What do we communicate?

We communicate not only through words but knowingly or unknowingly through gestures, postures, attitudes, perceptions & interpretations. The theory of Transnational Analysis (TA) was developed by Dr. Eric Bern, which helps us to understand the nuances of communication. TA helps to gain control over our transactions and gives the power to communicate in the right way.

Did you ever wonder why one communicates differently with different people while facing similar situations? The answer to the question is given by Bern’s TA theory. Take an example, when we need to express that we are not happy with something, we normally shout to make at people to make them listen to us. Why do we assume that when we shout, people will listen?

This is where we have the concept of “ego states”. Bern says that every individual will have “Parent, Adult & Child” as their 3 ego states.


The parent ego state is like a tape recorder, which will have all the “rules & laws“. It is behaving, thinking, feeling in ways that are a copy of one of our parental figures. This parent ego state will be further classified into critical parent and nurturing parent.

Critical Parent: Lecturing and criticizing one’s behavior. Often ordering using “should” & “don’t”
Nurturing Parent: Consoling. Expressing care for others & displaying sympathy.

The child will also have recorded information but unlike the parent these recordings are with feelings associated from our childhood experiences. It is behaving, thinking, feeling what we used to when we were a child. The child ego state is further classified into adapted child and natural child.

Adapted Child: Behavior to conform to adult expectations. Can be manipulative or submissive.
Natural Child: Playful, impulsive, naturally curious, fun loving, rebellious & creative

The adult ego state is where most of the decisions are taken. In other words, the adult ego state is more on the “here & now” state. The adult is focused on problem solving, with controlled emotions and acts according to the environment.

Now can you guess, why we shout and expect people to listen? Yes, it is from our parent ego state. As most of us are used to our parents shouting at us. So we have a “recorded message” that whenever we shout, people will listen to us.

Whenever we communicate with others it is called as a “transaction”. Bern concluded that there are 3 types of transactions.

1. Complimentary:

The communication ensures on the same level between the two parties.


Manager : How to meet the deadline on this project?

Employee: Find the right people from the other projects and put them on this project till we are stable.


2. Crossed:

The communication breaks down and an unexpected response is provided.


Manager : Come to my desk (loud voice).

Employee: It’s far, why don’t you come here this time?


3. Ulterior:

The outcome is determined by the psychological message underneath the communication. When I send a message, you send back 2 messages which are the “surface message” and the “underneath message”.


Employee: Sorry, I coundn’t finish the project document and get it ready for tomorrow’s deadline.

Manager : It’s ok. I’ve been thinking of assigning the job to someone else anyway. I know you are not capable.


By analysing and understanding these transactions of daily life, we get to really improve our communication with our peers and friends.

Arasu is a software engineer at Compassites and has 8 years of IT experience. He holds an MCA degree from Hindusthan College, Coimbatore. His areas of expertise include Oracle, MySQL, MS-SQL, PHP, Zend, SAP-ABAP and he is passionate about open-source development. Apart from work he is interested in reading books and playing chess.

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