Why Moving from “Parent/Child” to “Adult” Ego States Will Improve Your Business (3 min read)

Written by Millionaire’s Digest Team Member: Matt H.

Founder & Owner of: The Gay Stepdad

Millionaire’s Digest Team, Contributor, Business, Family & Life and Successful Living Writer

Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, explained that we have 3 ego states that categorise how we behave both at home and in the workplace. We can either be a parent, an adult or a child. These ego states are  often metaphorically used to describe the varying styles of leadership that we lead or communicate with in the workplace.

  • Parent –The ‘Parent state’ is made up of the behaviours, thoughts and feelings that we emulate from our parents, or other role models in our life. Our ‘Parent’ state is made up of subliminal and learned messages from our childhood such as, ‘you will tidy your room’, ‘your not going to your friend’s house’, ‘don’t forget your homework’,and  ‘You’re lying!’. Our ‘parent state’ is heavily influenced by external events and influences and becomes ‘learned behaviour’ as we grow up. As fully-grown adults we have the ability to change this behaviour in the workplace, but it does need an element of self awareness and effort to recognise this.
  •  Adult- Our ‘adult state’ describes our ability to think, plan and take action  based upon the what is happening right now’. It is driven by our knowledge of the world around us and our perception and processing of internal and external factors. The Adult state requires empathy for people, a deep understanding of what makes people tick, coupled with balanced decision making skills. Additionally  the ‘Adult  state’ allows us to develop self awareness and identify when our ‘parent’ and ‘child states are taking over.
  • Child- This is when individuals revert to behaving how they did when they were a child. This could be triggered by some negative feedback or criticism or simply because the behaviour displayed by the ‘parent’ forces them to react as they did when they were younger.  Examples of this could be sulking, getting angry, crying or crawling into their shell and staying quiet.

To break this down further…

Berne’s theory of parent and child behaviour has evolved over the years and we can now see that the types of behaviour demonstrated by ‘parent’ state can affect the response in the ‘child’ state.

Parent’ can be broken down as follows;

  • Nurturing.  This style would show caring and re-assuring behaviours. Someone adopting this behaviour might be overly helpful and step in when things get tough. There could be an element of over-protection  and a tendency to ‘wrap the child in cotton wool’.
  • Critical. Critical ‘parents’ may command lots of authority, use corrective techniques to reprimand to alter the behaviour of the ‘child’

Adult – This remains the same, the ‘utopia state’ that draws on both parent and child behaviours and recognises and adapts style to suit each individual.

‘Child’ can be broken down as follows;

  •  Reliant – This can be playful and spontaneous behaviour, sometimes reliant ‘children’ are over-protected and can’t do everything from themselves and require more support. Reliant ‘Children’ often don’t succeed in the absence of the ‘nurturing parent’.
  • Rebellious. This behaviour displays some negativity and sometimes a reluctance to carry out tasks, or if they do, with an element of hostility. In the workplace these people become ‘toxic’ as they resent or reject the behaviour of the ‘critical parent’.

Applying this to the workplace.

As Berne suggests when we communicate with others we adopt one of our ‘ego states’.

The table below shows the physical and verbal behaviours and cues which help you to recognise which ‘ego state’ you are emulating.

Parent State Adult State Child State
Physical  Angry or impatient body-language and expressions, finger-pointing, patronising gestures Attentive, interested, straight-forward, tilted head, non-threatening and non-threatened Emotionally sad expressions, despair, temper tantrums, whining voice, rolling eyes, shrugging shoulders, teasing, delight, laughter, speaking behind hand, raising hand to speak, squirming and giggling.
Verbal  Always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, critical words, patronising language, posturing language. Questioning and querying words – why, what, how, who, where and when, how much, in what way, comparative expressions, reasoned statements, true, false, probably, possibly, I think, I realise, I see, I believe, in my opinion. I want, I need, I wish, I don’t care, oh no, not again, I don’t know, things never go right for me.

The information in the above table is taken from businessballs

To conclude, the first step in adapting the ideal ‘adult’ ego state is to first recognise that you are behaving in either a ‘parent’ or ‘child’ state and to work towards communicating adult to adult. The behaviours that manifest in the ‘parent’ or child states can be detrimental to success and growth of a business.  If a ‘parent’ is overly critical, angry or impatient, you are left with rebellious children that are disengaged and despondent, equally if you nurture and over-protect in your ‘parent’ state, you are met with reliant children that you are unable to leave for any period of time without things going wrong. It goes without saying that if you or your team are behaving in the ‘parent’ or ‘child’ states, it becomes more difficult for an organisation to prosper as you have to work harder to engage, motivate and retain your employees.

What type of leader are you? Can you recognise these behaviours in others?

Article Credits: Matt H.

Millionaire’s Digest Team, Contributor

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