Games People Play

The Islander – April 2021

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Do you feel that you have to take care of too many people...?

  • Have you ever asked a question of someone, and by the way they answered felt stupid?
  • Have you ever had a go at someone and felt guilty afterwards?
  • Have you ever used the same technique to get what you want from someone that you used as a child?
  • Do you sometimes find yourself being defensive about your ideas or points of view?
  • Do you feel that you have to take care of too many people who should be taking care of themselves?

Everyone has experienced some of these feelings or situations at some time or other. Dr Eric Berne developed a theory known as Transactional Analysis (TA), which enables us to begin to analyse how we treat ourselves, as well as how we relate to and communicate with others.

According to TA we can observe quite distinct types of behaviour from ourselves. Berne called these the three ‘ego states’ - Parent, Adult and Child.

When we are in the parent ego state, we are typically dominating the situation and our behaviour can range from being caring, helpful and nurturing to criticising, judging and punishing. The parent ego state will set limits and makes rules using words such as should and shouldn’t, as well as giving advice, being helpful and reassuring.

When we are in the adult ego state (which has nothing to do with a person’s age), we operate without emotion, remaining logical and rational. In the adult ego state we are able to gather information, anticipate consequences, remain dispassionate and think before acting or responding.

When we are in the child ego state, we can act impulsively and emotionally, being spontaneous, uninhibited, curious and open. Alternatively we may adapt our behaviour being courteous, conforming, sulking and withdrawing, or be creative, curious and manipulative.

Most of us do not consistently act from one ego state alone, instead our position changes from situation to situation and from one individual to another, often responding as we are feeling about ourselves and others.

When someone in authority causes us to feel like a child, we will most likely respond from our child ego state. When junior crew are messing around on the deck, you may well hear yourself responding as a parent would to a child. Over time we form communication habits with certain individuals, repeating the same ‘game’ over and over.

We hope that this gives you insights into some of the patterns of behaviour, both within yourself and for those around you.  If you keep treating someone as a child, don’t be surprised when they keep behaving like one! Try consciously using a different ego state, such as ‘Adult’ with one of your crew – you may be pleasantly surprised by the different response you get!

Impact Crew works on board and ashore supporting you on your leadership journey. We can work with the entire crew, or with individuals. Call us to discuss your yacht’s specific requirements, from managing crew turnover to dealing with crew issues.