A Coaching Power Tool Created by Agnes Dr. Darida
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
In many situations of our lives, the most effective way of communication is an assertive, rational, adult behavior.We tend to think that just because we are grown up, we communicate as adults. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. We all experience sometimes ourselves or the other party reacting inappropriately.
Have you ever found yourself overreacting to a situation just like a preschooler?
Or acting like a good girl or good boy, wanting to please your boss or someone else?
Have you ever talked to your partner or spouse the way your parents talked to you when you were little?Criticizing them for who they are or what they do or giving them instructions?
Even if we have been grown-ups for many years, and most events in our lives require an adult-like communication, sometimes we don’t behave like that. What is the reason?
You can find the answer in Eric Berne’s and his followers’ theories. They will enrich your dealings with people and your work as a coach, providing you with a deeper understanding of yourself and your clients.
Psychiatrist Eric Berne developedthe concept ofTransactional Analysisand published his book Games People Play in 1964.
Berne said that
verbal communication, particularly face to face, is at the center of human social relationships and psychoanalysis.
Transactional Analysis (TA) is
a system of popular psychology based on the idea that one’s behavior and social relationships reflect an interchange between parental (critical and nurturing), adult (rational), and childlike (intuitive and dependent) aspects of personality established early in life.(Source: Transactional Analysis)
According to Berne, all people have three main ego states: (Source: Eric Berne)
This is our ingrained voice of authority, absorbed conditioning, learning and attitudes from when we were young.
We were conditioned by our parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, older people, neighbors, typically by phrases and attitudes starting with ‘how to’, ‘should’, ‘always’ and ‘never forget’, ‘don’t lie, cheat, steal’, etc. Our ‘Parent’ is formed by external events and influences. The two types are Critical and Nurturing Parent.
Our ‘Adult’ is our ability to think and determine action for ourselves, based on received data.
The rational adult helps us keep our Parent and Child under control.
Our internal reaction and feelings to external events form the ‘Child’. When anger or despair dominates reason, the Child is in control.
The TA Model distinguishes between Free and Adapted/ Rebellious Child. Being in the Child ego state does not mean being childish. It simply means that you are acting out as you did when you were a child.
Image source: TA
We communicate from one of our ego states. It is determined by our feelings which one we use, and there can be a shift from one state to another, triggered by something at any time.
Which ego states are typical for you?
You can find some questionnaires online, for example: Egogramme
Based on Berne’s work, Jack M. Dusay created the Egogramin the 1970’s.
An Egogram is a bar graph showing the relationship of the ego states (parts of the personality) to each other and the distribution of energy in the personality.
Self Application: Create Your Egogram
Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line with 5 or 6 bars, each representing one of the ego states.I use the Egogram in a slightly different way than Dusay. He used 5 bars, while I use 6 bars, which means 2 separate bars for the Rebellious and Adapted Child. These are two sides of the same coin, because they both react to the world around them either fitting in (Adapted Child) or rebelling against the forces they feel (Rebellious Child). In my opinion, it is useful to draw them separately as it tells more details about the personality.
- CP for Critical Parent
- NP for Nurturing Parent
- A for Adult
- FC for Free Child
- AC for Adapted Child
- RC for Rebellious Child
Think of yourself at this particular time or at a specific moment in the past, draw whatever you feel is the most energized part of your personality, and draw it with a vertical line. (This will be your highest column.)
Now, using your intuition, draw the lowest energized part of your personality as it is in comparison with the other. (This will be the lowest column.)
Then fill in the other states as you see them in comparison with the above.
Having done the exercise, you should have now an Egogram of the distribution of your energy within your personality at a given time. This will help you see where you might need at certain times to re-distribute your energy. (Source: egogram)
Reflect on how much time and energy you spend in the unhelpful or negative part of each ego state, and shade this in.
Consider what changes you would like to make in your Egogram.
According to Dusay’s constancy hypothesis, when the energy in one ego state increases, the energy in another ego state decreases. It means that we can successfully distribute our energy from one ego state to another.
The most effective way to bring about change in our Egogram is to increase the energy or time of the ego state that we want to have more of.
We can do this by identifying the characteristics and behaviors of the desired ego state and do these.
It is important to know that there are no good or bad ego states. Though, to communicate successfully in an assertive way, we need to find the ego state which is most adequate and effective in the given situation. This will help us avoid playing so-called psychological games (a key part of TA), which usually do not contribute to a healthy adult relationship, like playing the Victim, the Rescuer or the Persecutor.
It is extremely challenging to think clearly when we are emotionally charged. Sometimes we don’t hear what the other person is really saying, we just hear our own interpretation and react to it. For example, if someone criticizes us, it might be just a remark about what we did, but we interpret is as “I’m not good enough” and it triggers a deep emotional reaction of the Child.
People often don’t see their own role as to how they contributed when something went wrong.
The role of the coach is to make the client aware of what happened: let them look at the situation from a different angle, see how they contributed to the outcome, see what roles they play, what ego states they are in.
Let your clientsfind out how they can use a different kind of communication, a different ego state to get the desired result without destructing the relationship.
It is empowering to recognize that we have the power and the freedom to change the outcome of challenging situations.
Tell your client briefly about the ego states. You can talk about the ego states in general, analyze together their current situation or a specific moment in the past. You can use the following questions:
- Which ego state(s) did you communicate from?Who were you in the situation? What role were you playing?
- How did you feel, behave, talk?
- Which ego state(s) did your partner communicate from?
- What happened that made a shift in your/ their communication and ego state?
- What are your body sensations when you react as a Parent or Adult or Child?
Let your client create their Egogram
- In what situations are each of these ego states useful?
- Which ego states are the most/less dominant in your life?
- Which of your ego states support you the most /least?
- In what situations do they appear?Write down some typical situations where you react like a Parent or Child. What would be your ideal reaction?
- What does the Egogram of your ideal self look like?
- Which ego states would you like to change? In which direction?
- Which ego states do you need to work on?Which of your ego states do need to be strengthened?
Practice effective communication with role-play
If we want to communicate successfully in our grown-up relationships, we need to keep our conversations at the adult level: being rational, logical, factual, clear, straight-forward, treating others as equals, being in the ‘here and now’, coming from an integrated adult stance.
A dominant parent (controlling, critical) or a dominant child (too emotional, not thinking of the consequences) ego state will inhibit the real potential for positive change in our lives.
(I’m focusing on adult-to-adult situations here, not on how to communicate with our children as parents.)
You can do some role-play with your client, practicing how to keep the conversation at the adult level. The client can find out, repeat and write down sentences for themselves that they can practice at home, too.
- What are the characteristics and behaviors of the desired ego state?
- What can you do to act like that?
- What would be your ideal adult reaction in a situation where you acted like a Parent or Child before?
- How can you prepare for typical events that require the Adult ego state?
- What reactions, behavior, sentences need to be practiced in advance?
- When you are in a similar situation next time, how can you make sure you react as an Adult?
- How can you remind yourself that you want to react as an adult?
- How can you stay in the Adult ego state when your partner switches to the Parent/Child ego state?
You can recommend the following exercise to your client:
If you are in a situation where you usually behave as a Parent or Child, just stop for a moment and hit the pause button. When the event occurs, you only have a few seconds before your automatic negative reactions kick in. If you notice the upcoming Parent or Child response early enough, you can separate from it and choose an adult response.
Take a few deep breaths, and say to yourself:“I am calm and conscious. I choose to behave as an Adult.” (You can find out other affirmations.)
Maya Angelou said: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
When you know better, you do better. Most people play games because they don’t know any better, they have no other tools to cope with a certain situation. Their coping strategy may have been successful as a child, when they wanted to get their parents’ attention, but as an adult, it is more effective to use adult behavior.
So instead of “When you know better, you do better” we can also say: “When you know better, you don’t need to play games”.
Eric Berne: Games People Play
John M. Dusay: Egograms: How I see you and you see me