May 2016 at 11:25

Adult, Child or Parent? Which is your default 'ego state'? 7 Steps for Dealing with Difficult Behaviour.

By Lily Newman, Morgan James Consulting

Okay, so you're feeling the pressure, the targets are getting higher, the budgets are getting lower and there is a general feeling of unrest in the team as change after change is being inflicted from 'on high' (I wonder who lives there?) However, nobody is 'calling it' and addressing the under-current of unrest. Each of you have decided that, if you just 'keep your heads down' and keep on doing your jobs, everything will be okay, won't it? Finally, someone lets off some steam and loses it. Before you know it, you are sat in the middle of a fully-fledged argument that is not of your making. The pressure is all too much and you bite back. Words are said that you wish you could retract. Or, (in some ways an even worse scenario) you find yourself 'playing small' and apologising for a situation that was not of your making and placating an irrational colleague just to get them to calm down and restore order for the good of the team, the project or the company.

Either of these scenarios recognisable?

Then check out the clips on ego states below and consider, which is your default ego state in difficult interactions? Are you the calm, objective, rational ‘adult?’ Or the ‘critical parent?’ Maybe your default is more of the subservient, ‘adapted child?’ Whichever you choose, here are seven steps for dealing with difficult behaviour:

1. Count to 10 when someone is 'kicking off' and getting angry (the physiological reason that this works is because it takes 10 seconds for the cortisol and adrenalin - our stress hormones - to surge and then retract). Our first response comes from our limbic or pre-historic brain....the fight, flight or freeze mode. If we count to 10 then it gives us time for our rational brain to kick in and consider 'what is the best way of dealing with the situation that will enable us to achieve a positive outcome?'

2. Think 'STIMULUS > PAUSE (choose your behaviour) > RESPONSE'. Choose your ego state (all of them are valid and valuable in different circumstances). Consider the legitimacy of the issue that the individual is sharing with you and think, 'does this call for a nurturing parent response or a more objective, factual 'adult' response?' Whichever you choose, make sure that you apply rule 3 to get the best out of the situation...

3. Truly listen to the individual and recognise that you cannot successfully apply strategic rationale to a person in an emotional state. You need to find out what is behind the outburst first before helping the individual to find their own solutions.

4. Be very aware of your tone and body language (which are so much more important than the actual words that you say for conveying meaning). Remain, calm, relaxed and open and give the person your undivided attention and eye contact. Try and move the conversation to a quiet space where you can sit down and not be interrupted by others.

5. In tandem with listening, make sure that you ask great questions (make sure they are of the open variety) to assess whether the issue that has caused the explosion really is the issue (or whether there are deeper underlying problems that the person has been hiding for some time.)

6. Take off the Mr or Mrs Fixit hat and don't move to resolution too soon. Ask 'how can I best help you with this issue?' to give the person you are talking to some control. They may need to let off steam, to feel listened to or they may need coaching through their challenge. If you give them a sense of control and a feeling of being listened to, it can have a profound and positive affect on how they feel and behave.

7. At the end of the conversation, 'clarify and contract' with them - what will you do and what will they do now? Help them to consider, what needs to happen to reduce the threat of such an outburst again? Help the individual to consider what, within their situation, they can influence and what is not within their control. Consider what support they need to reduce their stress levels but (word of warning) do not take responsibility for the individual's emotional state. Helping them to shift to a place of ownership of their issues and developing the skills to rationally move to a place of calm and balance should be a primary objective.

Enjoy the films (there are more on You Tube for anyone who wants to find out more about Transactional Analysis and Ego States, but the two here will get you started.

Have a great day all

Kind regards


Lily Newman


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