Transactional Analysisby Len Horridge
As every business depends on interactions with people, there are many uses of this theory.
Obvious ones are in management/supervisory roles, but there are also applications in sales (‘The sale is ending soon’ is treating your customer like a child), customer service (often people in customer service can be seen as parents in control or childish jobsworths) and coaching (if you want to transfer responsibility, you need to transfer it in an adult way, otherwise you will get a child response).
But really, the uses are up to you.
Below are some areas where you might most obviously find TA to be a useful tool.
How do you come across when giving feedback? If you are too parental, are you really letting people take responsibility or are you taking this on for them? If too adult, are you giving the recognition that most people thrive on?
- If people ask ‘Did I do okay?’, they want a parent response, not an adult one. So, praise them! Then you can move into adult-to-adult mode by looking at the facts behind their failure/success.
- If you have a one-way conversation (called a monologue!), you are being too parental. If you use the classic questions ‘How can you improve?’ ‘What did you do best?’, you are prompting an adult response.
- Taking responsibility is adult, so if you want a positive outcome, be mostly adult and move to an action plan that puts responsibility on the other adult individual.
Parents take on monkeys, in other words tasks that others should be doing. Do you have too many tasks to do and do you willingly take on the tasks of others? Be adult about it and let others do their own work!
- Do others give you tasks to do or do you volunteer to do other people’s tasks for them? If so, you are accepting other people’s monkeys and being too parental by trying to look after others. Of course, they go into child mode to get you to do this. Be adult and explain why you can’t do these tasks and why they would be better doing them on their own.
- Time management is all about controlling tasks and time. It is objective, so be in adult mode and don’t let emotion get in the way. Make a boring black-and-white list of things to do; tick off what you’ve completed and get on with the rest as soon as you can.
Children and parents become stressed; adults look for ways of minimising stress and controlling their lives.
- Stress is emotional. This is a child response and is often caused by feeling a lack of control over your life. To deal with this, you will need to be adult and take measures to regain control. As with time management, this means making lists and working out your priorities.
- Stress management is all about working out what you can do and what you can’t do and deciding to do what you can. Stress comes from outside influences or your own desire not to control your life. Of course, there may be very good reasons for real stress (illness, bereavement and the like), but an adult will put these into perspective and work on strategies to overcome them.
- Look towards the future and search for solutions; don’t look to the past and get bogged down in the problems. Adults can deal with problems and move forward because they are detached; the child in us wants pity and help.
Selling and negotiating
Sometimes, if you take an approach that is too parental, you can force the other person into a child-like response, making them dig their feet in and stop being co-operative. Often, the adult approach is best.
- ‘Better buy now before we’re out of stock’ may be the classic sell-by-date close, but it is also a classic parent-to-child transaction. The response you get may be acceptable most of the time, but can force others into a more child-like response: ‘I won’t buy it now, then!’
- People buy for lots of different reasons, but for the most part they base their purchasing on logical reasoning with a little mix of emotion. So if you give people the facts, you may well stand more chance of closing the sale, although it may help to mix this with little of the emotional child-like side. Buyers complain that poor sales people do not ask for the sale. This response from a salesperson – failing to ask – is child-like. The seller fears rejection, but rejection is part of the territory in sales. An adult approach allows us to acknowledge this fact and accept it. So, build the sale logically, add in facts, relate it to the person and the reasons they should buy and, above all, ask for the order!
Dealing with new staff
Sometimes people need help and are in a child-like state. Most obviously this occurs when someone is starting in a new role, in which case a parental approach towards them is fine, as long as it does not last forever!
- Remember your first day at a new job? Were you in a child state? As you probably knew little about the surroundings, the processes, the people, you probably were, so remember this and recall that new people will want a little bit of parenting.
- But also recall that the more you adopt a parental approach, the more child-like responses you will get. Make sure you move people into the adult-to-adult phase as you can to pass on responsibility.
The most accurate assessments are objective, rational and based on facts. This is the adult state.
- Facts are adult. By letting people know exactly what they do and what they say you can alter behaviours. An adult looks at good and bad behaviours; by letting another person know what they do well, you not only recognise and praise them, you will also develop a desire in them to receive more praise.
- If you have to criticise people, you need to focus on facts not feelings; if you stick to facts, you will be adult. If you just criticise, you will be a critical parent and may well get a child-like response.
Again, factual, objective and rational interviews give the best results, although, just sometimes, our child-like gut feel can be a good indicator of suitability for a role.
- The gut feel is a child-like response. It can work very well, but should certainly not be the only criterion used!
- When recruiting, have a check list of attributes required, plus the questions you need to ask to check these out. Make sure you ask all the appropriate questions on your list – don’t just go by gut feelings.
An adult approach is often best when dealing with unhappy customers. Sometimes, however, the customer wants an apology (for you to take the child role) or for you to take control (as parent); it is up to you to find out which is best for the best response.
- An irate customer will be in parent state (if shouting and blaming) or child (if upset, emotional), so an initial adult response may not be the best option. Think about apologising or putting them at ease.
- The phrase ‘Calm down and let’s analyse this’ normally does not work too well, as it suggests that you are lacking an element of empathy for the position. Put yourself mentally in their shoes and think about how they feel; you can only do this in the adult state.
Everyone needs recognition, some more than others. This means doing the ‘pat on the back’ in a parental manner, which is good when required (in our experience, regularly).
- A simple ‘well done’ is a great way of praising people. Most people want to be treated like a child now and again!
- But where do you go from there? The congratulatory ‘high five’ takes you to the other person’s level and makes you appear more human. The question ‘How did you do it?’ can be phrased critically or positively, but can move you on to an adult discussion about replicating success.
- Success breeds success, as the cliché goes, and recognising it adds oil to the wheels.
See Mastering your inner critic for an interesting way to use TA for coaching yourself.
There are so many other ways in which TA can be used to good effect in day-to-day business transactions that it would be impossible to list all of them. The important thing is to practise analysing all your transactions with other people in this way until it becomes second nature to adopt the appropriate role for the occasion. Hopefully, you will not only have fun along the way, but will gain interesting and productive insights into your own behaviour patterns and those of other people.