Being Aware of our State can Make our Communication More Effective

I’m a regular visitor to my local library as not only do I love reading, I also enjoy browsing through the endless shelves of books to see which books would entice me to take them home.

On a recent visit, when I was checking out my selected books on the automated device close to the front door of the library – I noticed a bunch of keys on a bookcase next to me.  I looked around to see if I could see someone nearby who may have left them there but there was no one around.  I then noticed a Librarian who was tidying up around the other automated device on the opposite side of the front door.

I quietly called out to her ‘excuse me’ and her response, without making eye contact with me was ‘I’m busy, you’ll have to wait’.  I was bemused but a little shocked at her behaviour towards me as she was speaking to me as if I was an annoying child.  I tried again to speak to her as she made her way towards me saying at the same time ‘now what’s wrong with you?’  Before I got a chance to explain ‘what was wrong with me (I jest)’ the owner of the keys came back through the main door to retrieve his keys.  The Librarian then saw the issue of keys being left behind as serious. Her attitude and subsequent communication style changed instantly.  She spoke to the man retrieving his keys as an adult.

There’s a lot of directions I could take with this incident in that I could talk about what is good Customer Service.  Alternatively, I could talk about the importance of making eye contact when speaking with someone but what I’d like to focus on in this blog is how we sometimes can go into parent mode and talk to people as if they were children.  How often do we do this?  Well, more often than we think.  Say, one of your Team does something in a meeting that you don’t like or you disagree with – do you have a tendency to speak to them as if they were a child?  As in, ‘why did you do that’ or ‘that’s not the way to speak to someone / or behave’?

According to Eric Berne, who was a psychiatrist and the creator of the theory of transactional analysis, when we communicate and interact with others, we do this from our current state of mind and what feelings we have in that moment of time.  Berne said that there were 3 states:

  • Parent – which is our conditioned voice of authority, in other words how we were conditioned by authority figures in our childhood
  • Child – which is our internal, emotional response to situations i.e. when reason is overruled by our emotions
  • Adult – which is being able to think and act for ourselves – we are independent in our thinking and judgement of situations and of others

At any given time, something can trigger a shift from one state to another.  In the library situation, the Librarian was definitely addressing me from a Parent state.  If crossed transactions occur as in Parent to Adult, Child to Parent etc – then communication is ineffective and conflict may occur.  The most effective way to communicate is to use the state the person is talking to you from and vice versa.  Therefore, be aware when you are using the wrong state as in the case of the Librarian.  Pay attention to the state you are in and how you’d like to get a response, i.e. if you want an Adult response when you are interacting or communicating with your team, then shift your state to an Adult state.

Try it out and see how you get on – the results will speak for themselves.