You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud…

You don’t need to be Sigmund Freud….

I recently ran a training course on Conflict Management for a great group of Customer Service Professionals.  We talked about many different topics; personal reactions to conflict, assertiveness techniques, conflict management tools, real-life conflict situations and different strategies for handling these. We also discussed why some people regress to childlike behaviour or behave like sulky adolescents and how we can have “grown-up”, adult conversations; particularly when things become heated or stressful.

A simplified version of a Psychological model called Transactional Analysis (TA), developed by Eric Berne in the 1960s, is an insightful way to consider communication patterns and social interactions. The TA model considers that people are a collection of behavioural patterns developed over time. It also suggests that the way we behave will elicit different responses in others. For example, if we “order” someone to do something like a strict parent, people may react like a rebellious child, whereas, if we ask politely and in a mature manner, they are generally more likely to behave like a reasonable adult in response.
The three behavioural patterns:


The child has 3 sides…

The natural child – the natural child wants us to do things just because it wants to. However natural child behaviour is not willfully disruptive to others nor destructive to the environment. It is about pure child-like emotion; laughter, tears, creativity, curiosity, mischief and fun.

The rebellious child – when people are in this ego state they are not likely to listen to anyone who tells them what to do. If they are communicated to in this manner, they are likely to become disruptive and rebellious. This rebellion may be open, for example, by being very negative or, more subtly, by being sarcastic, obstructive or by procrastinating when someone asks them to do something. When some individuals are being driven by the rebellious child, they may not be prepared to do anything an authority figure asks them to do, even if it makes logical sense!

The adapted child – another type of child behaviour is excessive goodness. Individuals in this ego state are so eager to please others that they may be willing to do almost anything. This type of behaviour can be difficult for the person experiencing it as, although they will do all they can to please, they may still feel like disagreeing or disobeying from time to time but will be likely to suppress their own needs and keep the hurt. This may lead to feelings of anger and resentment.


The Nurturing Parent – this is all about caring and understanding about other people. The nurturing parent does not put people down or make them feel bad.

The Critical Parent – this is a judgmental pattern of behaviour. Individuals in this ego state may tell people what they “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing. The critical parent may attack people’s personalities as well as their behaviour This may make people feel that they are being criticised as a person. Individuals with a strong critical parent are often as hard on themselves as they are on other people. If the critical parent behavioural style is used, this may, for example, elicit a rebellious child response from the other person unless they have a very strong adult-style.


The Adult – the adult is based on what we have learned. Its job is to take the emotional content of the child and the value-laden content of the parent and check it out with the reality of the outside world. The adult has a role to play in mediating between the “you should” bullying of the parent and the “I want” pestering of the child. Adult to adult interactions are calm, logical, polite, consistent, assertive rather than aggressive and involve asking rather than telling. Using an adult style is more likely to elicit these behaviours in return.

So, you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung or Eric Berne to use Psychological models to improve social interactions and interpersonal skills.

It can be illuminating to reflect on our own behavioural patterns;
How well developed is your adult?
How do you behave as an employee or as a manager?
Is that rebellious child or critical parent making too many appearances?

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

White Cube Consulting

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