Thursday, March 3, 2011

Talk to Me

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It is amazing how often people say, "Talk to me." It is even more curios that in many cases what they mean is "I will talk, and you will listen." Why do we forget that communication goes both ways: "you talk, and I listen, and then we switch?" Knowing a little bit about transactional analysis can help reduce misunderstanding and establish and effective connection. Here is how I see it. According to the psychology of transactional analysis, there are three major roles: Parent (mimicking our parents' behavior), Child (acting like we did during childhood) and Adult (thinking and acting sanely, perceiving information as it is). To have a successful conversation, two adults are needed in order to share the ideas and give each other rational advices. However, it often happens that we behave inappropriately, and the conversation we have with someone leads us nowhere. Let's see how the roles we take on influence the way we speak.

1. Parent. This role supposes that I (the person taking on the role) am knowledgeable and need to teach others. Behaving this way people usually lecture others and point out their mistakes with an air of authority. There are accordingly three responses to this kind of behavior:
Parent: "Why are you telling me what to do, I know better than that."
Child: "You always think I'm stupid, and it hurts me."
Adult: "Let's see what lesson I can get from this speech."
An effective communication occurs in the last case only, as the goal of a conversation is to learn something new and what's even better, find a solution to a particular problem that bothered us. It is crucial to understand that when a person lectures us, it is not because he/she considers us to be stupid or him/her to be smarter; he/she does this in order to help us, and this is the individual's way to do it. If such a manner bothers you, break the ice and tell the person with a smile, "You are talking just like my mom." The person should get the clue and switch to the adult's role with no offense.

2. Child. This role is characterized by ingenuousness and spontaneous expression of emotions. People in this role may be playful and avoid getting straight to the point. But they are certainly easier to deal with than Parents. Often, though, they would expect you to stay within their game, and if you are not feeling like it, tell them trying not to offend them. A Child may offer to go watch TV instead of cleaning the house, for example, which may provoke the following reactions:
Parent: "No, you have to clean the house first, you never do it." (Child will get upset, so be careful with this.)
Child: "Sure! I'd love to." (Perfect communication, but the house stays dirty.)
Adult: "That's cool, but why don't we clean first, and then we'll have the rest of the day to watch the programs we like not thinking about the chores." (Probably, the best way to go, if the "Child" won't start crying, and Adult turns submissively into a Parent or a Child.)

3. Adult. This is the level all communication should ideally strive for. A person opens his/her mouth to give out neutral information that can be of use to the interlocutor. Now the thing is how they are going to use it. They may also feel that they are being lectured or diminished, but they are less likely to react aggressively.

Understanding that people switch roles quickly throughout a conversation helps to communicate in an effective way. If you know that you are talking to a Parent, show him/her respect and assure that their opinion matters. If you are conversing with a Child, play with him/her trying to turn serious matters into an exciting game ("While cleaning the house, we're gonna play Treasure Hunt."). Finally, if your interlocutor is an adult, you can relax; just don't let out your own inner Parent or Child, or this will be a trouble for your communication partner now.

For more info on Transactional Analysis, check out Wikipedia:


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