Many leaders and managers are having difficult internal conversations with their team and their supervisors / executives these days. Likewise, many salespeople are having difficult conversations with customers right now.
By using the Transactional Analysis model, we’re more likely to have better outcomes from challenging conversations, particularly in challenging times. You might remember that T/A states that we operate from one of 3 basic “ego states.” First is the Parent, which has two sub-states:
- The Critical Parent, that is focused on what is empirically right and wrong, and what we should do and shouldn’t do, etc. While the CP can help keep us safe, often the CP is not open to new information as this ego state is only operating on past experiences and beliefs. This ego state may manage from fear and autocracy. Often times, the CP’s reaction to a situation may not seem rational, as they are defaulting to their past CP programming of should’s and should nots, with little flexibility in their thinking.
- The Nurturing Parent. The NP is reassuring and not so judgmental. The NP inspires others to open-up and reduces the risk for the other person to share candidly. The NP is the one who says, “don’t worry about it,” when you make a mistake, and encourages you to try again.
Another of the 3 primary ego states in T/A is the Child. One of the Child sub-states is the Adaptive Child. The AC is where all of our emotions are stored (typically, emotions learned from childhood). The emotions can range from mad, sad and glad to concerned, scared and worried.
It’s important to note that our AC lives in the past (might worry about the future) and doesn’t necessarily have rational reactions to the situation at hand. We can tell that the AC was “triggered,” when someone has a fear or emotional reaction that does not help them, or the situation.
Of the three T/A primary ego states, the Adult is the only ego state that doesn’t rely on PAST PROGRAMMING or FUTURE WORRY. The Adult lives in the present and is logical, unemotional, non-judgmental and only seeks the truth and to focus on effective outcomes.
In a productive conversation, we hope to have an Adult-Adult conversation with the people we lead. Unfortunately, when times are tough, many of our employees and salespeople are understandably worried and scared. As leader’s we must recognize they are in the Child ego state.
Counter intuitively, we don’t want to respond to their Child with our Adult (and especially NOT the Critical Parent). We need to bring our Nurturing Parent to the table to help their Child move through that ego state to a place where their Adult can take part in the conversation. Staying in the NP can be difficult for a leader. They must have patience to help the person in their Child through their concerns. As a leader, you will find an effective ego-state balance would be 70% Nurturing Parent and 30% Adult. Once we recognize the other person is in their Adult, we can bring our Adult to the table and now we are getting somewhere.
As you might guess, we are constantly cycling through all of the ego states, all of the time. By using this model to label, understand and be aware of our own ego states, we believe we can steer away from the counterproductive ones (Critical Parent and Adaptive Child) and channel the productive ones (Nurturing Parent and Adult).
When you are having an Adult-Adult conversation, neither person will be going back to the past to blame someone or something (“you should have…you should not have”). it’s also unlikely to hear a lot of high emotion, or irrational fears about future “what ifs” that cloud their thinking.
It’s up to you to figure out if these communication techniques can help you and your team. A good first step is put a morning reminder in your phone to start each day with an awareness of the ego states you are operating from throughout the day. By having awareness of our ego states, we can make better choices about how we access and use them ON PURPOSE. Check out these blog posts to learn more about managing and leading your team.