Much of our communication is unconscious. We don’t actively decide what quality of eye contact we should use, or consider the impact of our words on other people and the consequences.
When you watch someone’s facial expression change, or sense a shift in mood, it becomes obvious that there has been a deep reaction to the communication ‘stimuli.
The study of such responses is called Transactional Analysis, developed by Dr. Eric Berne, an American psychiatrist in the 1950s.
- Is an analytical thinking process
- Provides insight
- Gives control over actions and reactions
Knowing the basics about Transactional Analysis will give you a better understanding of why people communicate in a certain way. For example, why they feel the need to be aggressive, or manipulative, to get their point across when they are unhappy about something.
A child who has had to shout, to make his parents listen to him, will often take this communication pattern into adult life. He will shout at you because he is conditioned to think you won’t listen either.
It will also help you choose a more appropriate style of communication with which to respond.
Berne became aware that within each individual there exist three personalities, or ego states, which have their own ways of communicating and behaving. He also discovered that we shift from one state to another subconsciously. These states are not ‘roles’, but psychological realities which are activated by feelings.
He identified them as Parent, Adult and Child ego states. This is why transactional analysis is sometimes called PAC communication.
These personalities develop in the first few years of life and will be shaped according to background, experiences and upbringing.
Imagine a tape recorder being switched on at birth and all thoughts, feelings, events and behaviors recorded in an unedited version.
The Parent ego state develops by recording all the ‘rules and laws’ of the household, characterized by ‘No’; ‘Don’t; frowning; finger wagging; routines; attitudes; value laden standards; prejudices; criticisms.
There is also another side to the Parent: the nurturing, caring, gentle controlling side.
In later life, memories of these behaviors are triggered and parent responses copied.
Think of all the behaviors, body language, facial expressions, attitudes you have taken from your parent (substitute). Has anyone said, ‘You’re just like your mother’ or ‘like father, like son?
At the same time, another recording is being made which is the internalizing of the response to the Parent behaviors (how the Child feels about them).
Cross looks, sharp words, a smack, neglect, sarcasm, can only be recorded as feelings in the child.
Negative Parent Behaviors = Negative Response = Low Self Esteem.
Soon the child either learns to seek parent approval, giving up pleasurable exploration of the world and becoming the Adapted Child, or rebels. The child also stores much positive data: fun times, discovery, creativity, and carefree activity – e.g. puddle jumping. Think of behaviors you still use from your childhood when bad feelings are triggered: door slamming, sulking, temper tantrums, not speaking. Our child state can take over inappropriately, if we let it. Think about the complainers you have dealt with recently. Have you noticed similar behaviors?
Once a child learns to move about, he or she acquires some independence and control. He/she finds out things independently and collects data and learns to work out his/her own understanding of life. This is the Adult ego state beginning to form.
The Adult is described as a data-processing computer which makes decisions based on logic and factual information and is not influenced by feelings. It analyzes the data in the Parent and accepts it, or rejects it, and considers the feelings stirred in the Child for appropriateness. It carries out probability estimating – e.g. in a complaint situation ‘How likely is it that I am going to get this sorted out?’
It can also devise solutions, develop contingency plans and accept the inevitable with equanimity.
How are these ego states activated when people are dissatisfied customers?
Customers who complain from their Parent draw on criticism, challenging attitudes and an authoritative position (from their personal database). They will use a range of verbal, vocal and non-verbal behaviors.
Their non-verbal and verbal indicators will be:
- Head shaking, arms folded, tongue clicking
- “I paid good money for this”
- “It’s a disgrace”
- “I’m going to report you to …”
They approach the situation from a position of ‘How dare they …’
The Child is activated when strong feelings of being ignored, cheated or controlled are triggered. In this ego state, we often feel either powerless or rebellious.
Many of the clues to show someone is operating from their Child include: temper tantrums, sulking, nail-biting, no eye contact, nervous laughter, throat clearing.
Indicators will be:
- “It’s not fair”
- “Why should I?”
- “I’m not moving from here until I get a replacement”
The Adult will be activated once the attitudes and feelings of the Parent and Child have been analyzed for their usefulness and put aside.
It will ask questions, make comparisons, stay objective, won’t be opinionated, and will seek out the facts. It does not send subliminal messages, has no hidden agenda and does not play mind games.
The customer who complains from the Adult will acknowledge feelings of anger, but has not allowed them to take over. He/she wants a practical solution to the problem and not to indulge in psychological warfare in order to feel better (i.e. a replay of a childhood battle).
Ego States – Summary
When you are in your Parent ego state you use words, behaviors and actions of your parent (substitute) – We all carry our Parent inside.
When your Child is showing, you are replaying behaviors and reactions you would have used as a small child – Our Child can always be activated under certain conditions.
Operating from your Adult means you have made an objective, logical, autonomous appraisal of the situation – we are all capable of objectivity.
We don’t have to be the victims of our childhood behavior patterns. We have a choice. In business communication we can only safely operate from our Adult.