Communication Issues

Communication issues are at the top of the list of challenges 21st-Century leaders are facing. Leaders who learn to communicate best — win. Let’s dig into a simple approach that may help you successfully navigate one communication issue — internal conflict.

A Tool to Help You Solve Communication Issues

I sat down with a Millennial leader yesterday to discuss how to deal with conflict in his organization. The issues he face are not unique. Leaders across the country are dealing with conflict either with or between their employees. We ended up discussing a theory that could be very valuable tool for leaders.

In the 1960s, psychiatrist Eric Berne developed the theory of Transactional Analysis to explain human behavior. The real value I see in this theory is that it is easily understandable for most anyone. A person does not have to be a psychiatrist or some sort of genius to understand the basics. Once a person understands this theory, it’s easy to see the root issue and the starting point for solving communication issues. Let’s dig in!

Ego State

In order for managers and supervisors to be successful in today’s multi-generation workforce, they must take a very individualistic approach to leading employees. The Transactional Analysis theory is a great tool to help leaders do that. 

The foundation of the theory is based on what Berne calls ego state. Putting this into my own words as I understand it, I’d say the ego state is where a person’s “head is at” in the moment when it comes to the situation. 

For leaders, understanding that people approach situations with different perspectives and thought processes is key to correctly breaking down the conflict and moving forward in a positive direction. Berne’s theory states that there are 3 ego states: Parent, Child and Adult. Everyone can experience each state. Let’s dig into what you need to know.

Parent Ego State

The theory explains the Parent ego state is created with the experiences a person has in the first five years of life. During this time, kids are hearing lots of “ Do this…” and “Don’t do this…” statements. 

In the workplace, employees in the Parent ego state will likely be the ones telling others what to do or how it is most of the time. You might say they have a “my way or the highway” approach.

Child Ego State

The Child ego state is different than the Parent ego state in that the Parent’s mindset is around control, where as the Child ego state is more focused around feelings. The theory says that this ego state, just like the Parent ego state, is created with the experiences a person has in the first five years of their life. However, instead of processing commands from authority figures as “Do this or that,” the Child ego state processes things less on what is being said to them and more how it made them feel. 

In the workplace, employees acting in the Child ego state may be operating more on feelings than facts. 

Adult Ego State

The theory says that the Adult ego state starts becoming present as early as one year old. In really simple terms, the Adult ego state allows a person to be able to see things as they really are, not just as they have been told or felt. Those operating in the Adult ego state are able to separate feelings from fact.

In the workplace, your goal as a leader should be to get your people to consistently operate from the Adult ego state. Through the Adult ego state, people are able to make sound decisions for themselves and for the business. 

Put It Into Practice

It does a leader no good to learn something new and never put it into practice. So, with the Transactional Analysis theory we’ve just discussed, take action! Start simply solving communication issues among your team today.

Figure out your own current ego state. Next, take the time to figure out the ego state of your people. Then, educate and empower your people with this theory. 

My favorite thing about this theory is that most every employee — no matter their level of education or sophistication — can understand the foundational difference between the words Parent, Adult, and Child.  Once briefly explained, it’s very clear that everyone’s goal should be to approach everything as an adult.

If you are dealing with conflict, explaining this theory to everyone involved may help them correctly identify their current ego state and potentially shift their approach accordingly. This may help you as a leader open your employees’ eyes to root communication issues. When everyone has a clear understanding of the problem, you can work moire successfully towards a solution.

Ultimately, we are all adults working together but we don’t always act and think like it. It’s your responsibility as a leader to get people to where they need to be. My hope is that when you are working to solve communication issues, this theory will be a valuable tool in your pocket to help you do just that!