Transactional analysis sounds like something nasty the Serious Fraud Office does if they think you’ve been indulging in some seriously white-collar crime.
Thankfully, it’s a tool you can use to better understand other people, and yourself.
Transactional Analysis is a way of looking at social interactions, or transactions. It was developed by psychiatrist Eric Berne and it’s all about the ego state of the person that you are interacting with. It sounds complicated but, trust me, you’ve met many people who embody the three ego states.
We’ve all had that manager who tells you to do something, usually with a scowl on their face. When you point out that it isn’t a great idea and there may be a better way, they bellow “just do it”. And you wonder if you’re being managed by your mum.
Congratulations, you’ve just identified your first ego state, ‘the parent’. This is where one person believes they have the knowledge and skills but the person they are dealing with doesn’t. So they tell them exactly what to do, or treat them like an idiot as it is more commonly known.
We’ve all met someone who never gets enough of anything from the organisation they work for. They have a long list of complaints about all the things that are not being done to support them. You take one look and conclude that they’re behaving like a five year old.
Congratulations, you’ve now identified the second ego state, ‘the child’. This is where a person believes that someone else has all the knowledge and skills but they don’t. So they whine and moan until someone gives them the moon on a stick. Even when they get it, they complain that the stick is the wrong colour.
Thankfully, you’ve also met reasonable people. You know the sort of person that doesn’t order you to do something, they don’t moan or whine, they ask, discuss, think, generally help you find a solution. Traditionally, we call these people grown ups.
Congratulations, you have now identified the final ego state, ‘the adult’. This is where the person believes that they have skills and knowledge and so do you. These are the kind of people you can do business with.
Interesting, but so far this is all standard business psychology. Nothing you couldn’t learn from google or an MBA.
But it occurred to me that you could apply transactional analysis to the way we treat ourselves. Take a moment to ask yourself, how do you relate to yourself? How do you treat yourself? When you have those indecisive little discussions in your head, what is your ego state?
How many times have you said to yourself, “you’re an idiot, you shouldn’t be eating this cake”? I’m prepared to guess that you are familiar with the inner parent.
You’ve probably also said to yourself, “everything has gone wrong today, I deserve the cake”? Don’t beat yourself up; I used to have a very loud inner child.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, you can reframe the conversation in your head. “you’re an idiot, you shouldn’t be eating this cake” could become “the cake wasn’t the best idea, what can I do to make sure the rest of the day is healthy?”. Or “everything has gone wrong today, I deserve the cake”, could become “cake is not going solve my problems, what could I do that would really help?”
While I’m not suggesting you have voices in your head, I’m willing to bet that you have competing desires, such as eating cake and being healthy. Balancing those two competing aims is a transaction. Identifying the ego state that underpins those transactions can help you. By embracing your inner adult you can manage conflicting priorities in a more effective and fruitful way.
I’m willing to bet that if you can treat yourself like an adult then you’ll find it much easier to treat those around you in the same way. Meaning you won’t just improve your own health, happiness and productivity but you’ll help those around you improve theirs too.