Leveraging the power of Alternative Interventions in Coaching – a transactional analysis perspective
As change catalysts, Executive Coaches have to enable coachees to develop newer ways of thinking, feeling or acting (cognitive, affective or behavioural change).
To enable this, a key skill in Coaches is the ability to understand and articulate human behaviour, thoughts & feelings. Since this human behaviour is couched in an organizational context, a sound grasp of group dynamics is obviously essential.
In other words, Executive Coaches need a sound understanding of the theory of human behaviour and also familiarity with the use of the right techniques that can enable change.
Transactional Analysis (TA) as a ‘theory of personality’, provides a framework to understand and articulate human behaviour in relation to groups; as a ‘theory of social intercourse’, it also provides a set of tools and techniques to enable change. The “underlying philosophy is one of mutual self respect and caring”, which encapsulates CFI’s coaching values.
This article seeks to outline how coaches can use some elements of TA to understand human behaviour and also how to use some of the techniques of TA to enable change in their coachees.
TA was developed by Eric Berne and deals with several aspects of human behaviour: Ego states, which is a structural analysis of personality; Transactions & Strokes which look at communication patterns; Scripts, the analysis of specific life dramas that persons compulsively play out; Life Positions, attitudes with reference to others/the world; Games, Ulterior Transactions played for specific payoffs. Naturally, a discussion of all the above elements is beyond the scope of this article. I will limit myself to how the Ego States model can be used as a framework for understanding human behaviour and as a technique to enable change.
Ego States: A Framework of Personality & a Technique to catalyse behaviour change
According to Berne, all personalities are made up of three ego states – Parent, Adult & Child. At any given point in time, a person operates in one of the three distinct ego states. (The parent and child are subdivided into two each, making it five behaviour styles). All three ego states are important for a healthy personality.
Let’s take the example of AK, the head of a Business Unit in a large consumer products company. When AK is ticking off her team member for not meeting his KRAs or setting limits/rules for the performance of a task, she is operating out of her Controlling Parent ego state. When she is providing comfort for failure and support for better performance, she is operating out of her Nurturing parent.
When she identifies the reasons for the poor performance and problem solves to ensure there is no repeat, she is operating out of her Adult ego state. When AK boisterously invites her team to enjoy a celebratory party for a successful completion or creatively finds an out of the box solution to a knotty problem, she is operating out of her Free child. Finally, when she is adhering to organizational policies to ensure that tasks are completed or when she is complying with the expectations of others, AK is operating out of her Adapted Child. (For a quick reference guide of all the behaviours, check ‘Behavior Styles’ table below)
Behavior Styles Table
Filled with Opinions, conclusions, statements, judgments.
Critical of others, know it all.
Firmness, laying boundaries, rules.
Can be bossy & overbearing.
Pointed finger, legs apart, arms folded across chest, wagging finger, patronizing or critical tone
“You must keep in touch with all your ex bosses”
“Don’t trust this guy. He’s always smiling”
“I think you should get everything in writing. I’m telling you for your own good”
“All Politicians are corrupt”
Caring, sympathetic, comforting, helping, supportive, reassuring
Can be smothering and over protective
Arm or hand on a person’s shoulder, encouraging expression, leaning forward towards the other person, concerned or caring tone of voice
“Don’t get so upset. Your boss will forget it in a day”
“You’ve been working so hard. I thought I’d get you some chocolate to cheer you up.”
“Are you new? Come I’ll introduce you around”
Fact based, responds primarily to the here & now, Logical, Reality testing, Solution focused, problem solving
Relaxed, erect shoulders; Direct eye contact; calm & rational; discussing probabilities; open gestures
“Can we talk this thru?”
“Let’s solve this problem”
“Why did this happen? Can we do this another way?”
Polite, courteous, Adapting, doing the right thing, find it difficult to refuse unreasonable demands from colleagues & customers restrained, afraid to show off, especially polite(sometimes over polite) to customers & senior managers
Sitting very still, fidgeting nervously, eyes downcast, looking out from under eyelashes, inattentive or very attentive
“I wish I could …”
Lots of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’
“Everyone says we shouldn’t work on weekends”
Affectionate, curious, enthusiastic, high energy, expressive, friendly, open, creative, quick display of feelings humor, frustration, happiness
Unselfconscious, head to one side, sitting or standing comfortably
“Come on! Let’s go and watch a movie!”
“Why don’t we start a mobile office?”
“I am so angry with the politicians”
**It is critical to look at supporting tone and other body language clues. Cannot be perceived in isolation.
Thus, the ego states are sources of thoughts & feelings, manifested by corresponding patterns of behaviour, accompanied by typical verbal & non verbal signals. And each of us has all the ego states available to us as a repertoire. In most cases, though, we operate from only one predominant ego state that we draw from, which isn’t consciously chosen or wielded.
How Ego States can be used in Coaching: For the Executive coach, the model facilitates recognition of behaviour patterns & styles that the coachee is operating from; this throws light on several aspects of the coachee’s personality which can feed into coaching goals and in some cases, can be the coaching goals.
SS, CFO in a multinational organization began the coaching discussions with the need to improve his performance & productivity. He maintained that his stress levels were very high and that this has impacted his performance and deliverables. Upon deeper inquiry, we found that the stress was caused by the demands of several business units which competed for his time constantly. The problem statement emerged as his inability to refuse unreasonable demands on his time, as well as his hesitation to be ‘unpopular’.
We completed a 360 degree and gathered feedback from his stakeholders, the results of which tied in with our (coach & coachee) own assessment of the coachee’s primary source of behaviour as ‘Adapted Child’. We used an ego gram to map the behaviour pattern, which expectedly showed a high bar on Adapted Child. (See figure 1) One of the coaching goals were then identified as strengthening his Critical Parent (to set rules & limitations) and Adult (to engage in problem solving with stakeholders rather than concede to their demands), and reducing the Adapted child and Nurturing Parent.
Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy, Eric Berne, M.D.
Games People Play, Eric Berne, M.D.
What Do You Say After You Say Hello? Eric Berne, M.D.
Scripts People Live, Claude Steiner
TA Today, Ian Stewart & Vann Joines
Transactional Analysis for Trainers, Julie Hay
Born To Win, Muriel James & Dorothy Jongeward