To help with the process of reflection, I suggest that before reading this article, try to remember a recent interaction that you consider was not successful. Keep this in the back of your mind as you read on. At the conclusion of the article, I am hopeful that you will be able to identify two things:
- Which communication styles were adopted during the recalled unsuccessful interaction
- Whether you could have changed the outcome for the better by altering your own communication style.
Parent – Adult – Child Framework
The styles of communication that I will be explaining come from the Parent-Adult-Child framework, as defined in the Transactional Analysis communication model. The three styles are explained in Diagram 1.
Parent-Child Communication Style
We will focus in this article on the Parent – Child communication. This is very common in families and workplaces. The one adopting the Parent style is often the older family member or more senior employee. The one adopting the Child style is often the offspring or younger sibling in the family, or the younger and/or more junior employee. These two styles can also be patterned behaviour for husband and wife partnerships.
Parent – Child communication is layered with emotion and judgement. This can be appropriate at certain times such as emergencies. At other times, the P-C-P cycle is reactionary with set roles played by both parties. Over the long term, it often does not achieve the desired results, but the pattern continues regardless.
In the situation shown in Diagram 2, Person A has initiated the conversation with a command or authoritative statement (Parent to Child), such as “You should have done a better job at that” with the response, (Child to Parent) “Yes, I should have. You are right. I’m sorry”. This is an authoritative and submissive communication, with Person B responding in the expected submissive way, keeping the communication channels parallel.
Communication in the Parent – Child states will go on indefinitely unless someone makes a change. In the long term, they are not productive in either family or workplace as Person A is always dominating and Person B does not develop their opinions, contributions or creative ideas. Left for too long, Person B will often shift from being submissive and obedient to becoming rebellious. This is still a Child response but in a different form, such as “It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s never good enough!” and then leave the room, or the business, or the family fold.
Recognise this? If you see in yourself Person A or Person B … then read on.
What can you do to change the situation?
While it may appear that Person A in this situation is ‘to blame’, both people have been directing their transactions to the other person’s corresponding state. Their purpose is to gain the response that they want or expect. The person behaving in the Parent style expected a Child response, and the Child gave the reply that would elicit a further Parent response. This will go on indefinitely until one of them makes a change.
Introduction of the Adult style will interrupt the P-C-P cycle. Awareness and dissatisfaction with the current cycle is first required to make the change. If the cycle is working for both parties then no change will happen. Once one party is dissatisfied, the change to the Adult style will create a different communication.
When Person A says “You should have done a better job of that”, Person B can respond with an Adult style such as “Yes, I agree there could be some improvements. Can we please organise a time to discuss some ideas that I have to make some changes”. In this response, Person B is not taking on ‘blame’ as intended by Person A. They are acknowledging limitations and taking responsibility for making changes, rather than conforming or rebelling to the Parent style. This transaction is not as comfortable as earlier because Person B does not come from the anticipated state and gives an alternative response. If Person A is in shock, and continues to react as a Parent, then Person B needs to persist with an Adult response one more time. Once the Adult response has been recognised, it will almost always be followed up with an Adult reply, such as “OK, let’s meet after lunch tomorrow”.
These strategies are useful for both parties. Person A can alter future communication by initiating the communication with an Adult style. Person B can alter current communication and adopt an Adult response.
- Take the emotion out of the communication by changing your words and tone of voice
- Adopt an open body position rather than crossed arms (often read as defensive), or hands in pockets (often read as superior or dismissive).
- Use open-ended questions to create a friendly environment. Open-ended questions give the respondent the chance to give a full answer, rather than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I recommend open-ended questions starting with ‘How’, ‘When’, ‘Where’ and ‘Who’. (It can be helpful to avoid the use of ‘Why’ as this can generate a defensive response, giving justification, thus cementing the emotional cycle trying to be avoided.)
Examples could be:
- How would you go about that?
- When would be the best time to start?
- What is the most important change that we could make?
- Where are the books that I could collect to start reading about the new system?
No matter what style of communication someone has used, you can always respond in an Adult style. This will naturally also invite the other person to respond in a more respectful and assertive (rather than aggressive) style, mirroring the Adult style. This simple choice and conscious action can pave the way to significant changes in relationships at work and at home.
Margaret Bridgeford has training in psychology, business, leadership and vibrational medicine. She is the author of “Eat … Think … Heal”, a recommended reading available through RCS. Margaret is also a regular facilitator at ExecutiveLink™. If you have follow up questions from this article, please contact the RCS office for Margaret’s details. Margaret also writes a regular newsletter filled with hints, tips, articles and recipes to assist you to ‘Let Nature Be the Doctor’. To join Margaret’s newsletter, you can register through her website www.margaretbridgeford.com.au