TA-400x265Exploring Transactional Analysis in the workplace.

Transactional Analysis is one of the cornerstones of modern psychology.  It was developed by Eric Berne, and describes the infamous ‘parent adult child’ theory.  Transactional Analysis is of great importance in organisational and personal development, improving communications, management, relationships and behaviour.

A deeper understanding of Transactional Analysis is a great starting point for building your self awareness, and an awareness of others.  When two people communicate, each exchange is a transaction.  Many of our problems come from transactions which are unsuccessful.

Dr. Berne studied the complex interpersonal transactions between individuals and developed a model of how those individuals interact with one another.  This culminated in his three “ego-states”.

  • Parent
  • Adult
  • Child

Each one of these ego states is the method of communication we choose to use with other individuals, and the impact of that communication style can be quite dramatic.  But in summary, the language of the Parent is one of values, the Adult is of logic and the Child is a language of emotions.

Totem Lollipops

Dr. Berne’s book, Games People Play, is a wonderful insight for leaders who wish to develop their understanding of the potential impact their communications may have, intended or not.


We can adopt the role of two quite different Parents when addressing someone, the Nurturing Parent is caring and concerned and often appears as a mother-figure.  The Controlling Parent attempts to make the Child do as the parent wants them to do.


The Adult transaction is born from rationality and a deep sense of Logic.  This is expressed in the form of someone who talks reasonably but assertively, without a desire to control or show aggression.  This is the state that most of us aspire too.


The Child state can be broken down into three different types:

  • The Natural Child has remarkably little self awareness and can be identified by the non-speech comments they make, yippee, woohoo for example!
  • The Little Professor is the curious and exploring Child, someone who always wants to try out new stuff.
  • The Adaptive Child is reactionary, and seeks to change themselves in order to better fit in with the world around them.

We possess all three Ego States as our personality is a result of our combined life experiences. Who we are as a Parent, Adult, or Child is a product of these experiences, regardless of far we’d like to distance ourselves from those experiences.

Totem Gummi Bears

Depending on whom we’re talking to, we switch between these ego states.  And how and when we switch is largely driven by our own understanding of the social context we’re in, our perceived relationship with those we are interacting with, and our own inherent personality type.  See Khaler’s 5 Drivers for more on this.

We’ve developed many social rituals, from greetings to whole conversations where we take different approaches for different contexts. These are often ‘pre-recorded’ as scripts we just play out. They give us a sense of control and identity and reassure us that all is still well in the world.  Other games can be negative and destructive and we play them more out of sense of habit and addiction than constructive pleasure.

Identifying and Resolving Conflict

Complementary transactions occur when both people are at the same level – adult to adult for example. But problems occur in crossed transactions, where each is talking to a different level.

For example, by being a Controlling Parent we are inviting the other person to adopt a Child state where they may or may not conform to our demands. They adopt the ‘naughty child’ state to oppose the Parent or Adult states, simply for rebellions sake.

Be aware for crossed wires. This is the source of conflict between individuals.

By choosing carefully the state that you employ to communicate, you can engender a great deal of trust.  If you have recognised the Child in an individual, employ the Nurturing Parent or talk at the same level as the other person.

There are three things you can do when you want to get the most out of an interaction with someone and all three require you to notice what is happening:

Observe and challenge yourself – note what sort of state you are in, how you are responding and what your reactions are like.  Is this how you want to be?  What sort of interaction would be more appropriate?

Observe others and respond productively – not what sort of state they are adopting, how they are responding and what their reactions are like.  What sort of response would be most productive?

Observe the interaction – has it been successful? Does it set a precedent for the future?  What will you do differently in the future?