What is your script?


Trans­ac­tional Anal­y­sis is in­stru­men­tal in self­de­vel­op­ment, and can cre­ate an en­hanced cul­ture, says In­dranil Mi­tra, au­thor of Winning Hearts and Minds.

While Freud and most other psy­chother­a­pists took the rather sim­plis­tic ap­proach of ask­ing the pa­tient about them­selves, Berne took an al­ter­nate ap­proach to ther­apy. Berne felt that a ther­a­pist could learn what the prob­lem was by sim­ply ob­serv­ing what was com­mu­ni­cated (words, body lan­guage, fa­cial ex­pres­sions) in a trans­ac­tion. So in­stead of di­rectly ask­ing the pa­tient ques­tions, Berne would fre­quently ob­serve the pa­tient in a group set­ting, not­ing all of the trans­ac­tions that oc­curred be­tween the pa­tient and other in­di­vid­u­als.* Al­though rooted in psy­cho ther­apy, Trans­ac­tional Anal­y­sis has a pro­found role to play wher­ever in­ter­ac­tions con­sti­tute the core. In an or­ga­ni­za­tional set­ting, it can help build strong cul­tures.

Trans­ac­tional Anal­y­sis (TA) is es­sen­tially a so­cial psychology through which we can learn about our per­son­al­ity by an­a­lyz­ing the way we be­have with oth­ers. Orig­i­nally de­vel­oped as a psy­chi­atric ap­proach by Dr Eric Berne around sixty years ago, it pro­vides a sys­tem­atic frame­work within which we can learn how to com­mu­ni­cate smoothly and ef­fec­tively with peo­ple; build gen­uine and sin­cere re­la­tion­ships based on re­spect for each other; dis­cover un­con­scious men­tal bar­ri­ers that may be hold­ing us back from re­al­iz­ing our true po­ten­tial; and re­late to oth­ers in an open, hon­est, and mean­ing­ful way de­void of any ex­ploita­tion or ma­nip­u­la­tion. The prin­ci­ples and tech­niques of TA can be ap­plied wher­ever hu­man be­ings in­ter­act with one another, whether in pri­vate, so­cial, or or­ga­ni­za­tional set­tings. There are four dis­tinct fields of ap­pli­ca­tion of TA:





The last three are also clubbed to­gether un­der the um­brella term De­vel­op­men­tal TA, since their fo­cus is on ap­ply­ing TA for self-de­vel­op­ment and per­sonal growth rather than for treat­ment of psy­chi­atric prob­lems.

If we con­sider the or­ga­ni­za­tional field, then it is not dif­fi­cult to ap­pre­ci­ate the value of TA in cul­ture-build­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment. Im­proper or in­ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion is the bane of many com­pa­nies; in­deed, it is rare to find an or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has clear and smooth flow of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, whether hor­i­zon­tal or ver­ti­cal. Again, only a few en­light­ened com­pa­nies pay se­ri­ous at­ten­tion to cul­ture-build­ing—the ma­jor­ity tak­ing the phrase to mean noth­ing more than or­ga­niz­ing so­cial events, birth­day par­ties, and the likes. How­ever, real ef­forts to build cul­ture would in­volve in­cul­cat­ing the val­ues of mu­tual re­spect and trust among the em­ploy­ees, get­ting them to rec­og­nize and ap­pre­ci­ate each other, and re­late to each other in a gen­uine, hon­est, and mean­ing­ful way. Like­wise, if we are able to talk among our­selves in a non-threat­en­ing and non-judg­men­tal man­ner and clearly un­der­stand one another, we will be able to work smoothly to­gether. TA teaches all this and more; knowl­edge and ap­pli­ca­tion of its con­cepts and tech­niques will al­most cer­tainly lead to im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity and, by im­pli­ca­tion, or­ga­ni­za­tional suc­cess and growth.

So, ex­actly what is Trans­ac­tional Anal­y­sis all about? What does it teach, and what does it hope to achieve? At the in­di­vid­ual level, it will teach you how you can take charge of your life. Here is an ex­tract from the book Winning Hearts and Minds:

“The goal of Trans­ac­tional Anal­y­sis can be summed up in a sin­gle word: Au­ton­omy—au­ton­omy by break­ing away from con­di­tioned think­ing; au­ton­omy by tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for one’s ac­tions; and au­ton­omy of be­hav­ior by build­ing and sus­tain­ing mean­ing­ful and en­rich­ing re­la­tion­ships. In short, un­lock­ing your po­ten­tial to achieve, grow and find hap­pi­ness.”

To be­gin at the be­gin­ning: all of us were chil­dren once; all of us had par­ents or par­ent fig­ures when we were small. While grow­ing up, we re­ceived cer­tain mes­sages from them and other au­thor­ity fig­ures about how we should act or be­have in or­der to win their ap­proval. Some of these mes­sages, if re­peated enough times and re­in­forced by both par­ents, be­came ‘hard­wired’ in our per­son­al­ity, so much so that we keep re­play­ing the same be­hav­ior un­con­sciously af­ter we grow up, al­though the con­text, sit­u­a­tion, and peo­ple may have changed. Here is an ex­am­ple from the book:

“Raju, aged five years, is walk­ing on the road with his par­ents when he sud­denly stum­bles and falls down. He hurts his knee and starts cry­ing be­cause of the pain. His fa­ther tells him sternly: “Big boys don’t cry!” Raju gets the mes­sage: “Don’t show your feel­ings”. If he gets the same kind of mes­sages fre­quently, he may well start be­liev­ing that it’s not OK to ex­press your­self, and that parental ap­proval is best ob­tained by sup­press­ing feel­ings. The same Raju, when he grows up, may find it dif­fi­cult to ex­press his emo­tions, and go through rocky re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple close to him on ac­count of this—all due to the old parental com­mand ‘Don’t Feel’.” As a man­ager, Raju is likely to be re­garded by his sub­or­di­nates as ma­chine-like, cold and un­feel­ing, and gen­er­ally un­re­spon­sive and un­sym­pa­thetic.”

Such mes­sages, or the way we in­ter­preted them when we were small, form part of our ‘script’, or un­con­scious life plan; by the age of six, the child de­cides, in psy­cho­log­i­cal terms, who she is go­ing to be, and how she is go­ing to be­have, for the rest of her life. How­ever, this de­ci­sion is made at a time when she has lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence of peo­ple and the world in gen­eral, and when her in­tel­li­gence and rea­son­ing fac­ul­ties are not fully de­vel­oped. And so, later in life, she—and ev­ery­one else—needs to ex­am­ine her old script com­mands and de­cide what is rel­e­vant to her present sit­u­a­tion and what can be junked. There may be some old com­mands, which are pre­vent­ing her from achiev­ing what she could achieve, like suc­cess in a re­la­tion­ship, or in her ca­reer, and so on.

“All this is very in­ter­est­ing” the HR man­ager says, “But how does it help me in my work?”

To un­der­stand how, we need to first clar­ify a few TA def­i­ni­tions and con­cepts.

A ‘trans­ac­tion’ is an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween two or more peo­ple, whether ver­bal or non-ver­bal.

A ‘trans­ac­tion’ is an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween two or more peo­ple, whether ver­bal or non-ver­bal. The term has a vaguely com­mer­cial tinge, but ac­tu­ally em­pha­sizes the fact that the per­son ini­ti­at­ing the in­ter­ac­tion is in­vest­ing an amount of psy­cho­log­i­cal en­ergy in it, and ex­pect­ing to get some­thing back in re­turn.

A ‘stroke’ is recog­ni­tion or ac­knowl­edge­ment of another per­son. Again, it may be ver­bal or non-ver­bal; a smile, look, ges­ture, and nod that says, “I know you’re there.” Pos­i­tive strokes are those that make us feel good (OK) about our­selves, and neg­a­tive strokes are those that make us feel bad (Not OK) about our­selves.

Based on the strokes re­ceived while grow­ing up, we make cer­tain as­sump­tions about our­selves (I am OK or

I am not OK) and oth­ers (You are OK or You are not OK). This leads to our as­sum­ing any one of the fol­low­ing pre­ferred ‘Life Po­si­tions’:

I am OK, You are not OK (bully)

I am not OK, You are OK (loser)

I am not OK, You are not OK (hope­less)

I am OK, You are OK (healthy)

These are not fixed and im­mutable; in­deed, dur­ing the course of a day, we fre­quently move from one po­si­tion to another. But when we are un­der stress, we lapse into our pre­ferred Life Po­si­tion.

We all have cer­tain psy­cho­log­i­cal needs, which are acute enough to be called ‘hungers’:

stim­u­lus hunger is the need for stim­u­la­tion of our senses—touch, taste, hear­ing, smell, and sight.

recog­ni­tion hunger is the need to be ap­pre­ci­ated, to be given the mes­sage ‘You’re OK’.

struc­ture hunger is the need to struc­ture our time be­tween get­ting up and go­ing to bed.

Now, the work sit­u­a­tion pro­vides a rich ma­trix for giving and re­ceiv­ing strokes. If peo­ple can learn to be more gen­er­ous with pos­i­tive strokes, and re­sort to neg­a­tive strokes only when nec­es­sary, then it would work won­ders in en­hanc­ing co­op­er­a­tion and team­work, and making that most elu­sive qual­ity of team­work, syn­ergy, a re­al­ity. TA teaches us how to get rid of ‘stroking myths’ that we have grown up with, and how we can rec­og­nize and ap­pre­ci­ate each other freely.

If peo­ple can learn to spend as much time as pos­si­ble in the ‘I am not OK, You are OK’ po­si­tion, then it lays the foun­da­tion for an or­ga­ni­za­tional cul­ture built on the value of mu­tual re­spect.

Com­ing to trans­ac­tions, they orig­i­nate from one of three ego states—par­ent, adult, and child—which make up our to­tal per­son­al­ity. There are dif­fer­ent types of trans­ac­tions, and TA makes it pos­si­ble for us to rec­og­nize— and stop—trans­ac­tions that re­sult in hurt feel­ings on one side or the other, or on both sides. Thus, smooth com­mu­ni­ca­tion within the or­ga­ni­za­tion can be en­sured.

The ego states them­selves are an­a­lyzed in terms of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive as­pects. Peo­ple can train them­selves to re­ceive mes­sages more and more through the ‘adult ego state’, thus putting it in ex­ec­u­tive con­trol of their per­son­al­ity, so that parental or child­like be­hav­ior emerges only when the adult deems it ap­pro­pri­ate. This greatly re­duces mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mis­un­der­stand­ing, and fric­tion in a work set­ting.

Peo­ple struc­ture their time in var­i­ous ways: be­ing ‘alone’ with their thoughts; po­litely in­ter­act­ing with each other through ‘ri­tu­als’; con­vers­ing en­joy­ably with each other as a ‘pas­time’; work­ing or play­ing to­gether as an ‘ac­tiv­ity’; and try­ing to de­velop en­rich­ing re­la­tion­ships with those they are at­tracted to, ie, at­tempt­ing ‘close­ness’. How­ever, the lat­ter ef­fort of­ten meets with fail­ure due to another method of time struc­tur­ing known as games, which are com­pul­sive, repet­i­tive in­ter­ac­tions which lead to bad feel­ings on one side or the other, or on both sides. Games are played be­cause of un­con­scious script com­mands and in or­der to re­in­force one’s pre­ferred life po­si­tion, and they pre­vent peo­ple from form­ing healthy re­la­tion­ships. They can be rec­og­nized and stopped through the ap­pli­ca­tion of var­i­ous TA tech­niques.

Ref­er­ence * http://www.er­icberne.com/trans­ac­tional-anal­y­sis/ (This ar­ti­cle is based on Winning Hearts and Minds which has been con­sciously de­signed to be use­ful at three lev­els: for the lay­man in­ter­ested in self-de­vel­op­ment and per­sonal growth; for man­age­ment stu­dents who want to learn how to com­mu­ni­cate smoothly and build en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ships; and for work­ing man­agers who want to build a great cul­ture in their team or or­ga­ni­za­tion)

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