Getting all Transactional Analysis

So last week I had some interesting responses to a question I put out there on Twitter about Transactional Analysis. I was asking what we should be driving people towards in helping them to understand the model. Should we be telling people to always try and reach an Adult conversation, or should we be telling them to aim for complimentary transactions?

I love me a bit of gobbledygook.

Transactional Analysis is essentially about helping you to observe behaviours in others, and identifying what ‘state’ they’re in. They can either be in a ‘Parent state’, ‘Adult state’, or ‘Child state’. If they’re in Parent state, this is when they are using language and displaying behaviour that is in line with judging others, being critical, coming from a moral high ground, defining right and wrong (this set of behaviours are called ‘critical parent’), nurturing others, caring for them, kind behaviours, (‘nurturing parent’). If they’re in Adult state, they are being empathetic, calm, logical, rational, in control of their emotions, and being a steady force. If they’re in Child state, this is where they are being fun, spontaneous, rebellious, single-minded, creative, and emotional. These descriptors aren’t exhaustive, I’m just hoping to provide some context to the jargon.

Eric Berne (the father of TA), helped us to understand that in most conversations we flow between these states constantly. And naturally this is because of the conversations we are having with others. He described those conversations as being transactions. Person A sends the message, Person B receives the message and responds. He said sometimes those transactions are complimentary. E.g.

Person A – Why did you not file the report on time? (Parent state)
Person B – Because the information we received was wrong and needing correcting before I submitted it. (Adult state).


Person A – I feel like getting some ice-cream. Do you fancy some? (Child state)
Person B – No thanks, I don’t enjoy eating ice-cream without a meal. (Parent state)

And sometimes those transactions become crossed. E.g.

Person A – Why did you not file the report on time? (Parent state)
Person B – How dare you accuse me of being slack in my work, you have no idea how hard I tried to get that report in on time. (Child state)


Person A – I feel like getting some ice-cream. Do you fancy some? (Child state)
Person B – What at this time of day? Don’t you know it will cause you dental problems in the long run? (Parent state)

In both those examples, you can see how easy it is that one response may be given over the other.

Often, I’ve heard it taught that you should be trying to get each other to Adult state in order to have the best transaction. I’m not so convinced.

Human nature doesn’t stay stale. It doesn’t stay in one state. We are in constant flow, and this is exciting. It means we either really connect with others or we really don’t. Life is made all the more richer by exploring those conversations to see where they can lead. Keeping each other in Adult state just sounds so boring.

My impression is that we should be helping others to reach complimentary transactions more often than not. And when I reflect on it, that’s when I’ve been most engaged, most interested, most in love, most vibrant, because I’ve found a way to transact with someone which is complimentary and very exciting.

What do you think?

You’re already a body language expert

Body language. Eye contact. Folded arms. Mirroring. Matching energy levels. Mehrabian myth. Microexpressions. Blah, blah, blah. Y’all need to heed my words, and heed them well. In this post I will reveal to you the underlying secrets of body language, where no one has been able to do so before. I will explain the simplicity of becoming a body language reading expert manipulator.

I was delivering a course today on Building Positive Relationships. It’s not a difficult course to be honest. Learn what rapport looks like, how to actively listen, use questioning, read body language and learn about transactional analysis. Aside from the TA, all the other topics could be taught by a dormouse. Eric Berne’s work on TA was and is impressive stuff. You can observe behaviours and infer a ‘state’ of mind? Fascinating. Beyond that, you can temper your own body language, thereby influencing the person you are ‘transacting’ with? Never. Teach me to suck eggs please, I forgot how to do that.

I’m being flippant about TA and it’s insights. It really is a fascinating tool to help understand human relationships within an understandable framework. That’s not what I want to focus on. I want to focus on – why are we not all experts in reading body language? The first exercise I got the group to do was a simple introduction where they go round talking with each other. And from that the group demonstrated to me that they already understood how to respond to body language. So what were they looking for? What golden nuggets could they learn?

There is no golden nugget. Sorry to burst the bubble. All these ‘experts’ in the field, well they’re pseudo-experts. Even I, who think I am pretty damned observant and insightful when it comes to body language, doubt how much I truly see and understand. The only actual experts in the field of body language are those who have studied it for years to understand what ’emotions’ are being conveyed. This is as far as body language takes you. It takes you no further. Paul Ekman’s seminal work on the very topic is all about microexpressions. The six commonly understood microexpressions are: disgust, fear, anger, sadness, joy and surprise. These aren’t messages. They’re not difficult to learn what they look like. There’s no secret to identifying them. They are readily understood by most cultures across the world.

Beyond this, what do you hope to learn? How to influence people? How to make them do what you want? How to be successful in that interview? How to deliver a great pitch? Do you realise that your body language alone is only one group of indicators that help to deliver the message you are trying to put across? If you want to get better at it, the only way this is possible – and I mean the only way, is through feedback from someone who understands the human condition. This isn’t restricted to any profession. We’re all capable of seeing how one behaviour elicits a response from someone else. Your own self-awareness is very limited in respect to identifying if your body language is appropriate or not. Short of videoing yourself, you’ll never truly gain this insight.

So have you figured it out yet? If you want to be a body language controlling jedi knight, it won’t happen. What can happen is the way you understand your surroundings. Your environment feeds a lot into what body language someone chooses to display. The language they use tells you a lot about how much they understand about the message. The tone of voice tells you a lot about how they feel about the message. How they respond to others tells you a lot about how they respect and appreciate that person. How they act after the meeting tells you a lot about what they took away from that meeting. There’s a complete picture you need to take into account before you decide to hone in on specifics.

Sure, read what’s out there. It’s interesting and might seem like it makes sense. Then come to me and tell me exactly how a) you didn’t realise it before b) will do anything differently now you know c) you will know if you’ve actually improved.