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Just lately I have been delving deeper into Transactional Analysis (TA), a psychological school of thought that emerged in the 1950s, and to which I was introduced about ten or twelve years ago. I was immediately attracted to it, perhaps because part of it contains a familiar family metaphor that makes it easily applicable to coaching. Please understand that I am by no means an expert or a psychologist and that what follows contains my understanding of how we can usefully apply TA in our coaching practices.

Nevertheless, I will need to get a little technical to start with as I explain three concepts: ego states, what the transactions are in Transactional Analysis, and the OK-OK Communication Model that, for me, ties the former two together in a useful package for us coaches.

Let’s start with ego states: my understanding of these is that at any given time we might be ‘living’ in one of the following ego states:

  1. Parent: in this type we might from time to time operate at Critical Parent (CP) or Nurturing Parent (NP) level. In either case, we would be behaving at a positive (+) or negative (-) version of CP or NP. For example, Critical Parent negative (or CP-) would be the stereotypical Critical Parent you pictured when you read the term “Critical Parent” two lines ago. An example of CP+ would be someone who is good at providing boundaries. Nurturing Parent positive (NP+) is the stereotypical loving parent you also pictured when you read the term. NP- would be when we overdo the NP+, for example when we nag our children to hurry up or they will be late for school, or we micromanage at work. We normally learn our typical Parent behaviour patterns from, well, our parents and/or other influential authority figures from our youth, that is from our past.
  2. Adult: I will deal with the Adult ego state in a little more detail in a moment. For now, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that it is connected to the here-and-now. It is when we consciously (i.e. in the moment) choose to be our better selves, choosing to integrate useful aspects of our Parent and Child ego states (NP+, CP+, AC+ or FC+) into our current thinking and behaviour while letting go of less useful or negative aspects.
  3. Child: These are experiences we have stored from our childhood. The Child ego states are also split into two: they seem to have a couple of different names depending on which authors you read – the ones that have stuck with me are Adaptive Child (AC) and Free Child (FC). Again, they are divided into positive and negative. When in Adaptive Child positive (AC+), we adapt to changes in a constructive manner, that is we are flexible when in this ego state. AC- is the submissive child, even a doormat. FC+ is our fun or lighter side, our sense of humour etc. FC- is our rebellious or resistant side.

So what can we do with this information? The second concept is the “transactional” side of Transactional Analysis. When we interact with another person, we take on an ego state – and so do they. So, for example, if I am in stereotypical CP- (eg authoritarian mode), you might respond similarly in CP- mode – and then the game is on! My CP- and your CP- response is a transaction. Another example of a transaction might be a person in CP- and the other responding in AC- (submissive) or in FC- (rebellious), as the image on the right suggests.

I mentioned earlier that the Adult ego state requires us to consciously choose, in the moment, to be our better selves. The OK-OK communication model introduced by Pratt and Mbaligontsi in 2014, is useful for us here. The OK-OK Box, as it is also called, encompasses the five positive modes: CP+, NP+, A, AC+ and FC+ (the negative modes fall outside the box). The Adult is at the centre of the box and makes moment-by-moment choices as to which positive aspects of Parent or Child would invite the best outcome for all. In this sense, our Adult is both integrative (it integrates the positive Parent and Child aspects) and mindful (in the present).

Okay, so how might we use this as coaches. Firstly, we can listen to our client’s “who” in their current narrative – which ego state are they in. If they are in a negative ego state, which positive ego state should we use to support them into the OK-OK Box so that we can help them to move forward? What are the transactions we might use to hopefully, and ultimately, move them to Adult – that is, how do we achieve an Adult to Adult transaction?

Perhaps even more importantly, we need also to keep an eye on our own ego states as coaches. For instance, do we tend to rescue our client (NP-)? Maybe we teach our client new models from time to time? This might be CP+, but if we do it too easily or from an almost omniscient space, we will almost definitely be operating from CP-. Or when our client cancels for the third time at the last moment or if they once again haven’t done the ‘homework’ they agreed to do, how do we respond? Is there a hint of CP- or FC- in our voice? Oh, and how was that ‘homework’ agreed upon? Was it our suggestion or theirs? Do we even call it “homework” – if so, what does that suggest? You get the picture – let’s be integrative mindful Adults when we coach.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how TA has helped you or might help you in the future. Let me know.

Let’s all make a world of difference in the world.
Until next month


Are these the type of things you are currently thinking about?
  • Is it time to re-sharpen my coaching edge?
  • Do I need to speak to someone about that coaching client?
  • How am I going to get more clients?
  • I really need to get around to my (first or next) accreditation.
  • What am I going to do about CPD?
  • I wish I could belong to a community of coaches who experience the same things as I do and want to keep learning and improving.

If any of these resonate with you, or if you are looking for a mentor coach or a coach supervisor or other form of coach whispering, please use this link to my diary to set up a FREE Virtual Coffee Chat with me.

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