The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Communication and relationship

Building on the idea that a transaction provides a basic description of the relationship between two individuals the dynamic between them becomes a valuable source of information.

How do they engage in cooperation? What do they expect from their environment? When are things fluid and when not?

Answers to these questions help to assess team dynamics. There will be a suitable style for the context people are in. It is that that needs to be found. The question isn’t to teach a team the right communication. It is a question of when and how does it work for them and if it is aligned with the organization.

Eric Berne described three different types of sources for stimulus or reactions and called them ego states. In a simplified way, they can be described with one of them being a more authoritative state seeking to provide guidance (Parent ego-state), another being more concerned with the exploration of the here and now (Adult ego-state), and the third being a more dependent state connecting with experience (Child ego-state). None of these states is better than the other. They all serve a purpose in structuring our life and daily experience. And all of them can, for example, provide care in their unique way.

The way these ego states appear in a relationship and thus in teams shape the way people can work together.

Fluid communication is established whenever the people involved in the transactions agree on which ego-states they are addressing with their stimulus and which one they want a reaction to. Most often that agreement is unconscious. It leads to an exchange that can go on “endlessly” in that mode. This explains why some people find it easy to follow instructions from one person but not from another. It also explains why conflicts may not come to an end. It stays with them as long as they stick to the relationship they decided upon. Independently from how comfortable or not they find it.

When one of both decides to shift the conversation by switching to another ego-state, it is as if they stepped out of the agreement. It leads to a shift in the exchange. It happens because the sense of discomfort in the existing exchange has become too big to contain. Changing to another ego state interrupts the flow and invites into a different dynamic. It is a sign of leadership. However, it can be constructive as well as disruptive. Its success will depend on the exchange that starts from there.

Beyond transactions that establish a flow and those who interrupt that flow, there is a third type of transaction. It is used when the relationship is not established well enough to allow for an open exchange. Naturally, some topics are more difficult than others, such topics involve more than the social level. In the given relationship they are either avoided or involve a double transaction. In a double transaction, it is a message that is being said and one that is being implied. The implied part of the message is thus kept as a secret in the transaction. This happens for example when there are differences between those involved. Or when there are desires that cannot be stated openly. The challenge with these transactions is, that the secret one is the relevant one. At the same time, as it isn’t audible it can be missed if one isn’t attuned to the conversation. The dynamic that unfolds from these conversations all leads to those involved feeling misunderstood and not seen.

By being more attuned to one another as well as the respective roles people become able to perceive these hidden expectations. Once they are perceived it becomes possible to decide how impactful they are in disrupting the relationship. The ability to address them requires the agency of those involved. Without agency and thus a feeling of safety they will not dare to interrupt that dynamic, even if it would be helpful.  There is too much discomfort to address the secret message directly or to shift to another ego state thus disrupting the transaction.

Transactions embed communication into the given relationship. They make visible how leaving the relationship aside, not attending to it will make it hard to achieve the task.


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