). “Does Ofsted’s  tick-box culture deserve the criticism that has been heaped on it this week? I do believe so. I have before me an inspection report on a London primary school, rated outstanding. It scores the highest grade (out of four) in every one of 33 categories, except two. What are the two categories that this school fails to achieve perfection in? Oh, just ‘standards achieved by learners’ and ‘how well learners develop . . . skills that will contribute to their economic well-being’. Little things, of no great consequence in a school.”

What’s the common denominator in these last three examples? Ofsted have awarded ratings that are far higher than the services or institutions warrant – when looking at it from the perspective of society rather than ticked boxes.

Exactly. Because what generally happens when you create a tick-box culture? You measure things that are easy to measure – because that’s what ticking boxes is about. And that in turn makes unimportant things suddenly important – because they are generally easier to measure when using boxes to be ticked. And so people stop concentrating on the important things – because what gets measured generally happens.  And so the truly important matters are not important any longer – well, not to the inspectors and those who are being inspected and want to achieve a good rating.

These examples are three occasions where Ofsted have given ratings far higher than they deserve.

Earlier this year Zenna Atkins announced she would be standing down as Chair of Ofsted on 31 August 2010.  When she spoke of her decision to stand down, she said, “The work of Ofsted not only costs the taxpayer a third less than when undertaken by four separate inspectorates but we are also supporting improvement in a more efficient and effective way. Front-line observation and engagement with children, parents and leadership teams are now at the heart of all new inspection arrangements, sweeping away any inherited tick box culture”.

I’m not convinced, Zenna.

In my view, Ofsted is not providing value for money – even if it is costing a third less – and it needs a complete overhaul. More important than it not providing value, it is not measuring the right things, and most importantly it is not effectively protecting children or supporting their development. And it appears to be institutionalised in its processes and so I wonder whether it will be able to change. I’d scrap it.

It is great as a case study of what can go wrong when tick-box processes are created. But, sadly, in my opinion, that’s all it’s currently good for.


Docklands Delight!

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I have a love of London and never tire of visiting it. Having wondered why this is – on numerous occasions – I have come to the conclusion it’s down to two factors. The first is that my parents always used to take my brothers and me to London on Christmas Eve when we were young, so I only ever really went to London on that one day of each year. So a certain magic became associated with London.  I can remember the things we did every year – and the signal for the start of it was the excitement of getting on the tube – such as buying roast chestnuts and visiting Hamley’s Toy Shop to see the window display and wander around the store. As an aside, I have since found out that the main reason they took us there so that we would sleep well on Christmas Eve, however, I still only have pleasant memories of those trips.

The second factor, I think, was my love of Monopoly – and when I played Monopoly there was only a London version (and the houses and hotels were wooden and the playing pieces were a silver metal!).  So I love seeing and visiting the places from the Monopoly board.

Within London, I also really like the Docklands area. It is an area that I have witness change so much during my adult life from when I went to the Jean Michel Jarre concert there in 1988 and it was mainly rubble, through to what it is today. And I love the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). I always look forward to riding on and taking in its sights as it winds its way up, through, under and around the modern buildings around Canary Wharf.

And for these reasons, I have always wanted to work at Canary Wharf but have never had the opportunity. Until last week, that is. I really was quite overjoyed when I got the opportunity to deliver some training at there – and what made it more exciting was that I could see the DLR trains pass by as I looked out of the training room window. Any readers from London may well be scratching their heads at this point – if in fact they are still reading. But for me, another ambition ticked off! And to add to the joys of the day, the people I was working were lovely, and they have asked me back to do some more later this month, so I get to do it all again!

One of the areas we touched on during the training was about keeping messages clear, simple and specific. Which made me wonder, why is it called the Docklands Light Railway? Why isn’t it just part of the Underground (it starts underground) or tube network? Is it “Light” because it doesn’t do much weight in some way, or because most of it is over-ground and so in the light?

And as I sat there on my ‘Light Train’, I saw a notice above the seat where a person can sit to operate the train (it appears that sometimes they are manually operated from within the train and at other times not). It read, “Please do not distract the Passenger Safety Agent when the train is being operated from the front.” Passenger Safety Agent? Thomas, James, Henry, Gordon and co didn’t have Passenger Safety Agents as they trundled around Sodor. And I don’t think the Fat Controller (or Sir Topham Hat if you have American versions of the books) would have stood for such nonsense. Drivers, or perhaps Operators, but that’s all that’s needed surely?  

We over-complicate things so much sometimes. It reminds me of a mnemonic I was shown when I was training to be a trainer many years ago – KISS. Keep it simple, stupid.