Posts Tagged ‘Theory’

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.