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Improve Your Relationships


Last week I introduced you to Transactional Analysis and explained how we can get into problematic and emotional relationship dynamics in our different ego states.  This week, I want to focus on our logical ego state, the “Adult” as it's from here that we can enhance how we communicate and start to improve relationships.

To reiterate, Parent and Child are both emotional ego states and Adult is our logical ego state.  I work with my clients at a couple of different levels to help them to access their Adult when they need to.

Triggers & Remedies
It's quite difficult to immediately recognise when you have slipped into a Parent or Child ego state.  Before you know it, you are behaving like an imperious know-it-all or a petulant brat.  And we often feel justified in our reactions and therefore do nothing to check our behaviour.  Too late we regret our reaction.

I encourage you, therefore, to try to find your trigger reaction which is frequently felt physically.  When you get into a heightened emotional state, your primitive brain takes over and you might clench your fists or grind your teeth or start to breath more quickly.  My trigger reaction is to flush red in the face (you'll be able to recognise that now!).

When you feel your trigger reaction, you then need to adopt a corresponding remedial behaviour.  This could be to take a deep breath or to physically "unclench".  This will send a signal to your brain to start sending blood back to the pre-fontal cortex, your logic centre, and will hopefully buy you the time to step into your logical self, your Adult.

If you can have a conversation consistently in Adult, the other person will have no option other than to eventually step into Adult themselves.  It is nearly impossible to remain in an emotional ego state when you are consistently and calmly responded to from a logical viewpoint.

Set yourself up for success
I also encourage you to enter all of your communications with the positive attitude that things will go well and that your Adult will be able to communicate with the other person's Adult.

Thomas A Harris brought us the concept of "I'm OK - you're OK".  He posits that we have four possible "life positions":
1.           I'm not OK - You're OK (I feel at your mercy)
2.           I'm OK - You're not OK (I don't trust you)
3.           I'm not OK - You're not OK (there's no hope)
4.           I'm OK - You're OK (I'm an adult and so are you)

Whilst Harris talks about "life positions", I find that this concept is useful to think about when you're entering into a communication with someone.  If you enter that conversation from position 4 then you are setting yourself up for success.

One of my clients recently wanted to use his session for "rehearsing" a difficult conversation.  He said, "I know he's going to be on the attack, so I need to put on my armour and be ready to defend myself".  Position 3 anyone???  We talked about the four positions and what it would be like to go into that meeting from Position 4.  Needless to say, the subsequent conversation went smoothly with a good outcome.

Keep practising
Wouldn't it be great if we could all now sail through life in a permanent, logical Adult state?  As well as that not being possible, I think it would also be a bit dull! I mentioned last week that the emotional states are not bad.  They can be really helpful.

However, I would like to encourage you to keep practising two things: (i) noticing your emotional responses and trying to get into a more logical frame of mind and (ii) setting yourself up in an Adult-to-Adult / I'm OK - You're OK frame of mind before a difficult conversation.

This is a work in progress for me too.  As a seasoned conflict-avoider, I can often enter a perceived "difficult" conversation in Position 1.  I almost never achieve my desired outcome.  Today, during coaching supervision, I undertook to step in Adult myself in an upcoming situation.  I'll let you know how I get on!

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