Makarios Consulting Blog

Who’s the Adult Here?


Last week, we touched on the sometimes-dysfunctional dynamics of family businesses and the importance of maintaining professional relationships in the workplace. In non-family businesses, we often discover similar challenges, especially as they relate to interactions between employees and their direct supervisors.

One interesting theory used to examine workplace interactions comes from psychiatrist Dr. Eric Berne. Berne created the idea of transactional analysis, or TA, a social psychology theory used to help improve communication.

According to Jane C. Woods’ summary of Berne’s work in “Transactional Analysis: An Introduction,” TA can be used in the business setting to improve the effectiveness of communication, management, and interpersonal relationships.

Here’s how TA works: We as human beings have three ego states, according to Berne: Parent, Child, Adult. Here’s an example of how each state might react to a given situation:

  • A client is unhappy because the product you promised has not arrived on time. You apologize and have an employee personally deliver the product within the hour. (ADULT)
  • You not-so-secretly start stewing and pacing around your office. You slam the door shut and angrily throw a file on the ground. ‘How dare that client inconvenience me in the middle of my day!’ You furiously draft a scolding email to let them know how much they’ve inconvenienced your day and your employee’s time. (CHILD)
  • As the hours go by, you cool down and bitterly tell yourself the client doesn’t know how to run a business and you proceed to “teach them a few things” about how they should run their business. (CRITICAL PARENT)

Berne theorized that if we can identify which state we are in when we respond in a given situation, we can learn how to modulate our reactions. Our goal should always be to communicate adult-to-adult. Things go downhill quickly when we approach others as a critical parent or as a petulant child. TA has taught us that in workplace communication, treating one another as fully functioning adults will help to create a high-functioning culture.

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