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This tip is not directly about a difficult conversation, but I hope it will be relevant and useful anyway.

A colleague of mine was telling me how he needed to better understand the concepts of Transactional Analysis and particular the part which talks about our Ego states when relating to other people. You may have heard of these Egos namely Parent (Critical or Nurturing), Adult and Child (Adapted or Natural).

In a nutshell, we all lurch from one ego state to another often triggered by our own habits or the perceived behaviour of the other person. For example when giving somebody some feedback we may find ourselves talking down to that person and ‘telling them off’. This would be our Critical Parent kicking in and is likely to ‘hook’ a Child response (such as “that’s not fair”) from the other person.

Back to my colleague. He was telling me how tedious he was finding the reading and that he was unconvinced it wasn’t a load of @*^&!

He also said he was having to resist a huge temptation just to throw the book away and do something else much more interesting.

I asked him from which Ego state did he think these ‘voices’ were coming from? He understood immediately that this was his ‘Internal Child’ wanting to go out and play. At this point, he said, “so then I must resist these and definitely finish the book, however, tough that is”.

The answer, of course, is probably not because where might the ‘voice’ demanding completion be coming from? Probably his ‘Internal Parent’ in response to the ‘naughty’ Child.

The ideal Ego state to be in (usually) is the Adult. This deals with the here and now. It is interested in facts and relevance. So, perhaps the right thing to do would be to read some of the chapters, make some notes and then bounce some thoughts off somebody else.

Without realising it, I think my colleague experienced all three Ego states without relating to anybody else at all. Maybe he unconsciously chose the Adult path by picking up the phone to me and hopefully is now somewhat clearer.

The top tip therefore for almost all conversations but definitely difficult conversations is to avoid slipping into Parent/Child and try and stay Adult (even if the other person doesn’t). Eventually, they will have to join you Adult to Adult.

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