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Logical Levels of Awareness

Logical Levels of Awareness
Logical Levels of Awareness
Logical Levels of Awareness

There are few models that are as beloved of management trainers as Robert Dilts’ Logical Levels of Awareness.

It is popular among those who have learned it as part of formal NLP training, through reading books, or by osmosis. The logical levels model is pervasive and hard to miss if you are alert to these things.

So, in this article, I want to explain what it is, how it came about, and why it is a big idea that merits your attention as a manager.

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Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis
Transactional Analysis
Transactional Analysis

If only we could understand people’s behaviour at work. Especially when communication so often seems to create, rather than solve, problems. Well, there is a big idea for that. It’s called Transactional Analysis.

Transactional Analysis (TA) has its roots firmly in psychotherapy. But it is of great value to managers and professionals. Its use of simple models and everyday language make it highly accessible. And, although much is often misinterpreted, the basic ideas give many powerful insights. With the help of TA, you can better understand the workplace dynamics around you.

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How to Manage a Challenging Conversation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


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

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


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.

Or 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 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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