Complementary, Crossed and Hooked

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.


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