The basic theory propounded by Dr Berne and the subsequent discussions on the subject have been presented by Dr Thomas A Harris, founder-president of the Institute of Transactional Analysis, California, in his book, ‘I’m OK—You’re OK’.
In any business where services and products are delivered at the counters on a person-to-person basis, a study of TA should prove useful in understanding and appropriately responding to varied behaviour.
TA divides an individual’s personality into three ego states. An ego state has been defined as a consistent pattern of thinking, feeling or behaving. These states are produced by recalling the past events involving real people, real times, real places and real feelings. The ego states are helpful in distinguishing the words from their literal counterparts.
The three ego states that have been identified are parent, adult and child.
The Parent State:
This is that state of the human personality which relates mainly to values, opinions and experiences of childhood. This state may be expressed either through the critical parent or the nurturing parent.
The Adult State:
The adult state refers to the rational part of the human personality. Problem solving and decision making under this state are done on the basis of a careful assessment of factual data.
The Child State:
This state relates to the emotional part of the human personality. This state may be expressed either through the free child or the adopted child.
TA also refers to the four life positions concerning one’s own self as well as others. They are as follows:
1. I’m OK—you’re OK:
This is an eminently desirable position. It indicates an acceptance of one’s own self-worth as well as that of others. In this, the position transcends personal experiences and accepts not-yet-experienced abstractions and possibilities.
This life position shows a positive approach in dealing with real-life situations. The person concerned shows sense of maturity and is not uneasy
while dealing with others. People with this attitude enjoy positions of leadership and do well in terms of developing and sustaining meaningful interpersonal relationships.
2. I’m not OK—you’re OK:
This position relates to the acceptance of others but not of self. The person feels that there is something lacking in himself/herself.
This life position shows a shortcoming in dealing with real-life positions. There may be a certain inferiority complex in interacting with others. By nature, this person will be submissive or passive.
Such persons often show a subservient attitude and may also be conspicuous by their self-denial. Very often, ‘I’m not OK—you’re OK’ kind of people look up to others for advice and seek constant guidance.
3. I’m OK—you’re not OK:
This position relates to the acceptance of self but not of others. The person feels that there is something lacking in others.
This life position too has its limitation in dealing with real-life situations. In this case, the person concerned will have a superiority complex. The posture the person takes in dealing with situations is aggressive or even intimidating. This person tries to dominate and tends to provide unsolicited advice.
4. I’m not OK—you’re not OK:
This position refers to the rejection of both self and others. For them, nothing is right. There is something lacking in them and also in others.
This life position too is very inadequate and deficient in dealing with people and situations. They are the opposite of ‘I’m OK—you’re OK’ kind of persons. Such persons are conspicuous by their negative or pessimistic approach.
They undermine themselves as well as others. They look down upon others, do not give credit for positive development and paint a gloomy picture. Such an attitude is certainly not conducive for becoming an effective leader.
Against this background of human personality, TA attempts to analyze a transaction. A transaction forms a basic unit of communication, i.e., a stimulus by one person and a response by the other.
Obviously, such transactions keep taking place among people in a family, community and organization all the time. Transactions take place every time people meet or a communication takes place.
All such transactions are categorized into three types: complementary transactions, uncomplimentary or crossed transactions and hidden transactions. Complementary transaction takes place when the conversation proceeds smoothly, with expected responses emanating from the listener.
On the other hand, in a crossed transaction, there is an unexpected response, leading to a breakdown in communication. In a hidden transaction, real responses are conveyed through facial expressions or other actions, and the words expressed do not convey the real meaning.
Dr Eric Berne claims that people spend 50 per cent of their waking hours in playing games. A game has been described as a covert method for either giving or collecting strokes, usually negative strokes or insults.
Games People Play:
Understanding the ‘Games People Play’ is what TA is all about. To the extent TA constitutes yet another approach to the understanding of human behaviour, people in businesses and organizations dealing with customers, colleagues and other public on a regular basis should find a study of the subject rewarding.
Ego states and life positions described above significantly influence the behaviour of people. As we have ‘seen earlier, the process of communication is also influenced by human behaviour and attitudes.
Communication and interpersonal skills are again influenced by personality traits. The rational part and the emotional part of the human personality exert their influence on people in their transactions.
Communication and Life Positions:
Understanding the life position from which a person operates is very essential for making communication effective. Persons in the ‘I’m OK— you’re OK’ category will show a positive and mature approach in dealing with various kinds of people and ensure that communication does not break down.
Dominating colleagues and rude customers who may belong to the ‘I’m OK—you’re not OK’ class of people have to be dealt with in an appropriate manner. To the extent TA constitutes an essential approach in understanding human behaviour so relevant for effective interpersonal communication, it would be beneficial to understand the concept and use it for making business communication worthwhile.