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Diplomacy in Action

Transactional Analysis


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In the 1960's a man named Eric Berne came up with a theory about communications called transactional analysis or TA for short. In his theory Berne called communications "transactions". This theory was further described in a book called "I'm OK You're OK." by Thomas Harris. In his book Harris elaborated on Berne using a model called "Parent, Adult, Child" communications. Parent, adult and child do not have their usual meanings in this context. A basic understanding of T A can help us evaluate our communications and improve communications by being better able to deliver adult communications or "I" messages which is a type of appropriate and assertive communications we will expand on later.

A very simple explanation of TA follows.

Berne's theory of TA as refined by Harris suggested that communications can be divided into three basic types.

1. The Child Ego State. This the basic way all children enter the world. Within this state are three dimensions. 
          1.
The free child who is fun loving, inquisitive and wanting to be liked. 
          2. The rebellious child
         
3. The manipulative child

2. The Parent Ego State. This is based on our childish understanding of parental rules and understandings. This state has two parts. 
          1. The critical parent 
          2. The loving and kind parent

3. The Adult Ego State. This is the rational part of us. The Adult Ego State functions by gathering information and making decisions based on fact. This is an objective and unemotional state. It is not a state based on years of life lived or on maturity. Children can function in the Adult Ego State.

The theory is that we have each of these states present within us all the time. Depending on the situation, we operate from one or another of the three positions. The person we are communicating to is also operating from one of the three states. Some communications can work well between states, and some work much less well.

An example might be a person who is acting angry. Most likely anger is from the "Child" state. If you want to address anger, you could begin the response to anger as a "Loving Parent" to quickly establish the communication, and then switch to an "Adult" communication to complete the response.

Here is an example of how that communication might work:

C: (Angry and rebellious)
"I hate Mrs. Smith. She is always giving us more homework than any other teacher! She thinks that we have no other classes to do work in."

P: (Loving, caring and empathetic)
"I know how you feel. I wish we could take more time off to play this weekend. But. ... "


A: (Objective, unemotional)
"Mrs. Smith does teach calculus and it is the most difficult class I ever took. Mrs. Smith probably gives us extra work because the material is sometimes difficult."

If we were to diagram the transactions above the communication might look like this.


diagram of a transaction












C: (Angry and rebellious but not sure whre the communication is going)
"I hate Mrs. Smith.  She is always giving us more homework than any other teacher.  She thinks that we have no other classes to do work in.  I never have time for myself."

diagram of a transaction 2

P: (Loving, caring and empathetic)

"I know how you feel. I wish we could take more time off to do what is important to us too, but.... "

diagram of a transaction 3












A: (Objective and unemotional)
"Mrs. Smith does teach calculus and it is the most difficult class I ever took. Mrs. Smith probably gives us extra work because the material is sometimes difficult."

This type of transactional analysis (communication study) is an excellent way of dealing with anger and other difficult situations. Sometimes it can be confusing trying to remember who (APC) you are communicating with when dealing with others so a safe rule to follow is when unsure use an adult to adult communication. It is almost never wrong. Even if the other person is acting in their parent state, an adult acting like an adult is tough to argue with.

Sometimes other people's behavior is problematic for us. Depending on the type of communicator we are, (Passive, Assertive, Aggressive) we can choose to continue allowing the problem, manage the problem, or be aggressive towards the other person.

A more assertive or adult to adult strategy is called, giving "I" messages. "I" messages are adult to adult communication. They are not intended as smart comebacks, or witty replies. It is wise to not use "I" messages when someone is in a child state, or when they are emotional or otherwise upset. Adult to adult implies that each party will think logically and act rationally.

"I" messages are a very powerful communication tool modeled on T A and taken a step further. There is a basic assumption that most communicators will be adults and will want to be adult communicators. Logic and reason are powerful persuaders, and when used result in significant behavior change and communication improvement. Even young children can learn to use "I" messages. Children can then communicate with other children in a calm manner even when they are upset about something.

The basics of "I" messages are simple. An "I" message comes in three parts. Delivering an "I" message is like following a recipe, at least at the start. Practicing the technique over time will result in being able to deliver messages with ease. But as you learn to use "I" messages it is a good idea to adhere to the following recipe!

So, use the force of the "I" message, but use the script too!



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