The role of parent focuses on shoulds and coulds!

The role of parent focuses on shoulds and coulds!

Transactional analysis has three egos states: the parent, the child and the adult. Each of these ego states has different attributes, and an understanding of each can help IT professionals better communicate. The parent alter ego is the voice of authority and leadership. Our parent ego state is absorbed from our parents and other significant authority figures.  The broader the exposure to authority figures, the broader the feelings and behavior we will incorporate into the parent ego state.  For example, a child living closely within an extended family will emulate behaviors from the wide range of authority figures – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.  Communication is critical to applying frameworks such as Agile and transactional analysis provides a tool for effective communication. The transactional analysis framework outlines how each of the different ego states interact with each other. Interactions with the parent ego state are described below.


Parent to parent interactions are common In the IT world.  For example, controlling parents seek dominance, while a nurturing parent seeks to provide solace and support. When two people whose controlling parent ego state is dominate interact – conflict generally occurs.  As an example, think of how many teams struggle when two or more members engage in the classic “who’s in charge” debate.


The second type of parent lead interaction is parent to child communication. For example, command and control leaders generally act as the parent and interact with their followers as children. In its most absolute form, the leader with a dominant parent ego state will tell his/her employees what to do. Agile coaches or scrum masters will tend to leverage the nurturing parent ego state. As we noted, the activities of a coach include a variable mix of activities that includes: consulting, cajoling, training, arbitration and mentoring. None of which would be effective if delivered from the controlling parent ego state.


The third major category of communication is parent to adult interactions. These reflect interactions with a quant or the office “realist.”  The adult ego state gathers information, reasons things out, considers possibilities in black and white fashion and then makes decisions in a calm, rational manner. The adult will avoid becoming the victim of the other person in the interaction by carefully controlling how they respond to the situation, acting rationally rather than reacting emotionally or based on opinions.  The controlling parent will be frustrated by this scenario.

Having a clear understanding of how the parent ego state normally interacts with the other ego states is important, as this ego state is leveraged in most leadership scenarios. (We will tackle crossed transactions and “games” later this week.) Often leaders deliver the “ought to” or “should not” messages as a mechanism to get their way, which is a reflection of the controlling or nurturing parent ego states.