Monday, April 8, 2024

Changing the Script

If the child, parent, and adult mode behaviors are essentially scripts, what keeps people playing their roles, and how can someone slip out of a role? In transactional analysis, there are two types of transactions: complementary and crossed. A complementary transaction means that the behavioral modes match up and can continue indefinitely. One person’s child mode evokes another person’s parent mode, and things can spiral out of control into perpetual conflict. In order to intervene, one person has to engage in a behavioral mode that doesn’t complement the other’s behavior. This creates a crossed transaction.  When a transaction becomes crossed, this destabilizes the scripted behaviors where those involved seek to find a new complementary behavior. Keep in mind that in this scheme, Parent to Child and vice versa is complementary, but so too is Adult to Adult. The way to change the script then is for someone to adopt an Adult mode of behavior. When this turns the transaction from a complementary transaction to a crossed transaction, the other person seeks to find a new equilibrium in a new complementary transaction, so they will in turn also assume the complementary Adult role. 

Trusting Your Team

When you lead others, you will find that they will rise and fall to the expectations you set for them. If you trust your team and act to be worthy of their trust, they will strive to be worthy of your trust.

Dangers of Micromanaging

One of the most difficult habits to keep under control when leading others is the tendency to micromanage. If you are someone who has a great deal of responsibility within the company and are emotionally invested, it may be tempting to try to do it all yourself. However, micromanaging, even for the most tireless of managers, is the kiss of death in being an effective leader. Your employees will come to resent always having you looking over their shoulder. Another tragic consequence of micromanaging is that you may well stunt your employees’ growth. In order for each employee to become the best they can be, you have to encourage them to find their own way. Sometimes they may not do something in the same way that you would, and standing aside may result in their failure. Keep in mind, however, that failure is often a prelude to success. Allowing an employee to make a mistake is akin to allowing that employee to grow and become better. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid the temptation to micromanage:

  • Tell employees that they can come to you with a problem only after they have thought of at least two possible solutions to that problem.
  • While having an open-door policy is helpful in building rapport with your employees, and it is useful in serving the needs of your employees, you must consider how useful you are to those employees if you stand in the way of their growth. Consider limiting your employees’ access to you in some ways. One possibility is to allow a certain time of day for open access while other times of day are reserved for appointments only.
  • Another suggestion is to resist the urge to jump in at any sign of difficulty. Instead, count slowly to 10 and consider whether or not this is one of those times where your help is truly necessary.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Adult versus Parent

One idea that comes to us from the psychological approach of transactional analysis is that when people interact with each other, they tend to slip into pre-formed scripts based on how they have experienced authority when they were children. These scripts can frequently allow people to engage in escalating behaviors that create vicious cycles of conflict. Transactional analysis recognizes three primary styles of behavior in social interactions:

  • Child. A person’s need to escape responsibility can cause them to slip into child mode where they can act dismissive and rebellious. People operating in child mode often dismiss other people’s criticisms and maintain an attitude that they are going to do what they want regardless of how others feel.
  • Parent. When someone feels a need to assert control over a situation, often in a case in which they feel powerless, they may slip into parent mode. From the sound of it, you might think this is an example of where someone has adopted the voice of reason, but more often than not, it is the voice of authority and not a very reasonable authority at that. If you have ever experienced someone talking to you as if you were a child, that person was most likely operating in Parent mode.
  • Adult. The ideal mode to operate in is Adult mode. Those who operate from this mode are concerned with reality as it is rather than disregarding reality like someone might do who is operating in child mode or trying to control reality like someone operating in parent mode.Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP 

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Calming a Storm

If you’re successfully engaging your employees, it is inevitable that small conflicts will arise. It might be tempting to see these conflicts as a negative. In truth, if they are allowed to rage out of control, they will have negative effects.  However, the fact that people are engaged enough to get angry or tense shows that they are employing their creative energies, and that is a positive. Nevertheless, when tempers flare, it takes a calm leader to be the eye of the storm and channel that energy in positive ways or calm it so that employees can function productively. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Always address conflicts from a place of calm. You may have to take a time-out or allow others to take a time-out from their own anger. Try to do so from a place of empathy and understanding. Avoid calling out employees in front of others. For example, when two employees are in conflict with each other, send one of them on a break while you discuss the situation with the other. Be sure to give each employee the chance to tell their side of the conflict, and make sure you listen more than you talk.
  • When you speak to your employees about conflicts, make sure you are specific and address the issue in terms of behavior and not in terms of the employee’s character traits.
  • Discuss how the conflict affects the rest of your team, but avoid doing so with an accusatory tone.
  • Allow employees to give you their understanding of what caused the conflict rather than identifying the cause yourself.
  • Allow employees to suggest solutions for resolving the conflict. If necessary and appropriate, act as a mediator between two employees who have had a conflict with each other. Be sure that each is coming from a place of calm.
  • Allow everyone involved to agree upon the appropriate action to take in order to restore the peace.
  • Most importantly, communicate from a place of mutual respect for all parties involved. Often in the aftermath of a conflict, the parties involved may feel either embarrassment or resentment toward the other party. Help to restore the sense of mutual respect by treating all parties with the same degree of respect, regardless of any perception of level of fault or culpability.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Monday, January 29, 2024

Lighting a Fire

You will often find yourself in a position in which you need to get your employees energized and motivated to work hard and enthusiastically. One who has adopted the rule-through-fear paradigm will consider this the time to become forceful and aggressive, but this can frequently backfire. Instead, an effective leader uses inspiration and positivity to harness enthusiasm in employees. Lighting a fire isn’t akin to burning down the house so much as shining a light to guide your employees. Here are some suggestions for increasing employees’ enthusiasm:

  • Share inspiring quotes, speeches, or ideas. While the movie The Wolf of Wall Street is not a great example of ethical leadership, it does give a good idea of how powerfully inspiration can foster enthusiasm in employees. This is why coaches in professional sports like to give the “Win one for the Gipper” -style speeches.
  •  Use upbeat music to get people going. Music that has a good beat and makes people want to dance also helps to instill enthusiasm and a kind of esprit de corps.
  • Celebrate group and individual successes in order to foster a positive and forward-looking morale.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Feedback Sandwich

Experiencing criticism can be a stressful situation, and the common approach to hearing criticism is to prepare a defense. One way to soften another person’s experience of your criticism is to use the idea of a feedback sandwich. Instead of telling people what they are doing wrong all at once, you can mix the negative with genuinely positive comments. It’s important that these are genuine, however, or you can come across as insincere and manipulative and lose any goodwill or trust you might have earned with your employee. Finding a positive thing to say about an employee who needs correction serves an additional purpose as well. Whenever you are angry at another person, a good tactic to help spur your thinking away from that person’s faults is to consider something positive about that person. Having something good to say about your employee can help to put the entire situation into a more manageable perspective.

Following up (versus Badgering)

When you set goals, it’s important that you set a goal that is achievable and corresponds to a timeframe. Similarly, when you intervene, it is helpful to have a definite view of success as well as a timeframe to check back with the employee. This follow-up will work better when it is approached as “how are you doing with this?” rather than “have you done what I told you to?” Furthermore, you should consider avoiding two types of extremes: not following up at all and overdoing your follow-up by continuously returning to the issue. When you initially discuss the issue with your employee, it will be most effective if you both identify a time in the future to schedule a follow-up conversation during which you can check in with each other. If you never follow-up, it erodes your credibility when you do offer constructive criticism because it makes it seem as if there was no real need for criticism. On the other hand, if you continuously come back to the situation that prompted the criticism, you put the employee into a guilt-redemption type drama. If you follow up with your employee at a scheduled time, and that employee has not shown improvement, you can re-assess what needs to be done further and use that time to schedule another follow-up. Keeping your follow-ups structured can help you avoid the pitfalls that can turn following up and being invested in your employee’s success into a form of harassment.

The Importance of Tone

In your role as leader or manager, you will often find yourself in situations in which you have to perform well even when you are not at your best. One truth about effective leadership is that when things go right, you will want to deflect the praise to your team members, but when things go wrong, it’s all your fault. This can put you under constant pressure, and some of your more socially conscious and astute employees might recognize this fact, but most won’t. Nevertheless, employees and supervisors can forgive much when you approach them with the right tone.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Constructive Criticism

Understanding what motivates the people you are leading is a great way to better assist them, but you also have other pressures upon you as a leader which can include your ultimate goal for your company as well as pressure from higher-ups in your own hierarchy. What’s more, even when you are an understanding and compassionate leader, some may seek to test this. The difference between an understanding but effective leader versus a weak leader is how well you respond when people attempt -- consciously or unintentionally -- to cross boundaries. When someone engages in behavior that’s detrimental to your overall leadership vision, occasionally you will need to intervene. What’s important in this case is that you intervene in an effective way that makes the situation better for everyone involved.

What are Your Intentions?

When you have to criticize or correct an employee, one of the most important things to consider are your own motivations. While it may be tempting to want to punish an employee who “acts up,” this can frequently create a poisonous environment in which the employee misses the message of improvement and only hears a message that involves asserting your superior position over that employee. This can recreate a sense of a parent–child relationship which runs counter to seeing the other person involved as a person and an equal who deserves respect. Punishment often has unintended consequences as well. If you look at the number of criminals who leave prison only to return again after a time, it becomes evident that punishment can harden someone into repeating behaviors as much as it can deter that person from those behaviors. Sometimes it is helpful to retreat from a potentially volatile interaction rather than addressing a person when you are angry. You can use email to schedule a time to address an issue, for example. This delay can allow you to restore your own emotional balance. Ultimately, you’re in conflict with an employee because they have crossed a boundary, whether it’s a social boundary or one related to your expectations for work. The more productive and effective approach is to find a way to correct the behavior rather than finding a way to punish the employee.

A Positive Vision of Success

One way to approach an employee intervention is to try to envision the situation playing out in such a way that there are no losers. You'll want to consider a way in which everyone has an opportunity to come out a winner. For an employee who has trouble with being at work on time or at all, this might be a powerful move that allows that employee to take greater responsibility in their life -- a long-term improvement, for example. When you develop a positive vision of what a successful correction looks like, you are better able to stay out of the punishment or blaming mentality that so often sabotages good intentions and well-meaning criticism.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Guilt and Redemption

According to Burke, on some level most people in our society and culture are motivated by guilt. He uses this term loosely to include emotions such as shame, disgust, anxiety, and embarrassment. From this viewpoint, people act to try to avoid guilt emotions or to find redemption which is what makes those feelings go away. It is this attempt to move from guilt to redemption that puts an individual’s “drama” in dramatism. There are a few factors that contribute in a large way to people’s feelings of guilt and inadequacy:

  • The social order or hierarchy. As people interact with each other, we unconsciously and consciously create a sort of pecking order through our language and concepts. This gives individuals a sense of relation to others in terms of being perceived as equals or as superior or inferior to another person or group of people.
  • The Negative, in this sense, is an act of rejecting your place in this perceived social order. Burke used the term “rotten with perfection” to describe the situation where people realize that their place in a social hierarchy is to some degree arbitrary. Those who inhabit a superior position may feel guilt or anxiety because our language includes a notion of perfection that is impossible to achieve in actuality. For example, someone who is known for being particularly generous might experience shame or guilt for wanting to put themselves first on occasion. The idea of perfect generosity is unattainable, so the person feels guilty, pushing them to seek redemption. Conversely, someone in an inferior social position might realize that they are not as lowly as circumstances bear out, and this becomes motivation towards redemption.
  • Victimage is another factor in this drama where the guilty person lays the blame for their circumstances on an external source -- another person or societal condition. There are two types of victimage: universal, which blames everyone and everything, and fractional, where a person blames a specific group or individual. In vilifying the other person, the guilty person can assume a heroic role in their drama.
  • Redemption is the final stage of this type of drama where the person purges guilt through a kind of death, either symbolic, as in a transformation in character or a confession of one’s sins or misdeeds, or in actuality, by truly dying. It is uncommon and disrespectful, for example, to speak ill of the dead. Burke considered the redemption stage a transformation where one transcends the old order of social hierarchies, and a new order is created. You can look at Burke’s transition from Guilt to Redemption as following two paths: the first begins with the status quo followed by guilt or anxiety about one’s place in that status quo, followed by identifying a scapegoat, followed by confession and repentance which lead to the transformation of the old order into a new order.

This description of the move from guilt to redemption can be helpful in understanding how people come to actively dislike others. Often at the root of ill-will is a feeling of inadequacy and guilt in an individual.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP