Tuesday Insight: Treat me like a child and...
I’ll behave like one.
One of the most useful tools for reviewing behaviours, particularly our own, is perhaps Transactional Analysis. It’s a beautifully simple model that learners can grasp quickly and easily relate to. In very simple terms, it identifies behaviours we adopt as Parent, Adult or Child. Parent behaviour can be Controlling or Nurturing, whilst Child behaviour can be ‘Adapted’ or ‘Free’.
See if you can identify the behaviours adopted in the following scenario:
Last week, our council imposed a plethora of new rules on dog owners, one of which, as I mentioned in my last blog, means that Charlie is no longer permitted to walk to the beach off the lead, or come with me and my horse, Merlin, when we go riding on Dartmoor.
Perhaps stranger, given that it was already, quite rightly, an offence not to clean up after your dog, is a new rule that states “you must carry sufficient poo bags.” This seemed to me to be a completely pointless rule since a) all responsible dog owners carry poo bags as a matter of course and b) no-one enforcing the rules has stop and search powers. At least, not yet!
The council’s behaviour has been that of Controlling Parent. It’s symptomatic of a micro-management culture, where managers try to control behaviours with a complex set of rules and processes. Managers who overuse Controlling Parent are likely to find they need ever more rules, as well as the resources to ensure the rules are adhered to. (See my point above about stop and search.) If Controlling Parent becomes too strong, you’re likely to see a culture where resentment, defiance, fear, blame and punishment dominate.
These new rules provoked a negative emotional reaction from many people, including me:
“Does anyone know how many a ‘sufficient’ supply of poo bags is? I wouldn’t want to fall ‘foul’ of the poo bag inspection team.”
When I reflected later on my passive aggressive response, which I’m not proud of, I could easily recognise it as ‘Adapted Child’. In the face of what I considered bossy, controlling parent behaviour, and feeling resentful and defiant, I had adopted the behaviour of a petulant, sulky child.
In fairness, to the council, they did respond, and the change of tone is interesting. Here’s a snippet:
“When going out with your dog(s) we would encourage you to grab a few bags before leaving home as you never know if they may need to go twice or even more on longer walkies…”
Can you recognise the change in tone? Controlling Parent has become Nurturing Parent. Nurturing Parent can appear caring, kind and guiding. It can also appear patronising.
As you’ve probably recognised, neither the council’s nor my behaviour to this point had been useful, or constructive. In order to move the conversation forward in a useful way, we needed to find a way to move from Parent:Child, to Adult:Adult.
I’m delighted to report therefore that things have progressed to the point that Jon at the council wrote:
“We’ve got a new page on our website, which only launched today, where you can feedback about the PSPO and it would be great to hear your views.”
Consequently, I spent over an our formulating some Adult feedback, which I hope will be helpful and constructive (though I'm disappointed to report that I've not yet recevied an acknolwedgement of my detailed feedback/suggestions, yet alone a response from Teignbridge council).
Understanding Transactional Analysis can give us really powerful and useful insights into our own behaviours and those of others, and help us recognise when we need to reposition communication so that we’re adopting Adult behaviour, which will normally provoke the same from others.
It can also be an extremely useful tool for reflecting on culture and the way we manage and lead others.
Our course module, introducing Transanctional Analysis is one way to equip your learners with a basic understanding of Transactional Analysis that will enable them to improve the way they communicate with, and lead, others. I hope they will find it as useful a model as I do.