Choosing the right state of mind for the practice

December 1, 2008

In the workplace, employee relations can be improved by giving and receiving positive strokes, having adult-to-adult transactions more often, and getting rid of unproductive competitiveness.

Key Points

"Each of us has three distinct states of mind: parent, child, and adult," said Derek A. Preece, MBA, senior consultant, BSM Consulting Group, Incline Village, NV. "These [states of mind] have nothing to do with age or family status. We all tend to favor one or the other and we can change between states of mind automatically. None is inherently bad and there are appropriate states for [every moment].

From birth, our minds record everything that happens to us and our emotional feelings during those moments, according to Preece. Possessing an understanding of these states of mind and how they can play a role in employee relations is key to a productive work environment.

"What we need to do is get [employees] to understand interpersonal relationships and then recognize their own unhealthy behavior when it comes to interacting with their peers," he said. "They have to be able to self-correct, because you can't be there every time they say something snide or unkind.

Even more important is how one appears to an audience. Coming across as credible and kind gives words a different meaning than speaking in a way that is critical of employees. What you say and how you say it affects to a great degree who you are and who others perceive you to be, he said.

States of parent, child, adult

The parent state is authoritative. Emotional reactions to the things that happen to us are recorded in our child state. Our adult can see what the parent has experienced, in addition to the emotional experience the child has had, and decide if it's a reasonable emotion to have, he said.

An example is the fear of speaking in front of a crowd. The emotional reaction and fear comes from a reaction you may have had as a child, Preece said. Our adult can override that emotion and say it's unreasonable.

The parent records all the dos, don'ts, and authoritative things we have learned. This state also houses values of honesty, integrity, and humility embedded in us.

"The parent state of mind tends to be judgmental, critical, absolute, maternal/paternal, and protective. A dominating parent state of mind communicates a lack of respect for the other person because it is judgmental and critical," he said. "Because of the maternal/paternal aspect of the state, it also can be too protective and make people feel that you think they can't handle situations, which can be disrespectful.

"The child records the internal events while the external events are happening to us," Preece continued. "The natural child is impulsive, fun-loving, self-indulging, untrained, expressive, rebellious, and aggressive. The adapted child is eager to please anybody, timid, but tries to avoid responsibility because there is a chance he or she won't please someone." In other words, the child state believes that "other people are better than I am."

The adult develops as we begin to have our own thoughts, and it is the state that we need to be in most of the time in our practices, he said.

"The adult can objectively decide between the parent and child," Preece said. "Both parent and child give messages, and we decide which to express, making the adult a rational problem solver.

"As a staff, we need to develop the adult in us," he said. "If you are always in parent, you will be frustrated all the time. Stay adult to adult because you will get better results than if you speak to [employees] parent to child."