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INSIGHTS / Articles

Constructing Cooperative Relationships – Part III: Creating a Common Channel

 20 Oct 2016 
INSIGHTS / Articles

Constructing Cooperative Relationships – Part III: Creating a Common Channel

 20 Oct 2016 

Parts I and II and of this article series looked at why communication fails and how the human brain reacts in different ways, where being conscious of this you can tailor the way you communicate to ensure you get more cooperation from your peers.

Graphic of businesswoman with speech bubble on the right

This time we’re looking at egos and how our internal thought processes can influence the way we communicate. People naturally have different tendencies and are influenced by internal and external pressures; we need to be aware of these and adapt our way of communicating with individuals based on theirs. You can use these tips to try out in your own environment and see how you can help sway your communication to suit your ego, as well as that of your audience.

Our ego is our silent partner, too often with a controlling interest - Cullen Hightower.

We all deal with different people continually, and egos naturally factor into the way that we communicate, often resulting in conflict or even aggression between individuals. Can you think of a time when you have been in meetings where one person ‘takes the stage’ and nobody else really gets a word in? It destroys the rapport of the group, where people don’t put forward their opinions (which could be incredibly valuable) and leave them feeling disengaged and thinking ‘what was the point of that meeting?’.

Dr. Eric Berne developed the concept of ‘Transactional Analysis’ in the 1950s, whose findings state that there are three ego-states (or frames of mind) that are used consistently by people, which drive the way people behave and interact with each other.

See if you can work out which category you (and those around you) might fit most into at different times (you can move from one to another depending on the situation). Note that these states are related to our behaviour, rather than our age.

Letters PAC vertically aligned on the left. P = Parent Ego State: Behaviours, thoughts and feelings copied from parents or parent figures. A = Adult Ego State: Behaviours, thoughts and feeling which are direct responses to the here and now. C = Child Ego State. Behaviours, thoughts and feelings replayed from childhood.

Parent – this contains patterns of behaviour from significant authority figures (similar to our actual parents) including values and morals, our ideas of right and wrong, or good and bad:

  • Parents can be seen as either nurturing or controlling, and can often be an unconscious behaviour derived from what we have learned from our figures of authority
  • The controlling (or critical) parent tries to make others do what they want and might say things like "you must" or "you’re wrong” – you can almost see them wagging their finger in the air at you; often their tone of voice could be stern which is taken as condescending by their audience, not at all encouraging for a collaborative Agile team
  • The nurturing parent is more of a caring or pampering role, saying things like "I'll take care of you" or "well done"; be careful of this role, while it is supportive and sympathetic of others, you may find that everyone dumps all their garbage and unwanted tasks on you!

Child – this does not mean behaving childishly but is concerned with behaviour and feelings as experienced in childhood; they can often be blaming or critical and raw emotions expressed openly, which could be traits that need to be reined in quickly in Agile teams:

  • Children can be seen as natural, exploring (little professor) or adaptive
  • The natural child is spontaneous, fun loving and uninhibited; they are largely unaware of themselves and their actions, and may talk in expressive uninhibited tones such as “yahoo” or “boo”, while possibly also whinging or sulking, e.g. “it’s not fair” or “nobody cares”
  • The little professor is curious and enjoys exploring new things; in the Agile working environment this can take the form of heading off on a tangent and can sometimes be seen as a positive trait, especially in testers and in particular exploratory testing – “what happens if I try this?” – however sometimes they may need to be pulled back on track, especially if there is limited time to achieve certain tasks within your iterations
  • Finally, the adaptive child is able to identify the constraints of dealing with others (particularly authority figures such as parents) and can change to fit in rather than continually fighting back; they are still open with their emotions but can be very creative and benefit a team with their fresh perspectives, open minds and usually positive attitudes

Adult – the more rational/neutral person, who is functional and offers direction to the team:

  • They are neither controlling nor aggressive towards others
  • Adults are comfortable with themselves and accept reality; they have acquired the skills of problem solving and decision making
  • The adult state takes into account our own feelings and those of others, while still remembering the objectives and practicalities of a situation

I can think of occasions where I have reverted to each of these states myself – in parent mode when I need to repeat an important message to someone who hasn’t heeded it in the past; in child mode when I’ve felt under pressure and let my emotions show openly; and adult mode when I’m coaching others and getting their buy-in to certain tasks.

Self-organising and high-performing Agile teams are likely to have a mixture of egos, and each can bring their own strengths to ensure a collaborative environment where they are driven toward their common goals. For example, a ‘child’ in a team may bring a sense of fun and creativity, but might need bringing back on track occasionally to ensure their tasks are completed successfully to achieve the team’s goal.

Parent Adult Child transactional analysis

Each time one person communicates with others, this is called a transaction. Transactional Analysis looks at how these different egos communicate with each other. Looking at the diagram above, if I am in parent mode, I transact with others in Parent, Adult and Child modes – each of which I would need to consider the best way to communicate with them.

Many of the defaults within us are unintentional, we are pre-programmed based on previous experiences so we have natural tendencies to behave in a certain way – whether it is to comply, resist or both. Often this means we are not sending or receiving communication in the way it is intended.

Don’t let your ego get in the way! We need to try and be Adults when we deal with each other, and also be aware of the egos around you. Compromise and negotiation may be required from each party to ensure a common understanding and clear direction of the team to work in a cooperative manner. This results in a far greater chance of succeeding as a team – we don’t want to rid ourselves of our egos, but acknowledging and tailoring the way we work together helps create a win/win situation.

Two magnifying glasses held over two silhouettes of heads with the word 'win' in each

In this article series constructing cooperative relationships, our "virtual house” previously had foundations and now we’ve built some walls around the way that we work together. In Part IV we will look at how we can build strong relationships with our colleagues (the virtual roof), delving more into identifying and valuing the strengths of others to help towards your cooperative teams.


Kate Ellery

Director - People Experience & Strategy

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