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Styles of Management

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


In the ‘good old days’ – good old days for managers, that is – there was one style of management:

Tell them what to do – expect them to do it – punish them if they don’t.

Life must have been easy then for managers: no need to motivate people (more on that in coming weeks), no back chat and alternative ideas from staff, no worry about giving offence, and high levels of compliance.

Scientific Management

On the other hand, how efficient were workers then? Frederick Winslow Taylor wanted to apply the principles of science to management and was the first person to try to analyse an organisation, test his ideas with experiments, and document the results.

‘Taylorism’ treated people as cogs in a machine. Optimise all aspects of the process, including people, to get the best results. So Taylor introduced time and motion studies to optimise how workers did things, and piece rates as incentives for workers. He said ‘do it this way and you will get your reward’. This was scientific management.

Humanistic Management

Scientific Management largely failed. Yes, it led to the hugely successful production line and arguably to just-in-time concepts too. Six Sigma, TQM and Lean can all draw their origins from scientific management too.

But it failed as regards people. Elton Mayo was a follower of Taylor and tried to apply Taylorist principle in the Hawthorne Lighting Plant. He discovered that changing light levels changed work rates. But it didn’t matter how you changed the light levels, as long as you engaged the workers in the process. What mattered was engaging people. It still does – that’s why staff engagement is such a big deal.

Theory X or Theory Y

The tension between task focus and people focus was crystallised by Douglas McGregor in his models of management style called Theory X (task, transaction, process, incentive focused) and Theory Y (people, consensus, motivation, satisfaction focused).

These are reflected in two contrasting styles of day-to-day management: Management by Objectives (MBO) and Management by Walking About (MWA).

MBO is all about setting clear objectives to staff and supporting them in achieving them – it is formal, transactional and has been seen as highly successful. For example, Bill Packard attributed the success of Hewlett Packard in its heyday to MBO.

But strangely, Bill Packard was well known for wandering around all areas of his business, chatting with people, building relationships, sharing ideas and offering inspiration.

Balance

There is no ‘right’ style of management. We each need to find the right balance, that works for us. We also need to adapt that balance to each individual and to changing circumstances.

Balance of Management Styles

Further Reading

You may also like the Pocketblog articleIt’s time to get enabling

Three Six Sigma Articles

  1. Belt up and Reduce Errors
  2. The DMAIC Solution Process
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma
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Training and Development: What a Manager Needs to Know

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


As a manager, you will experience pressure to send your people on training from at least three sources:

  1. Your HR, Learning or Training Department colleagues, who believe in training and maybe even have it as their corporate raison d’etre. (This, by the way, is not to suggest that training is  something to avoid or be unenthusiastic about)
  2. External training and development providers, ranging from the huge mega-corporations of training to the one man or woman training bands (can a band be one person – or is that a soloist?)
  3. Your staff who may variously want to develop their skills, build their career, stretch their mind, or have a day out of the business doing something different.

[Declaration of interest: the author is one of those training provider soloists – training is a good thing – buy more]

Question 1: How to decide what training to procure for your staff, and whether to procure it

This is the first of two critical questions on this topic that a manager faces. The answer is that you need to think in business case terms:

What are the costs and

What are the benefits?

On the costs side, you need to weigh:

  • cash cost recharged to your budget (and to the business as a whole)
  • time out and disruption to work
  • costs of any cover
  • time to manage the process of making best use of the training (see question 2)

On the benefits side, you have:

  • potential for enhanced skills, behaviours and performance
    This one is critical and linked to the ‘what training’ part of the question
  • morale, motivation and confidence boost
  • effect on staff retention
    This can work both ways, but if you are worried about the cost of losing a trained staff member, consider the cost of keeping an untrained staff member!
  • informal networking and thinking time can generate creativity and new solutions or ideas

So, what training? The best approach is to commission the training you need, rather than procure the training that is offered. Sit down and list out the performance and behaviour changes you most want and most believe will deliver the results your team is required to produce. That is your training brief.

If you are unable to commission to a brief, then do the same, and compare what you have with what is offered. If the match is good, then move on to consider the other aspects of your business case: if not, say no.

Question 2: How to get the best value from training you have procured for your staff

Training has most value when it is applied mindfully as soon as possible and as frequently as possible, once the trainee returns to their workplace. So:

Before the training, sit down with the trainee and discuss with them what they want to get from it and what you want them to get from it.  This will prime them to spot what is relevant.

Put in place a plan to use that knowledge as soon as the training is complete – or even during the training if it is an on-going programme.

Once the training is over, meet up again. Ask what the trainee experienced, what they learned and how they propose to apply it. Discuss this with them and then review the plan you set up in advance.

Provide support for making the opportunities and frequently review how the trainee is applying their new knowledge or skills. Continually stretch them and give praise and recognition for valuable changes.

Development: it is more than just training

When thinking about developing your staff, there are literally dozens of interventions beyond ‘sending them on a course’. Yet that is always the default option in many organisations.  Here are a dozen to start with.

  1. On the job mentoring or coaching
  2. Job swaps
  3. Programmed reading and discussion groups
  4. Action learning
  5. Online learning tools
  6. Online reference tools
  7. Workplace seminars
  8. Work shadowing
  9. Case study or project work
  10. Supervision and reflection
  11. Professional communities – including online
  12. Conferences

Further Reading

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Appraisal Time: a Polemic

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Appraisals are one of the least enjoyed aspects of organisational life: few people enjoy conducting them and still fewer like attending them. Often they are done badly and many times this is largely due to a poor internal process, supported by weak (or absent) training and confounded by other pressing business priorities.

So an important part of career development, skills acquisition, organisational growth and good governance, gets squeezed into 25 minutes of of a rushed conversation, ticking of boxes and a superficial assessment followed by formulaic goal setting, stipulating weak goals.

Sound familiar?

I have only one message for this module:

‘Performance Appraisal is Important’

So give it the preparation and the time it deserves, do it well – by asking good questions, and listening hard. Whether your internal process is good, bad or absent, make it your priority to sit down with your team members at least quarterly and discuss openly:

  • what they have done
  • how each of you assesses their performance
  • what you each want from the next period and for the next one to three years
  • what goals will help them achieve these
  • what their realistic and stretch prospects are

It is not neuroscience, rocket science nor even high school chemistry. Doing a good appraisal requires only two things:

  1. That you care
  2. That you deploy a dose of common sense

Polemic Over: Onto Process

Your organisation will have its own specific process. Frank Scott-Lennon gives us a good generic one in the Appraisals Pocketbook.

Appraisal Process

Revision

We have already covered the tools you need, earlier in the Pocket Correspondence course, so work your way back through…

 

Further Reading

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Dealing with Difficult Behaviour

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Let’s get one thing straight: as soon as you start to think of a colleague, a team member, a boss or one of your direct reports as a ‘difficult person’ you are lost. There will only be two options: you or they will have to go.

Luckily, there are truly very few difficult people. But that does not mean that you will not have to deal with your fair share of difficult behaviours. It may be the dark side of management, but as night follows day, it will always be there; part of your portfolio of responsibilities.

Exercise 1: Difficult Behaviours

Make a list of some of the types of difficult behaviours you have had to deal with. For each one, ask yourself: ‘what might be at the root of this behaviour?’

This question is crucial, because nice, easy-to-get-on-with people sometimes behave in difficult ways and there is always a reason. And when you have a good idea what the reason is, you will soon have some ideas about how to tackle it.

Three Tips

Here is a way to help you. Ask yourself, truthfully, whether you have ever behaved a bit like that. You probably have at some time; even if it was in your childhood or teenage years. What triggered that behaviour in you?

Another way to think about what is going on is to try and think of a time when someone you know well behaved like this. It was not their usual behaviour, so what was the cause?

My final tip is to imagine a child behaving like that in the playground. What might be going on?

Here are some behaviours to practise on…

Difficult Behaviours

Dealing with the Behaviour

Since it is the behaviour that you want to deal with, be sure to start from a position of respect for the person. Address simple, one-off behaviours as soon as you can and start from the supposition that the person may not be fully aware of their behaviour or the effects it is having. So non-judgemental observation can often be enough to raise awareness and trigger a change.

For longer embedded behaviours, you would do well to prepare in advance. Start with an assessment of what you want from the process – a minimum standard of behaviour, for example – and plan out how you will handle the situation. If you do not have good, strong, objective evidence of the behaviour and its impacts, gather it now.

It is often best to arrange a meeting on neutral ground, like a meeting room. Certainly it must be somewhere that offers privacy. Start your meeting by establishing rapport and letting the person know that you value them. Your temptation will then be to deploy the first killer word…

But

As soon as the word ‘but’ appears, the other person will forget all that has gone before and think ‘okay, here it comes, this is what it is all about.’

This is what it is all about, but you do not want to lose the value of what has gone before. Find a way of bringing up the topic without a but or an implied but. My own favourite is something like this: ‘there is something we do need to discuss.’ ‘Discuss’ makes it a joint endeavour, ‘something’ sets it in the context of a larger ‘everything, and ‘do’ whilst emphasising the point also hints that it is hard for you – which it is.

Head on

Be clear and direct (but not blunt) in your description of the behaviour and the impact it is having, then check whether the other person recognises the situation. This non-judgemental approach takes a lot of the personalisation away.

If they largely accept your observations, they will probably be willing or even keen to deal with the behaviour. Invite them to offer reasons and to work with you to address it. In doing so, you must address the second killer word…

Why

Reasons are important. Unfortunately the most convenient word we have to probe them is ‘why’. And no word gets more personal than ‘why’, so you are likely to get a defensive response. Instead, try better questions like: ‘can you tell me what might be causing this behaviour’ – placing the cause outside of the person.

Sometimes someone will not accept your observations about their behaviour, and maybe even reject the need to address it. This is not acceptable. You need to be firm, clear and respectful in telling them what needs to change and why. Without making threats, set out the consequences for your organisation, for yourself, and for them if they don’t make the changes.

Do not threaten and do not negotiate beyond the outcome you planned on – instead, suggest you get back together in 24 to 48 hours, when they have had a chance to think through what you have discussed. This puts you in charge, and throws the responsibility for the next move onto them.

The Secret

Handling difficult behaviour is uncomfortable. The secret is to plan, to stay calm, and to maintain equal respect for yourself and the other person. You won’t always be able to change the behaviour and may need to escalate the process (see Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 3: The Alternative). But on most occasions, a light but controlled approach will work wonders.

Further Reading

The Problem Behaviour Pocketbook

Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

…and, if all else fails:
The Discipline & Grievance Pocketbook

You may also like the following Pocketblogs:

How to Manage a Challenging Conversation
An earlier part of this series, it offers you a seven step process to help you prepare for your meeting.

How to Understand your Toddler
Actually, not just toddlers… Icek Ajzen’s theory of planned behaviour will help you understand behaviour and therefore some of the levers to change it.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right
Mediation may be an option to help gain a resolution, and this blog describes how it works.

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Coaching: A Manager’s Best Tool

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Your job, as a manager, is to coordinate people and resources to get work done. Important parts of that are:

  • getting the most from your people
  • getting things done ever-more effectively and efficiently
  • developing your team’s capacity and capabilities
  • motivating people to work at their best

and so on…

One management skill has emerged as the solution to all of this. It does not stand alone, but over the last thirty years we have learned its power to enhance individual and organisational performance. That skill is coaching.

Coaching is not new

The best managers, leaders, and teachers have been doing coaching for years – hundreds and thousands of years. What is new, is that the process and techniques have been studied, systematised and turned into a thousand books, articles and training courses. This means that coaching is no longer the preserve of the few who figure it out for themselves and have a natural talent: anyone can learn it, practise it and master the skills.

At its best, coaching is a valuable conversation that lets one person figure out what they need to do to get the results they need.

The Principles of Coaching

The core principle of coaching is respect for the person you are coaching. As a coach, you need to assume that the other person can find the solution to the challenge they are working on, whether it is a workplace problem, improving under-performance, or preparing themselves for a promotion.

To support this, the fundamental skills are

Questioning – asking good questions that increase the other person’s awareness of their situation and help them perceive things in a new way

Listening – so that you can ask questions founded on exactly what they say

Patience – giving time for the other person to work out solutions for themselves

Trust – recognising that they will make mistakes, but that is a valuable part of learning

As a manager, you need to balance opportunities to learn (sometimes by making mistakes) with the need to manage risk. But the thing that surprises most new coaches is how often the coaching process finds a good solution first time – and often a better solution than the coach themself would have thought of.

The Process of Coaching

There are a lot of methodologies for coaching – many of them proprietary. Most of them offer an acronym to help remember the areas for questioning and exploration. These are:

Coaching Process

One acronym is, in some ways, the obvious one: COACH

The COACH Coaching Process

Further Reading

Coaching is one of the most discussed topics on the Pocketblog. You may also like the following Pocketblogs:

An Infinite Number of Coaching Acronyms
So you can see how different models follow the process above – and find the acronym you like best.

Keep it SIMPLE
A look at the Solution Focus approach to coaching.

Who is getting in your way?
The ideas of Timothy Gallwey who many regard as the originator of modern coaching as used in the business and management world.

Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 2: Turnaround
An example of how coaching fits into the pragmatic world of management.

The Awesome Power of Mentoring
Mentoring is often discussed in the same sentence as coaching. Find out what it is and how it can work for you, as a new manager.

Questions, Questions, Questions
…is about the art of – questions!

and

Listening
is about listening

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Delegation: Double your Capacity

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Management is not about doing things: it is about getting things done. So a large part of your responsibility is allocating work among your team and developing people to take on more demanding challenges. Delegation – getting other people to do aspects of your work – is a part both of effective working and of developing people.

Whilst there are lots of poor reasons for delegating – like off-loading unpleasant tasks, or abdicating responsibility – there are many positive benefits to you, to your team, and to your organisation.

Exercise 1: The Reasons to Delegate?

Make a list of all of the good reasons to delegate. To help you, consider the question from three perspectives:

  1. How can you benefit?
  2. How can your team members benefit?
  3. How can your organisation benefit?

Failure to delegate

The problem is that many managers constantly find excuses for not delegating; even when they know they ought to for many of the reasons you have probably identified. What are yours?

Exercise 2: Excuses for Not Delegating

Here are some excuses I commonly encounter. For each of these, how would you counter the excuse?

  • “I’d be better off doing it myself”
  • “I don’t want to overload my staff”
  • “I don’t have the time to delegate”
  • “I know exactly how I want it done”
  • “If I ask him/her to do it, he/she will be nagging me every five minutes”

How to Delegate

Some people use these excuses simply because they don’t feel comfortable with the process of delegation. Indeed, many guides either make it seem like a big deal, or they miss out an important aspect of the process, leaving people wondering why it fails. So let’s look at the basic delegation process.

Delegation

Step 1. Matching

Understand the task, its level of importance and urgency, and the risks associated with it. Then consider the people available to you, and their abilities, strengths, preferences, and their existing commitments. Also think about their development routes. Now match the task to the most suitable person.

Step 2. Briefing

Brief effectively. Taking time to do this properly is an investment that will result in fewer interruptions, a greater chance of innovation and excellence, and a reduced chance of mistakes and failures.

Step 3. Commitment

After you have briefed and answered any questions, ask if they:

  • Understand the task required
  • Can carry out the task required – do they have the ability and availability?
  • Believe the resources and time allocated are sufficient for the task required

Then ask for their commitment to do the task required. In return, offer your commitment to support and monitor the process.

Step 4. Monitoring

An important part of risk management and of developing the person you have delegated to is to monitor their performance. Monitor more or less frequently, depending on your level of confidence and certainty, and the level of risk.  Remember: when you delegate a task, you retain responsibility for it.

Step 5. Feedback

When the job is done, offer objective feedback on performance and listen to what they have to say about their experience and any concerns. Recognise the work done and contribution made, reward it with thanks and praise, and highlight what the person can learn from their experience.

Further Reading

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Feedback Mandatory

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


‘Feedback is the breakfast of champions’

This quote is most-often attributed to Ken Blanchard, but I have been unable to source it securely.  But its meaning is clear: It is a diet of good quality feedback that helps us grow and develop into top performers.

Feedback is the perfect accompaniment to goal-setting (which we looked at last week).  The two are so inter-twined and so fundamental that the very first Pocketblog started with an important experiment by Albert Bandura and Daniel Cervone that showed the power of these two in combination.

That post was called ‘Feedback Welcome’.  This one’s title is a nod in that direction, but takes it a step further.

As a manager, you have a responsibility to the people you manage and lead.  You must develop them, you must recognise their contributions and you must reward them for their effort.  Feedback is the principal way you can do that.

Feedback can be:

  1. Judgemental (‘what you did well/badly was…’) or
    Non-judgemental (‘I notice that what you did was… and this is what happened’)
  2. Positive (‘What you did that I liked was..’) or
    Negative (‘What I would like you to improve was…’)
  3. Outcome based (‘You got a really good result with…’) or
    Process based (‘I was impressed by the way that you…’)
  4. Comparative (‘Your work exceeded the standards for…’) or
    Absolute (‘Your work was excellent’)
  5. Personal (‘I want to thank you for your excellent work’) or
    Impersonal (‘You work met the highest standards’)

Give your Feedback a BOOST

Great feedback should give your colleagues a real BOOST.

Balanced
It will not be surprising to you to learn that, on all of the five scales above, balance is key.  Sticking to one style will rarely serve the person you are developing well.  Each pairing represents a spectrum of styles and you must select where on each spectrum to place the balance, to get best effect.  At different times and in different situations, a different point of balance will be appropriate.

Observed
Provide precise feedback based on genuine observation; rather than hearsay.  The more evidence you can offer and the more precise that evidence is; the better your colleague will be able to calibrate their performance and understand the implications of their choices.

Objective
By this, I mean that it is important to give feedback on performance, rather than on the person.  Compare these to examples of feedback:

‘The analysis you gave was confused.’

‘Your thinking was confused.’

The first is something I can fix and your feedback is based on something you can observe and evaluate.  The second, even if true is harder to fix, but critical; you have no direct evidence: my thinking may be logical and rigorous, but my writing style confused – or maybe I was distracted – or maybe…  The first can motivate me to sort out my work; the second will demotivate me, as I will feel it as a personal attack.

Specific
If my analysis was confused, I can only address it if I know how and where you assess my work to be confused.  The more specific your feedback, the easier it is for me to fix my work – or the easier it is for me to understand what parts are good.

Timely
Deliver your feedback as soon as appropriate  but not before. If the situation is not suitable, or if you do not have a robust basis for observed and specific feedback, then wait.  But only wait as long as is necessary.  Don’t put feedback off, or its value will diminish and may even be lost.

Further Reading

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Setting Good Goals

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Goal setting is such a fundamental part of management, that we sometimes forget what it is for.  It has become embedded into formal processes that can distance us from what we are doing and turn good management practices into form-filling, box-ticking routines; devoid of any real meaning or purpose.

So let’s be explicit about what goal setting is for

We set goals for others so that they will know when they have achieved what we want.  We set goals for ourselves, for the same reason.  Goal setting is therefore about:

  • Giving a clear direction and reason for work
  • Giving an equally clear indication of when to stop
  • Being explicit about what triggers the reward – which may only need to be a thank-you
  • Setting a standard of achievement, on the route to mastery
  • Motivating people to achieve what is needed

SMART Goals

There are a lot of formulations of SMART goals – most typically:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

All of these are designed to remind users that good goals are explicit about what is expected, balance challenge with realism, are rooted in what is important, and have a time-scale attached.

What, Why, When, What if?

Good goals need to answer these four questions:

  1. What do you expect of me; precisely?  I need to know what you want in enough detail to be able to meet your expectations.
  2. Why are you asking it of me?  Without a sense of valuable purpose, I shan’t be motivated.
  3. When do you need it by?  So that I can schedule the work into my diary and assign it the right priority.
  4. What if things don’t go according to plan?  What resources can I draw upon, what help will you offer, what compromises are appropriate and what are not acceptable, what authority do I have to make decisions?

The key, however, to good goals is that they must be agreed between you, the manager, and the person for whom you are setting the goals.  The best way to get the commitment you need is to express the goals clearly, put them in writing and then to look your colleague in the eye, and ask: ‘do you accept this goal?’

When goal-setting becomes a formal process it loses its power.  Make good goal-setting an everyday routine – part of your day-to-day management of your team and of each individual.  Formal, annual or quarterly goal setting will then feel easy – it will set the strategic context for your day-to-day management.

Further Reading

The Performance Conversations Pocketbook

The Motivation Pocketbook

Performance Management Pocketbook

Feedback Pocketbook

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How to Manage a Challenging Conversation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


As a manager, you will sometimes have to set up and have conversations you would really rather leave to someone else.  These challenging conversations can be about:

  • performance issues
  • personal issues
  • employment issues
  • terms and conditions
  • giving bad news
  • complaints
  • conduct issues

This is one of the least pleasant parts of your job, so it pays to prepare well and follow a process.

Exercise 1: Before You Go any Further

Take a moment to review the last module, Transactional Analysis for Managers. How does this apply to challenging conversations?  You know that an Adult state is ideal, but….

How would your being in Child state affect the way you manage a challenging conversation?

How would your being in Parent state affect the way you manage a challenging conversation?

What body language betrays Parent and Child state? How can you adjust your posture to support an Adult ego state?

Seven Steps

Let’s look at the Seven Steps for handling a challenging conversation.

Challenging Conversation

Preparation

Think through in advance how you want to conduct the conversation. Review the things you want to raise and identify those that are most important. Your conversation will be easier and more effective if you can focus it on the most substantive matters. Continually saying ‘and another thing’ can only make it harder.

Create Safety

Look for the right time and place to conduct the conversation and give the other person notice of what you want to talk about, so they can prepare, rather than react against you if they feel hijacked. Acknowledge that you and they may find the conversation difficult but express your desire to work through it openly and constructively. Demonstrate a relentless commitment to being respectful and maintain that even if the other person does not. If the emotional temperature rises to a level where you not feel emotionally or physically safe, call for a recess.

Setting-up the Conversation

If the relationship renders it appropriate to start with a short rapport building chat do so – otherwise stick to the courtesies that are standard in your culture. Too much pleasantry can come across as evasive – even manipulative.

So be honest without being blunt. Start by stating the nature of the conversation and what you want to achieve as a result.

Saying your Piece

Now say your prepared piece. Be clear, explicit and follow the facts concerned. Check understanding frequently and respond openly to questions and challenges.

If you are interrupted, listen to the interruption respectfully, deal with it and then resume where you left off – clarifying where you had got to if there was a long gap.

Listening to the Response

Listen carefully to the response, without interrupting. Note any misunderstandings and make the assumption that they are all inadvertent. Take responsibility for not explaining clearly enough and explain again, differently if possible.

Dialogue

Take responsibility for the structure and process of the dialogue, but do not try to control the other person’s responses. Listen hard when they are speaking and pause to consider your responses even if you think you know the answer immediately.

Ending the Conversation

Close the conversation by emphasising the next steps that either you have both agreed or that you can reasonably require of the other person.

Further Reading

Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

The Problem Behaviour Pocketbook

The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Blog: Conflict: As simple as AEIOU

Blog: Resistance to Negotiation

Blog: Is This Relationship Going To Work?

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Transactional Analysis for Managers

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Have you ever had a conversation where the other person left you feeling a bit like a small child?

Or maybe you have felt like kicking yourself at the end of a meeting because you spent the whole time criticising someone.

Have you found yourself being over protective of a colleague, or perhaps you have seen someone stamp their feet and rebel against a perfectly reasonable request?

What all of these situations have in common is that you can easily understand them, spot them coming, and take control of them, when you understand a simple model of communication, called Transactional Analysis, or TA.

Transactional Analysis - Parent, Adult and Child ego states

Eric Berne developed TA and suggested we can think of all of our communication as coming from one of three ‘ego states’. When we speak, we speak as a parent does, as an adult does, or as a child does. We all encompass all three, but address others from one state at a time, depending on the relationship, how we feel, and how the other person is acting.

Parent Ego State

Parents are both worldly and experienced, and therefore speak critically of anything that does not match their learned view of the world, or they are caring and try to nurture and protect us.

Child Ego State

Children can both do what they want and rebel against any kind of authority and they can conform; adapting themselves to the wishes of those around them. Their responses are primarily driven by the emotions they are feeling.

Adult Ego State

Adults behave rationally, looking for the best outcome and trying to find the most effective way to achieve it. They think things out, rather than repeating past lessons or acting purely on emotion.

Transactions

Transactional Analysis - Parent-Child Transaction

In the workplace, Adult-Adult transactions are nearly always the ideal: both of you are speaking respectfully, looking for the best result. However, if you find yourself annoyed by something I have done, it is easy to find yourself slipping into Critical Parent ego state and addressing my Child state. If I respond accordingly – either by arguing petulantly (Free Child) or by being too obsequious and over-apologetic (Adapted Child) then we will get stuck for a time in that Parent-Child structure.

Likewise, if you feel guilty about asking me to do something so instead of asking assertively, you plead with me (Adapted Child), I will respond from Parent state, by either telling you off or reluctantly agreeing (Critical Parent) or by condescending to act in a patronising manner (Nurturing Parent) thereby taking control of the situation.

Parent-Child transactions work well in communicating, even if what they communicate is rarely healthy for a mature workplace relationship. Consequently, they can persist and become ingrained patterns that repeat over and over again, reinforcing inappropriate power balances.

Other transactions are possible too, such as:

  • Parent-Parent – let’s moan about her
  • Child-Child – let’s play a trick on him

But not all transactions are universally unhealthy:

  • Parent-Parent – let’s gossip about yesterday’s football – a healthy way of passing time in the appropriate context
  • Child-Child – let’s come up with some new ideas – the Child state is the state from which we become creative.

There is a whole lot more to TA than Parent, Adult and Child states and a whole lot more to Ego States than we have covered here. It is a rich and rewarding source of understanding for any manager.

Further Reading

Management Models Pocketbook

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