Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 11/83 item 02 - scanned
CHILD IS PARENT TO THE ADULT? (column)
This may sound a little sinister, but did you know that it is quite possible to modify another person's behaviour without them necessarily being aware of it? If you have spent any time studying behavioural psychology then you will have already run across the works of Eric Berne. It you haven't, then read on for a very brief introduction to Transactional Analysis. TA is a powerful tool for helping you deal successfully with many awkward 'people problems'.
Every interaction between two people may be described as a 'transaction'. In Transactional Analysis the transaction is a verbal one. To the question "How's the xyz project coming along?" the reply might be "We've had a few problems, but it should be finished by Thursday". This is an example of a factual and objective transaction. Here's the same transaction rephrased: "You should have finished project xyz by now", to which the reply might be "Sod off will you, we're working as fast as we can".
The first transaction left the door open for further exchanges but the second leads to a breakdown of communication and to a lot of energy spent either repairing the damage or making it worse. "Should" was the key word in the last transaction: it carried an implied criticism and the second person instinctively fought back.
Beneath the apparently endless complexities of communication between two people are some fairly simple ground rules which, once understood, can be used to make such transactions consistently productive and rewarding for both parties. Everyone's time is used to greater effect and a greater degree of harmony may be achieved. TA works even if only one participant in a transaction is using it.
The theory underpinning TA is that the behavioural bit of your brain is divided into three parts: the Parent, the Adult and the Child. The Parent is further subdivided into two more bits: the Critical Parent and the Nurturing Parent. The Child is also divided into two parts: the Free Child and the Adapted Child. And that's it. Every utterance can be slotted into one or other of these five categories and we all readily slip from one category to another during the course of the day.
The Critical Parent is the scolding side of the Parent: "How many times must I tell you, you ought to . . . " The Nurturing Parent is more inclined to say "There, there. Don't worry, let's see if I can help you." The Adult approach is always objective, factual and unemotional: "What exactly is the problem? Have you tried the xyz approach?" The Free Child is pretty unrestrained and apt to say something like, "Oh knickers, I can't be bothered with this". The Adapted Child on the other hand will use an approach designed to placate: "I'm really sorry, I tried my very best . . . "
Depending on circumstances, one behaviour is clearly preferable to another. As a rule our repertoire of Adult behaviour increases as we go through life, while the Parent and Child behaviours are more like tape recordings made when we were much younger, picking up our behavioural patterns from the ' people' around us.
In our earlier example .."should" of the Critical Parent 'hooked' the "sod off" reaction of the Free Child. Whenever you pitch in with non-Adult behaviour there is a danger of hooking its complement from the other person. An Adapted Child's "I did my best" is likely to hook a Nurturing Parent's "There, there". Occasionally it will hook the Critical Parent's "Well it wasn't bloody good enough". If the transaction continues in this way then it cannot lead anywhere useful.
On the other hand an Adult's "We are having a number of problems with this job; the strike at the factory lost us raw materials and we missed the slot we had booked on the machine" is more likely to bring about an Adult response along the lines of "Okay, let's see what needs to be done to make the best of this situation".
There isn't space in Reflections to give you the full run-down on TA but if this has whetted your appetite, you'll probably enjoy a Pan book by Thomas Harris called 'I'm OK You're OK' or Addison Wesley's 'Born to Win' by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward. If you're at all interested in what makes people tick, I promise you an interesting read and possibly a complete transformation of your relationships with others.