Transactional Analysis 101: How A Psychology Theory Applies In The Workplace

Have you ever heard the term “transactional analysis?” Yes, it does sound finance-related, like something a bank would do to ensure account security. Believe it or not, transactional analysis is a popular psychology theory that was widely used decades ago.

Developed by Eric Berne in the 1950s, he theorized that verbal communication, particularly face to face, is at the center of social relationships. In a business setting where effective communication is critical to project success, it is particularly useful to understand how this theory works.

Berne said that each person is made up of three alter ego states: parent, adult, and child.


The “parent” state is our voice of authority. We can sound harsh or commanding, but we can also sound soothing and comforting.

Body language: Looking down over rim of glasses, pointing a finger, hands on hips.

Expressions: “You should,” “you always,” “do it like this,” “poor thing”



The “child” state is emotional and includes seeing, hearing, and feeling. When we are upset or angry, our “child” controls us.

Body language: Forlorn, drooping shoulders, pursed lips.

Expressions: “I want,” “it’s not fair,” “it’s not my fault,” “did I do OK?”



Between “parent” and “child” is “adult.” As you might guess, adult is more analytical and allows us to think through things and make decisions. It’s the ego state we should strive to be in.

Body language: Relaxed, actively listening, good eye contact, confident.

Expressions: Offer alternatives and options, “I see,” “I understand,” “how do you feel about that?”


In my next blog post, we’ll do a short quiz and talk about building an effective “adult” work environment. Until then, think about how the various ego states surface during the work day. How often does each ego state show up during your work day?  What can you do to be less “parent” and “child” and more “adult” in your communication style?

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