Transactional analysis is the theory that all of our communication we do comes from one of three “ego states”: the parent, the child or the adult. Depending on the relationship, how we feel and how the other person is acting, we address the other from one of the three states. We can also change our alter ego’s at any time, based on the circumstances.

Here are a couple of simple clues to see which ego is sending the signal:

  • Parent ego state: parents are worldly and experienced, so this state tends to speak critically of anything that does not match their point of view. They’re also protecting and trying to nurture. Physical signs include finger pointing, patronizing gestures, angry or impatient body-language. Verbal signs include the words always, never, for once and for all, judgmental words, critical words.
  • Child ego state: can do what they want and rebel, but can also conform and adapt. Responses of the child ego are driven by emotions they are feeling. Physical signs include whining voice, rolling eyes, teasing, delight, squirming and giggling. Verbal signs could be I wish, I want, I don’t care, oh no, not again.
  • Adult ego state: rational behavior, looking for the best possible outcome, trying to find the most effective way to achieve it. Acting based on thinking, not on emotions. Physical signs include attentive, interested, straight-forward, tilted head, non-threatening and non-threatened. Verbal signs include why, what, how, where and when, how much, I think, I see, I realize, I believe, in my opinion.

In a professional relationship, adult to adult is the most ideal and effective situation. It is interesting if you can monitor when and with whom you find yourself slipping into a parent or child ego: getting frustrated by someones behavior and wanting to correct it? That’s the parent talking. Driven by your emotion? The child ego state could be acting up.

The first step to become more self-aware is to get to know the when and where of your ego-states a bit better. With this knowledge, it becomes possible to see if you could alter your behavior to be more effective.