Home/Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Master communicators adapt their ego state so that the other can hear.

My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products. 

In Transactional Analysis we distinguish six main ways of communicating from Structuring Parent, Nurturing Parent, Adult, Adapted Child, Rebellious Child and Free Child. What is really effective communication? 

Some people say that effective communication is communicating only from Adult. Which could mean that you’re always factual, analytical, structured. That’s a really great way to increase your effectiveness and efficiency. If I ask,” How many units have we produced this week?” You say, “30 units,” and I ask, “What was the target?” You say, “40” and I say, “So there is a gap of 10.” That’s Adult communication. We can communicate about targets, about what’s been done and analyze problems factually. 

The problem with only factual communication is that you stick to what you already know. It’s really great for increasing efficiency and effectiveness, but it’s not so great for innovation. 

Of course, there’s a part of innovation where you have to communicate from Adult. Once you have that brilliant idea, you really do have to create a structure and a way of making it work and execute the plan. That requires Adult faculties. But it’s not enough to create an agile and innovative team. 

So Adult communication is great for efficiency and effectiveness, not so great to start of innovation. 


What does a Structuring or Critical Parent mean in business? Is that a good or bad ego state to use? Critical Parent is really good at seeing what’s not working, what’s missing, and to give feedback where people are confronted.  

Critical Parent is a great way of establishing hierarchy. This ego state will help you stand up and say how things are going to be. For example, when managing teams, telling people this is the direction, this is the structure we’re going to work in, these are the banks of the river, and then letting people figure out for themselves how they’re going to do. 

Structuring Parent communication is needed to give direction and purpose

Overusing it leads you to micromanagement, and you really want to avoid that because it makes people smaller and dependent. 

Nurturing Parent. What’s good for management is the empathic part. It’s a great ego state to take care of your people, when they need it and when they’ve contracted for it. If you look around your office and see everyone with drawn faces after a project launch, then ordering pizza is a great way to take care of them because they need it. When someone comes into your office and you give them words of encouragement and empathy, it’s great when that’s needed. The lifting up of people, the whole developmental function of your management role is a great way to use your Nurturing Parent faculties. 

Of course, if you do it too much, if you give care when nothing is needed or asked for, it brings about this smothering style of management. You know what I mean, where someone’s hovering over you all the time and asking you if you’re alright. Sometimes I get managers who say their door is always open. I say, of course, we’re human beings, but you’ve got a business contract going on too. It’s fantastic to have that base of empathy in your leadership style but watch out for over caring for your people because it’ll make them dependent. 

Are the Child ego states good ways of communicating in management? 

Rebellious Child is a good way of communicating, believe it or not. You need your team to question: Why are we doing this after 20 years? Aren’t there other ways of doing it? Why should you obey a hierarchy that isn’t very functional? Why should you obey rules that were made 30 years ago when it doesn’t work in today’s world? It’s really good to have that rebellious sense, especially as a change manager or an innovation manager thinking about how things could be different or going against the grain. 

Is that the essence of being an innovative manager? Overusing Rebellious Child to overturn or create anarchy within the system is not going to work. If you’re working in a business, you do have to respect the hierarchy and structure. But the Rebellious Child way of communicating will get your team in a mode where they don’t have to obey the rules and can think creatively for themselves. 

The Adapted Child will help you work within the system. Sometimes I coach people who bypass rules, who redefine the purpose of the meeting or set their own agenda.  I might acknowledge that they have complaints about their boss, but I tell them, “Your boss is getting paid more for a reason. Until proved otherwise, you are working within this hierarchy and you will have to work with this manager, and you will have to manage your manager. That’s 50 percent of your salary right there.” Yes, there are degrees of “being yourself” in a group, but actually, there’s always a degree of adaptation when you work in a group. 

When you use Adapted Child too much as a manager you accept the status quo blindly, and we all know where that has got us sometimes in history.  

Free Child communication is bonding. It brings people to a point where they say, “Let’s do this together. Let’s play together.” 

One of my colleagues wrote a book about managing change as play. Authenticity and intimacy in business is a really good thing. There are countries where there are very restrictive laws against intimacy in business, and that’s a good thing, and we are also human beings who need to connect. 

Using Free Child as a style of communication in business is infectious and will get you going in an agile and innovative way.

Published On: November 5th, 2019By Categories: Leadership, Videos


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