Transactional Analysis

by Len Horridge

In a nutshell

1. What is Transactional Analysis?

It is just what the name implies – a way of analyzing our transactions, the way we react and respond to others (and vice versa).

  • The theory was conceived by Dr Eric Berne in the 1950s.
  • The basis of the theory is that we all have certain ego states (roles) and we use one or other of these in given situations (or transactions).
  • We store certain mental tapes in our subconscious, replaying them at particular times.
  • The tapes we have inside us are mostly imbedded in our formative years – between four and seven.


2. What is your preferred ego state?

Do you prefer one state to another? No state is either good or bad – each of the three states (Parent, Child and Adult) – has its uses. If we understand the implications of the different states, then in any given transaction we will be able to adopt the state most likely to produce the desired result.

Includes a simple questionnaire to help you find out your preferred state.


3. Parent

This is a reflection of how you were brought up, by your parents, teachers and other people seen as authoritative in your childhood.

  • The critical parent makes rules, keeps traditions, judges and criticises.
  • The nurturing parent takes care, looks after others and shows love and affection, but can be smothering.
  • While both roles can be protective, they can also both lead to suppressed feelings and lack of individual growth.


4. Child

The child ego is a reflection of what you felt when you were young – a way of showing emotions or just behaving yourself to fit in with demands.

  • The free child is the natural, loving, carefree, curious, loving and trustful side of our character, but people adopting this role can be too outspoken and unable to abide by any rules.
  • The adapted child represents the attention seeking, manipulative side – the person who plays on emotions to get their own way as well as getting along with authority figures (doing as they’re told).- jobsworths.
  • The child ego is mostly to do with our feelings and, like the parent ego state, is archaic, coming from our past.


5. Adult

The adult ego is not a reflection of maturity and can be seen in children of all ages. It is a less emotional, more rational state than the other two, concerned with results, what works and how it works, often without a feeling for other people.

  • It is in the here and now, not archaic like the other two states.
  • It sorts out the best plan, basing it on facts and logic.
  • It can appear cold and unemotional.
  • It is the best state for most business transactions, but to remain in this state the entire time would make us one-dimensional (and boring).


6. Summary of the states

The three states were once neatly summed up as being the cast of Star Trek: the children are the crew, the parent is Captain Kirk and the adult Mr Spock.

  • Parents like control and like to have individuals or groups to manage. They will take the lead, but often for their own ends.
  • Children behave emotionally but can be creative. It is the time when we let our hair down to have fun or allow our emotions get the better of us.
  • Adults are objective and factual, sticking to the facts and managing by taking a calm and cold view of situations.


7. Identifying ego states

Having gained an understanding of the three states, it’s important to be able to identify which state people are operating from in ordinary life.

  • Some of the states can be seen to be contradictory, because tone of voice and body language have a huge impact on communication.
  • Most people can confuse the child/parent states. This is because they have similarities, though of course they also have huge differences.
  • Parents are the only critical types
  • Your own parents will have behaved like children at times.
  • The child state is emotional and so is the parental state.
  • Both are child and parent states are archaic.


8. Your ego state

Berne would look for a balanced score of the three egos; if your scores are similar, there is probably a balance to your approach, which suggests you have a balanced nature, adapting to each different situation you face.

  • If you have a high parent score, you may want to consider the impact on others and perhaps even yourself. In business, the heavy parent state suggests not trusting others, wanting to do things for others and a potential time management problem.
  • A high child score could suggest an emotional approach that will lead to decisions based on instinct (not always bad) and broken relationships.
  • A high adult score is mostly good but may suggest that you could be too cold and unemotional.
  • If you are not happy with a relationship/transaction, how might a change in your ego state impact on that and potentially improve it?


9. Your impact on others

Most transactions are complementary, in other words neither side has a problem with the relationship.

  • In a parent/child transaction there will be no short-term problem.
  • Adult-to-adult transactions and child-to-child transactions normally give balanced results and harmonious relationships.
  • Two parents will vie with each other for power and control.
  • If you are unhappy at being treated like a child, you will need to stop responding in a child-like manner.
  • In a perfect world, the adult-to-adult type of transaction would, most of the time, get the best results.


10. Business uses

As every business depends on interactions with people, there are many uses of this theory.

  • Feedback sessions – if you are too parental, are you really letting people take responsibility or are you taking this on for them?
  • Time management – parents take on other people’s monkeys.
  • Stress management – children and parents become stressed; adults look for ways of minimising stress and controlling their lives.
  • Selling and negotiating – if you take an approach that is too parental, you can force the other person into a child-like response. Often, the adult approach is best.
  • Dealing with new staff – sometimes people need help and are in a child-like state.
  • Assessing staff – the most accurate assessments are objective, rational and based on facts – the adult state.
  • Recruiting staff – again, the adult state is generally best.
  • Recognition – everyone needs recognition, some more than others. This means doing the ‘pat on the back’ in a parental manner.


11. A simple case study

The true story of a young and recently-promoted sales manager whose top salesman had lost his flair.

  • Was the older man jealous? No.
  • Did he want to be the parent? No.
  • Was the younger man’s adult approach helping? No.
  • What was needed was for the younger man start by giving praise – parent to child, before moving into adult-to-adult mode.


12. Using TA

Some tips concerning using TA in the workplace.

  • If you have trouble in a transaction, use TA as a method of analysing the transaction.
  • Are you choosing the right state to respond to them? Will they change? Can you change? Will Transactional Analysis help?
  • You can practice all of this in the ‘real’ world as well as the business world (how are you treated when you go to see your parents and how do you treat your children, for example).