Transactional Analysis

by Len Horridge

Your impact on others

While this theory is very useful for analysing your own psychological state and your own approach to life, the simpler application is to reveal how you impact on others.

Most transactions are complementary, in other words neither side has a problem with the relationship. For example, if you are a parent and the other person is a child, there will be no short-term problem.

Similarly, adult-to-adult transactions and child-to-child transactions normally give balanced results and harmonious relationships.

These are not the ones to alter!

Some relationships, however, are more troublesome. These are called many things (including angular or duplex), but are basically transactions where you will need to change your behaviour to get a desirable change in the other person’s behaviour.

For example, two parents will vie with each other for power and control; if you are caught in a relationship of this nature and want to have control, you will have to change your behaviour initially (probably by balancing the relationship with an initial child-like response before moving up to a more adult one).

If you are unhappy at being treated like a child, you will need to stop responding in a child-like manner.


Most people agree that, in a perfect world, the adult-to-adult type of transaction would, most of the time, get the best results (though it would lead to a boring environment!).

How do you change to a more adult approach?

  • Ask open questions and listen actively
  • Be rational and objective
  • Avoid unnecessary confrontations
  • Show empathy
  • Look for solutions, not problems.

The key here is avoiding unnecessary confrontations.

Some confrontations are important and necessary: if people are doing things wrongly and/or dangerously, you need to be the critical parent. This is the role, often, of the Health and Safety Officer, The Compliance Manager and so on. Most confrontations, however, are unnecessary.

The majority of confrontations arise from our initial response to a comment and the transaction that develops from there.

In terms of TA, an initial parent comment will often lead to a child response. This response confirms to the person assuming the parent role in the transaction that their view of the other is correct, so they continue in parent mode, thus continuing to elicit child-like responses.

To stop this self-fulfilling cycle, you need to alter your first response or first comment.

If you start to think and speak along adult lines, you will often elicit more adult responses in return (but not always, as people do not always respond as you want!). Berne’s research shows us that the more adult you are, the more adult the responses you get. Simply put, if you treat people like kids, they respond like kids and vice versa.

And, as Nelson Mandela once said, the first thing he learned when negotiating is that if you wanted change in others, the first thing you need to change is yourself.