Imagine the following conversation:
Your partner comes to you after a day of work…
Your partner: “I am so tired; I really hate my job!”
You: “I told you so many times already that you should change careers if it doesn’t make you happy. Why don’t you apply for the position I showed you in the newspaper last week?”
Your partner: “Oh, yes honey, you are right, but I don’t think that job is the right position for me, I don’t think I have the right skills for it …”
You: “I think you need to start searching the internet, there are so many interesting positions out there.”
Your partner: “Mhhhm, no there is nothing available for me, I have already checked…”
You: “You know what you should do? Talk to your father about it, he always gives good advice.”
Your partner: “Are you crazy? He always criticizes me…”
And so it continues, you give advice and your partner says why it is not going to work.
Here is another conversation:
You to your friend: “I have a feeling that you are not that happy lately, is everything alright? Is there anything you want to talk about?”
Your friend: “Yes, actually there is, my career is not going so well. I feel stuck and I want to change jobs, but I do not know where to start.”
You: “I understand that it can be difficult for you. What is it that you don’t like about your job at the moment?”
Your friend: “Well, actually I have a conflict with one of the team members.”
You: “Is that what bothers you the most?”
Your friend: “Yes, it is.”
You: “So, tell me what happened that led you both to this difficult situation.”
Or you could react like this to the previous statement of your friend:
You: “I understand that it is difficult, I was actually going through a similar situation a couple of years ago. What really helped was talking openly about it with my boss. And I also spoke about it with my husband.”
Your friend: “Oh, really? That sounds great, but I don’t think that would work with my boss; he is not open for this type of discussion.”
You: “Maybe try with HR instead?”
Your friend: “Mmm, I am afraid that would not work either…”
And so it continues…
Do you see the differences between the above-mentioned dialogues? Why are the first and the last dialogues not effective? And why could the middle one lead to something constructive?
Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis theory
The Transactional Analysis theory by Canadian-born psychiatrist Eric Berne explains it perfectly. This theory is the Holy Grail in my life and it became a holy grail for many of my clients.
Whether you want to get a new job, change careers, improve communication with your partner, boss, subordinate, or yourself, you need to know how Transactional Analysis works and how it can help you. I also wrote another article which is based on this theory and talks about our inner critic.
In short, this theory explains that at every moment in life, in every situation, we are in one of the following three ego states: Parent, Adult or Child.
When we are in the Parent state, we give advice, we criticise and we say what others should or shouldn’t do. We often treat our dialogue partner as a child, who cannot really think for themselves.
When we act from our Adult ego state, we are actually interested in what is going on with the person, we are curious and we ask open questions in order to find things out. We do not judge.
When we communicate from our Child ego state, we act like children. We show a whole range of behaviours based on how we feel. We rebel and do not listen and we change our behaviour in order to please the Parent figure. We can be free and do not care, we can feel hurt, we can stomp our feet, we can be fearful and we can be happy and laugh like crazy.
So, please take another look at the dialogues above. Which ego states are communicating with each other? Do you see certain patterns?
The mechanisms behind the way we communicate
The interesting thing about this theory is that it shows us the mechanisms of how humans communicate. The message sent from our Parent state is always meant for the Child state, and vice versa. The communication from the Adult is meant for the Adult.
When someone approaches you from a certain ego state, it will trigger a certain reaction in you. So, the topic might be the same, but depending on whether the person talks to you from the Parent, Adult or Child state, he or she will get a totally different response. Amazing, right?
So, what does it all mean?
It actually proves the bold statement I made in the title of this article. Often it is said that we cannot change others. But I do not agree. We can! By changing our own behaviour, we can cause a change in the behaviour of the other person.
If you notice that you have stepped into one of the three ego states and it is causing a certain reaction in your discussion partner, stop for a moment and change your ego state. And then observe how the discussion changes. I promise you; you will be amazed!