How to Talk- An Introduction

“Mom, may I study while I watch TV?” v/s “Mom, can the TV stay on while I study?” are two ways of saying the same thing- or are they? Now which one do you think will turn out to be favourable for the child?

Today, I will discuss conversations and share certain interesting things about the states of a person involved in a conversation, how to identify the state a person is in and how exactly to talk to a person to get your objective fulfilled.  A friend of mine went to his Project Manager on the fifth day of work to inquire about his pay band. He was later dropped from the project. ‘Lesser experience than required’ was cited as the reason. Surprisingly there were people still part of the project with less than half his experience and skills. You will understand what went wrong when I give you the details later. Perhaps someday, you could use the knowledge to get a salary hike!

Let me begin by telling you what a transaction is. Any statement, generally verbal, by a person is a transaction.

For instance, a Mr. James asks Ms. Jessy, “What is your name?” This is a transaction.

Now Jessy might tell her name straight away or she might in fact say, “You have been working with me for the last two months and you still don’t know! Wow! Go to hell!”

Both the responses are transactions. But the answers give different signals as to what state of mind Jessy is in. The first seems logical while the second reeks of a rebellious nature.

Now that we have defined a transaction, we will go ahead with Transactional Analysis. Before we begin we need to know that there are three basic ego states a person operates in. They are-

  • Parent ego state: It reflects our feelings of superiority, authority, pronouncing judgement etc. These are feelings that we picked up from our own parents whilst growing up.
  • Adult ego state: It reflects maturity, objectivity, logic and rational problem solving tendencies. It also seeks logic in return from the other person.
  • Child ego state: It reflects our childish tendencies viz. dependent, impulsive, rebellious and the like.

I will share two instances here that will lend clarity.

A high profile meeting with the top brass

In one meeting, the boss calls his PA and says, “Son, I think I am forgetting something!” The PA takes out his boss’ spectacles from his pocket and gives it to him. “I think it was this,” he says, smiling back.

In another corporate get-together, the boss says to his second in-charge, “Son, I think there is some problem with the air conditioning. Could you get it checked?” The latter coldly rebuffs, saying “I am not your son! Get the technician to do it. ” in front of the whole crowd.

In the first case the boss is in parental ego state and his PA in child ego state. Firstly, because he addresses his PA as son and secondly he seeks unrivalled fulfillment of his need. The PA in return acts without seeking a logic. He acts in accordance with what is being asked of him. This is a complementary transaction where the objective is attained.

In the second case, it is quite apparent that the senior officer is in the parental state and expects the same as in the first case but the second in-charge is in adult ego state. He seeks logic. The second in-charge is neither age-wise nor position-wise young enough to be called son and hence he snubs his senior. This is a crossed transaction.

Every person has a dominant ego state that depends on his-

  • Age
  • parental ego state if 45 years and above,
  • adult, if between 30 years to 45 years
  • and child, if 25 years and below
  • Marital status -married, unmarried or single.
    • Married people appear to be in parental ego state, more so if they are parents already.
  • The other person he is talking to,
    • Certainly the age, behavior and other attributes of the person one is talking to will determine his ego state. For example to a friend, one may transact in child ego state but to a junior he may assume parental or adult approach.
    • This is more evident when we write letters. If you write to your parents, you will assume child ego state and your words suggest impulsive attitude and careless love spreading all over the sheet.
  • Gender of the person.
  • Rank or Designation,
    • In case of military or the corporate world one may assume Parental ego state even with an older subordinate.
  • Environ of the transactionse.
    • In open area or closed space or a well ventilated closed space. 

*Never approach the boss in a closed space for a favour you know he’ll most probably deny!*

Closed spaces might appear to bring you physically closer to the person but it creates distances psychologically as the boss may assume the unchallengeable authority (Parental ego state).

In case of children, you will recall that you could help yourself by switching your own ego state to a Child ego state to become compatible with a teacher. For example, you are caught in possession of a PSP in classroom and you are walked to the Principal. You are sure to be reprimanded well inside his room if you put your head down and accept the mistake like an adult. Logic doesn’t work there. Sometimes tears work wonders words can’t.

Ever wondered why the girl who cried after committing a mistake attracted more compassion from a teacher than another boy who stolidly accepted the mistake? In the first case the girl assumed the Child ego state with the teacher’s Parental ego state; which is a complementary transaction. In the second case, however, the boy assumed Adult ego state which resulted in a crossed transaction with the Parental ego state.

(I am not anti-feminist! Indeed ladies are often more logical at times. I was just mentioning an example to put forward my point. Peace! )

Remember the case of Jessy and James that I started with? You are now equipped to identify the ego state of Jessy on the basis of her transaction.

There are two fundamental types of transactions as already discussed- crossed and complementary. Complementary transactions come from compatible ego states. They are Adult-Adult, Parent-Child and Child-Child. Crossed transactions come when a message from one ego state gets a response from an incompatible ego state in the other person. They are Parent-Adult and Adult-Child. Crossed transactions usually result in resentment, hurt, anger, and frustration for the parties concerned.

More on transactional analysis will be covered in upcoming articles. Figuring out ego states in conversations will assist you well in switching to a compatible ego state with anyone, and to work it to your advantage. For now I’ll wind up with a conversation in Urdu for you to figure out ego states of two different answers of Ahamed as an exercise.

Izhar: Kahiye kaisa mijaaz hai Janab ka? (Well, how are you feeling today?)

Ahamed (answer 1): sab Khairiyat hai! (All is well!)

Ahamed (answer 2): sab apki meherbani hai! (By your kindness and grace)

In the next article in the ‘How to Talk’ series, I’ll give some suggestions on how to avoid my friend’s predicament where he asked about his salary and lost his job, and also discuss other types of transactions.



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