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Communication In Conflict In The Light Of Transactional Analysis II

Posted 13 Apr 2023

In the previous blog post, we mentioned creation period of child, parent and adult modes underlying our expressions. In the mediation negotiations, it is possible to observe these modes both from the mediator’s and participants’ point of view.

The communication consists of a chain of action-reaction. The first expression, attitude or gesture that initiates communication is the first ring of the chain. The reaction in response to this effect also creates an effect for the other person. This action-reaction process is called transaction. Underlying every action and reaction are our child, parent and adult modes. Sometimes our expressions contain one mode, sometimes they contain more than one mode. For example, when one of the people in conflict says “I will never compromise my demands!”, this is a sentence that contains only the parent mode. However, the question “Why are you angry again?” contains both an adult mode seeking an answer and a parent mode due to the use of the word “again”. The main reason for studying transactions is to analyze which modes underlie this action-reaction process.

Child mode is often observed in the expressions of people experiencing conflict in mediation. Child mode is a record of one’s emotions. In some mediation processes where the conflict escalates, the parties become victims of their anger. Without thinking, they only reflect the expressions of anger stored in their memory. In mediation processes such as family mediation, where there are strong emotional ties between people, it is often seen that the child mode emerges through crying or sadness. In mediation, when people manage to communicate on an adult basis, the solution emerges by itself. It is often observed that it is not possible to meet on the same ground when people in conflict cannot leave the child or parent mode.

Parent mode is a mode that mediators are also likely to fall into. The mediator’s effort to ensure that the parties communicate on an appropriate ground sometimes causes him/her to switch to parent mode. The parent mode often reveals itself in the modal of necessity, “should”. One of the main features that distinguishes the mediation process from other alternative dispute resolution processes is that the mediator does not impose any result on the parties and the result is revealed by the parties. The mediator is not a decision-maker. Therefore, the mediator needs to be in an adult mode to ensure that the parties understand each other.

Child and parent modes tend to react automatically to actions. In contrast, as we mentioned in the previous blog post, the adult mode is about collecting and analyzing data. It involves a evaluation/thinking process rather than an automatic reaction. For a healthy mediation, there are certain steps that the mediator and the participants of the conflict can follow to stay in adult mode.

  • Analyze your child and parent modes and observe how they appear in the communication. Being aware of your own modes will help you to analyze them when they arise and switch to adult mode. 
  • We have already mentioned that the child and parent modes are automatic modes. If necessary, it is useful to wait a while before reacting to prevent these modes from automatically emerging at the moment of communication.
  • Observe the mode of expression directed at you. It is useful to try to understand the mood and position of the other person being communicated with.

At the end of transactional analysis, the mediator and the people in conflict can step out of the child and parent modes. In this way, mediation meetings take place in a nonviolent communication environment where people express their own needs and try to understand the other person’s needs. 

Harris, A. Thomas, “I’m OK, You’re OK”, 1967 p. 99-135.

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Alexandra Kieffer

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Alexandra Kieffer is a certified mediator with a background of peace and conflict studies and responsible for international networks and training and happy to answer all your questions.

Dr. Andrea Hartmann-Piraudeau

Dr. Andrea Hartmann-Piraudeau is an international certified mediator and conflict expert with a broad international network and many years of experience in mediation and ADR. She is responsible for curriculum and research.