Transactional Analysis (TA)

The word Transaction relates to the units of dialogue we engage in with others.
When these transactions go smoothly, we can make efficient progress toward decisions and building commitment to outcomes, but every so often a transaction may go awry, and take the rest of the conversation with it. Clearly, such transactions can prove to be a big factor in the resulting efficiency of our meetings.

In many cases, the reason the conversation goes awry may have nothing to do with the rationale of the argument, or the points actually being made, but entirely to do with how they are being made. We may not realise it, but ego can play a bigger part in our success than we might imagine.
Eric Berne, a celebrated psychiatrist, devised a method for exploring this which can provide great insight into how conversations can begin to go wrong, and how to keep them efficient and productive. Called Transactional Analysis, it transpires that all of our dialogue is conducted from one of three ego states, and in a healthy conversation those ego states can shift with virtually every transaction.
The ego states affect the words we use, our tone, our body language and our attitude – to a large extent they determine ‘who we appear to be’ at that point in time.
If we respond in a complementary ego state for our own transaction, the conversation progresses in a smooth fashion, but if we respond with an unexpected ego state then we get what is described as a ‘crossed transaction’, and the conversation gets bumpy.
Transactional analysis gives us the tools to understand this, to bring the conversation back to a sequence of complementary transactions, and to be productive within that.
The difficult bit for those who are new to Transactional Analysis is that any theoretical explanation of the tool risks being rejected as psycho-babble or mumbo-jumbo – for many people it is only when they get to experience its power for themselves through practical activity, and they can see the truth of the theory in practice and discover why past conversations went wrong and how they could have quickly turned them around, that they look past the initially strange concepts to the valuable concepts beyond.
Sadly, such practical activity is beyond the scope of this note. However, Transactional Analysis is a deceptively powerful tool, and people who lead meetings would be well advised to find a course where they can experience it for themselves. If that is not possible, then they might consider picking up a good practical book (such as Julie Hay’s) and keeping any prejudices in check until they get to a point where they can begin to see its truth.

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