Whether you are a onewoman band, a side hustler or a small business owner with a growing team, understanding Ego States will shape your path to success.

Let me ask you a few questions: 

Have you ever been on a sales call and before you have realised, you have agreed to a price (for your services) you are uncomfortable with? 

Have you ever told yourself multiple times that you will organise your invoices today but the more you think about it, the more you procrastinate? 

Or, have you ever lost your temper at a member of tech support on a website/ email provider you use, only to realise that it didn’t help?  

In entrepreneurship, you cannot avoid communication, whether it’s with your customers on social media or the way you talk to yourself. This is where Transactional Analysis comes in, and more specifically Ego States, let me explain. 

What are Ego States?

Back in the early ’60s a Psychologist, Eric Berne, identified Transactional Analysis (TA) with Ego States at the core of the theory. Essentially, this model helps us to understand how we think, feel and behave, in particular when communicating with others and ourselves. 

To keep it simple, there are three Ego States – Parent, Adult and Child. Parent and Child Ego States have both a positive and negative side to them. 

  • Parent State: the negative side is a Controlling Parent which is dictated by rules, shoulds and musts. The positive side is the Nurturing Parent which is caring, accepting and nurturing. 
  • Child State: the negative side is Adapted Child, behaviours replayed from childhood that either obey or rebel to rules and commands. Whereas on the positive side, you have the Free Child whose behaviours are creative, spontaneous and free from expectations. 
  • The important thing to remember is that Parent and Child behaviours, reactions and feelings are UNCONSCIOUS. This is how we can differentiate them from the Adult State. 
  • The Adult State operates in the here, and now, it is rational conscious thought. Within the Adult State, it is possible to behave as any of the other Ego States would, but it would be from a conscious decision to behave that way.

By behaving in a certain Ego State, you can elicit behaviour from the person you’re interacting with and vice versa – another’s behaviour may cause you to unconsciously react from an Ego State. This dynamic can also happen internally. Let me explain in further with examples that can show up in your business. 

How Ego States May Be Showing Up in Your Business

I’ll start with sales, one of the most (if not the most) important parts of running a business. In the introduction I asked the question, ‘Have you ever been on a sales call and before you have realised, you have agreed to a price (for your services) you are uncomfortable with? I have. If you were to guess which Ego State complying with a cost suggestion you’re not happy with is, what would you choose? The correct answer is Adapted Child. In some way or another it is likely the person you were dealing with demonstrated Controlling Parent behaviours, and without consciously realising it, you had slipped back into the Adapted Child State by agreeing (obeying) to a command (a reduced cost in your services). Make sense? 

Another example could be how you show up on social media. Social media is an incredible platform for both marketing and interacting with your customers. Think about what role might your Ego State be playing in your messaging and communication? Are you reacting to triggers or unconsciously causing others to react in a certain way? Understanding your Ego State will help you to understand your interactions with others online too. 

As an entrepreneur, especially in the early days, motivation and productivity are key. Despite knowing this, I have had days where even with telling myself firmly to sort out my invoices or write a newsletter, I just sit there, distracted by what’s outside my window, or what I am going to have for dinner. No matter how many times I tell myself to get a grip and get going, I procrastinate. At this point, you may be wondering how Ego States have anything to do with this, well communication happens internally too. Ironically, the more you tell yourself to do something (coming from a Controlling Parent state), the more you want to rebel (Adapted Child state). This is not just an affliction in productivity, I think one of the clearest examples is in dieting – the more you tell yourself to resist the cake, the more you want to eat it!

Depending on where you are in your business, there is a good chance you are working with other people aside from your customers. Whether that is a creative agency, virtual assistant, team members or tech support for a software provider you use. How might your Ego State show up here? I can think of one example very clearly. If you’re anything like me, your business is your baby. That phrase in itself should give you a good indication of where I am going with this. I remember getting my logo created. I was behaving as the definition of Parent State, I was overbearing, attached, and a tad controlling. I did not realise at the time (remember this all goes on unconsciously!) and luckily this time it worked out, but I’m sure there were moments when all the designer wanted to do was rebel and resist, luckily their Free Child and creativity came out, and I was left pleased with the design.

Going Forward (Growing Up)

When communicating between any of the unconscious Ego States (Parent or Child), it is difficult to have constructive and meaningful communication. Often, the conversation will go around and around until it dissolves with usually both, if not one, of the parties feeling unsatisfied. Or in the case of the internal battle, you will either continue to procrastinate or work begrudgingly. But all is not lost! 

By becoming aware of the Ego States, you are able to recognise when you are being triggered or perhaps triggering another individual to behaviour not conducive to the result you want. This awareness allows you to step into the Adult State. In this state, you can consciously and rationally make decisions on your behaviour. You can free yourself from the rules of your past and decide how to react in a communication. Imagine the first scenario I outlined. If you could then and there on the sales call recognise that you were being triggered to respond in a compliant way (despite not being happy with the sum suggested), you would be able to adopt an Adult State where you may have negotiated a price you were comfortable with. If your instinct had been to rebel or obey, you would have been able to take a step back and propose a solution you may not have been able to see if operating from an unconscious state.

Next time you’re interacting with someone, or having an internal battle, check-in with yourself. Question ‘What Ego State am I coming from?’ and unleash the power of interacting from a fully present, rational and conscious Adult.

You can find out more about Ego States here.

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Pippa Wallace

Pippa Wallace

About your author

Pippa is the Founder of May Coaching. May Coaching empowers bold women to find clarity, build self worth, believe in life’s possibilities and achieve their goals. Pippa’s mission is to unleash your unique and authentic power, so that you can live the life you choose, free from limiting beliefs and with a mindset that serves you now and for the future! 

You can find out more about Pippa and her business here.

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