transactional analysis (TA)

Transactional analysis (or TA as it is often called) is a model of people and relationships that was developed during the late 1950s and early 1960s by Dr Eric Berne. It is based on two notions: first that we have three parts or 'ego-states' to our 'personality'. The other assumption is that these parts of ourselves converse with one another in 'transactions' (hence the name). TA is a very common model used in coaching, management and leadership development.

We use TA selectively to support individuals and teams to communicate effectively, operate with integrity and form strong mutually respectful relationships within which commercially robust decisions can be made and business progress enhanced.

Parent, adult and child

We each have internal models of parents, children and also adults, and we play these roles with one another in our relationships. We even do it with ourselves, in our internal conversations.


The model shows the three ego states (parent, adult and child) and describes the external (two people) and the internal (intrapersonal) methods by which transactions can become corrupt and damaged.

transactional_analysis_diagramThe TA Model recognises that the first person to speak takes responsibility for the quality of the communication and the style of the relationship. It is much easier to modify your position if you are in the 'left-hand' position. How we talk to others and how we talk to our selves can have an impact on how everyone feels, thinks and reacts.


There are two forms of parent we can play:

The nurturing parent is caring and concerned and often may appear as a mother-figure (though men can play it too). They seek to keep the other person safe and offer unconditional love, calming them when they are troubled. The nurturing parent often avoids conflict and attempts to encourage and praise when another approach may be more effective and more honest.

The controlling (or critical) parent, on the other hand, tries to make the other person do what they want them to do, perhaps transferring values or beliefs or helping the other person to understand and operate within a family or organisational setting. They may also have negative intent, using the other person as a whipping-boy or worse. The controlling parent often seeks to criticise and humiliate others by pointing out all of their failures when a more balanced approach may create more learning and understanding.


The adult in us is the 'grown up' rational person who talks reasonably and assertively, neither trying to control nor reacting. The adult is comfortable with themselves and is, for many of us, our 'ideal self'. This is a difficult position to sustain and in the modern re-evaluation of the transactional analysis model this part of the ego system has often been referred to as integrated adult - an ability to use the other four extremes appropriately and with good intent to ensure the maximum benefit to the individuals involved.


There are two types of child we can play:

The natural child is largely un-self-aware and is characterised by the non-speech noises they make (yahoo, etc.). They like playing and are open and vulnerable. In adults this aspect of our character is often seen as a 'reaction' to being over managed or not trusted - slamming doors, shouting and stamping their feet when they don’t get what they want.

The adaptive child reacts to the world around them, either changing themselves to fit in or rebelling silently by trying to get even when no-one is looking. The adaptive adult can be seen as a perfect employee as they tend to do exactly what they are told without making a fuss – the dilemma here is that they are in fact 'infantilised' and as such are unlikely to ever make a decision for themselves and therefore need more managing and monitoring

Communications (transactions)

When two people communicate, each exchange is a transaction. Many of our problems come from transactions which are unsuccessful.

Parents naturally speak to children, as this is their role as a parent. They can talk with other parents and adults, although the subject still may be about the children.

The nurturing parent naturally talks to the natural child and the controlling parent to the adaptive child. In fact these parts of our personality are evoked by the opposite. Thus if I act as an adaptive child, I will most likely evoke the controlling parent in the other person.

We also play many games between these positions, and there are rituals from greetings to whole conversations (such as the weather) where we take different positions for different events. These are often 'pre-recorded' as scripts we just play out. They give us a sense of control and identity and reassure us that all is still well in the world. Other games can be negative and destructive and we play them more out of sense of habit and addiction than constructive pleasure.


Complementary transactions occur when both people are at the same level. Thus parent talking to parent, etc. Here, both are often thinking in the same way and communication is easy. Problems usually occur in crossed transactions, where the other person is at a different level.

The parent is either nurturing or controlling, and often speaks to the child, who is either adaptive or 'natural' in their response. When both people talk as a parent to the other's child, their wires get crossed and conflict results.

The ideal line of communication is the mature and rational adult-adult relationship.

So what?

In rooms and offices in your business these interactions are being played out. Often they work, sometimes they even help. But on other occasions they get in the way leaving your employees feeling belittled, infantalised and disengaged.