Should we Project Managers learn some Psychology? That wouldn’t do any harm. Following I will try to describe a psychological theory I have put into practice with good results. It allows me to explain “why people argue”. Even better, when it’s me the one involved in the argument, it allows me to take distance from emotion: I think there are situational patterns and common solutions. What happen to me has happened to much more people before.
According Canadian psychiatrist Eric Berne, who developed the theory known as Transactional Analysis, published in 1964 within his famous book Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, when people communicate, they basically interact from three ego-states: the parent “me”, the adult “me”, and the child “me”.
When I draw these three ego-states with circles one above the other, the figure reminds me of a snowman:
- The parent “me” represents norms rules and attitudes. All the opinions about right and wrong, how we should behave and how we should act are represented here, along with all the “musts” and “nos”, praise and encouragement. We take our parental self from our childhood so it is linked strongly to the environment we grew up in. The parental “me” can be divided into two parts. There is a critical, authoritarian side which sets limits and gives warnings (critical parent –KP-). The other part is the caring side which encourages and helps (caring parent –CP-).
- The adult “me” contains our ability to think independently, without being affected by our adult or child selves other tan to receive information from them. The adult self makes rational decisions, collects information, analyses, refines and assesses probability. This self is logical, objective and free of prejudice. Another way of describing this “me” is to call it your computer.
According to Transactional Analysis, when people communicate, the message sender uses one of his “me” to head the receiver “me”: that is a transaction. When receiver responds, that is another transaction:
Let’s illustrate the theory by setting some examples. Let’s imagine two people waiting in the cinema line:
Now imagine an employee asking for advice to her boss:
Boss and employee don’t have an argument neither in this sequence:
Now the opposite example in which there is an argument. It’s me coming home asking something to my wife:
Oops! Now I better resolve the transaction constructively to win the transactional game (I recalled A->A):
Do you see how the theory works? It’s not about manipulating people. It’s just about to know how to communicate effectively. Knowing there are theories explaining what happen to us is useful to take distance from emotions, which is really necessary sometimes.