Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – How Do We Miscommunicate? — December 13, 2019

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – How Do We Miscommunicate?

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – How Do We Miscommunicate?

My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products. I train coaches and consultants to be able to do this work, and for that, I use transactional analysis. 

One of the things we’ve been talking about in this series of videos is how people interact and communicate effectively. 

What happens if people don’t communicate effectively? What happens if people are more invested in wanting to keep their own reality and story than in actually being really in touch and changing? 

Within transactional analysis we distinguish  five ways people keep their own reality going without getting into real contact and really changing. 

  1. Redefinition: when you distort reality to fit your own life story.
  2. Symbiosis: where you create a fake dependency by pretending that each of you has less than three ego states, and one and one is less than two. 
  3. Racket and racket feelings. Authentic feelings are real reactions to the here and now. Racket feelings are feelings that you learned or were allowed to have, instead of the authentic feeling.
  4. Discounting: consciously or unconsciously ignoring information that could lead to problem solving, for example denying the existence of a problem or options
  5. Psychological games: One of Eric Berne’s first books from the 1970s, was called Games People Play. It became so popular that someone wrote a song about it. A game is a series of ulterior transactions which lead to a predictable payoff. You can think of psychological games as the conversations you have at home about who puts out the trash. You know, those conversations, when someone goes, it’s your turn and you go, no, I cooked. This goes on and on, until someone says “if you really loved me…” and by the end of the conversation the trash is still in the house.

These five ways of keeping your old reality going are stopping you communicating effectively. In the next videos we’ll look at each in turn.

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Recognizing ego states – alignment to change — November 26, 2019

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Recognizing ego states – alignment to change

My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products. 

I help leaders lead in a different way. Cooperate to innovate. Involve customers to think differently. Integrate commercial and innovation. 

I have coaching and consultancy schools in different countries to teach professionals to be agile and innovative. One of the tools we use for that is transactional analysis. Now, we talked about the structure of your personality as an archive. We talked about the functional ego states as a basis for communication. And now I want to talk about how you recognize when someone is in one of those states. Let’s talk about the four ways of recognizing how someone is in a certain ego state. 

Behavioral analysis – what are they doing?

The first way to recognize an ego state is through behavioral analysis, both verbal, the words and the tone, but also nonverbal, their posture, gestures, the way they look at you. 

For instance, someone who is using negative Critical Parent might ask you: “Why are you are wearing those shoes today?”. Perhaps with a raised finger, a piercing look, strong posturing, a firm tone of voice. This can be positive or negative. It might be needed or requested to give feedback. If not, it is actually quite oppressive.

In Adult ego state communication, you often see people with a balanced posture, looking straight ahead, with a more neutral tone. They will be very clear about what they’re saying, often have a concise factual way of speaking. 

How can you recognize the Nurturing Parent? In Nurturing Parent, you see metaphorically or literally people holding out their hands to you. The tone is softer. There’s often an inclination towards the person, you see a caring around the communication. 

Rebellious Child is when you see the energy, you hear them going against the grain. In Adapted Child you could see the tilted head, looking upwards, they’re making themselves smaller. The Free Child behavior can be really open, making eye contact, engaging with an inner enthusiasm, they seem free in their way of connecting, they are expressing an authentic feeling. 

Insert figure

Personality part Words Tones Gestures Postures Expression
Free Child Enthusiasm, I like, authentic expression feeling Energetic, playful, up Animated, lively Fluid, resilient Twinkly, lively
Adapted Child I will, What do you want? Soft,  Few Rounded shoulders, looking down Subdued
Rebellious Child Slang, Wow, I want Abrasive Energetic,  Moving about Joking on the outside
Adult What, when, how, will questions directed at information  Monotone Few Steady Expressionless
Structuring Parent Imperative directed at thinking Firm, non-critical Few Erect Expressionless
Nurturing Parent Nurturing, I appreciate, I am happy you’re here Warm, gentle Palms up Open, forward leaning Accepting, smiling


Social analysis: Your Reaction

You can also recognize what ego state someone is using through your reaction. If you can feel what ego state is triggered in you, when someone communicates. 

When people come from Critical Parent, the natural thing most people do is move into Adapted Child or Rebellious Child. So anytime you feel yourself tilting your head and making yourself smaller, or going into Rebellious Child, chances are pretty big that the other person is coming from Parent. It’s a complimentary ego state. 

When someone comes from positive Nurturing Parent, then the most natural reaction is to also go into Nurturing Parent or Free Child. Care begets care. If you feel yourself wanting to take care of someone when they take care of you, it’s probably their Nurturing Parent coming through. If it’s smothering instead of mothering, you probably go into Adapted Child, “I have to be grateful.” 

How do you recognize the Adult ego state in others? Probably because you go into Adult as well. When someone is factual, neutral, problem solving in the here and now, you’re invited into that state yourself. If someone asks, “What time is it?” You go, “It’s quarter to ten.” It’s very rare that the response to that question is, “Why the hell don’t you have a watch?” You know you’re going to have a really bad day if you respond that way. 

How do you recognize if people are coming from Adapted or Rebellious child? Well, either you also go there, or you go to Parent because that’s a complimentary state. If someone did respond rudely to the time question, you probably want to go into a Parental state, telling them that’s impolite. 


Historical Diagnosis – where does it come from?


The third way you know where someone is coming from is historical. Everything I’ve shown you so far is an exaggerated version of what you can expect in behavior or a reaction. But truth to tell, there are no formats. People react in a very personal way and you can only understand where they’re coming from historically. 

So, for instance, some people might seem on the outside to be reacting from negative Critical Parent, but historically, it might be understood in a different way. For instance, they might come from a family where their father always screams at them and reacting from Critical Parent was their only protection. So, even though they seem Critical Parent on the inside, it might be that it comes from Adapted Child. 


Phenomenological Diagnosis – showing yourself there and then in the here and now


I think everyone has had that experience that sometimes you see someone, and you see the reflection of who they were many years ago. We call that phenomenological diagnosis. You see them react in the way they used to react when they were 6, 12, 13. 

I recently went back to a reunion of my school. We hadn’t seen each other in 38 years, and yet when I looked at their faces, I recognized their facial expressions from 38 years ago. I saw them as they were then, and some of them still reacted as they were then, which is interesting. 

Sometimes you can recognize where someone comes from through them showing you as they were then. They kind of froze in time. This gives you many clues about what is needed developmentally to heal early trauma.




How do you know where someone is coming from in terms of ego states? 

  • Behavioural diagnosis: words, tone, gestures, posture, facial expressions. (frequency count)
  • Social diagnosis: From what ego state are you relating to the other? What does that say about the others’ ego state?
  • Historical diagnosis: What were you like as a child? How did your parents behave?
  • Phenomenological diagnosis: Re-experience of past with connected thinking, feeling, behaviour you had then and there.  

To be absolutely sure where someone is coming from in terms of ego states you need at least three checks.

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Master communicators adapt their ego state so that the other can hear. — November 19, 2019

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – Master communicators adapt their ego state so that the other can hear.

My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products. 

In Transactional Analysis we distinguish six main ways of communicating from Structuring Parent, Nurturing Parent, Adult, Adapted Child, Rebellious Child and Free Child. What is really effective communication? 

Some people say that effective communication is communicating only from Adult. Which could mean that you’re always factual, analytical, structured. That’s a really great way to increase your effectiveness and efficiency. If I ask,” How many units have we produced this week?” You say, “30 units,” and I ask, “What was the target?” You say, “40” and I say, “So there is a gap of 10.” That’s Adult communication. We can communicate about targets, about what’s been done and analyze problems factually. 

The problem with only factual communication is that you stick to what you already know. It’s really great for increasing efficiency and effectiveness, but it’s not so great for innovation. 

Of course, there’s a part of innovation where you have to communicate from Adult. Once you have that brilliant idea, you really do have to create a structure and a way of making it work and execute the plan. That requires Adult faculties. But it’s not enough to create an agile and innovative team. 

So Adult communication is great for efficiency and effectiveness, not so great to start of innovation. 


What does a Structuring or Critical Parent mean in business? Is that a good or bad ego state to use? Critical Parent is really good at seeing what’s not working, what’s missing, and to give feedback where people are confronted.  

Critical Parent is a great way of establishing hierarchy. This ego state will help you stand up and say how things are going to be. For example, when managing teams, telling people this is the direction, this is the structure we’re going to work in, these are the banks of the river, and then letting people figure out for themselves how they’re going to do. 

Structuring Parent communication is needed to give direction and purpose

Overusing it leads you to micromanagement, and you really want to avoid that because it makes people smaller and dependent. 

Nurturing Parent. What’s good for management is the empathic part. It’s a great ego state to take care of your people, when they need it and when they’ve contracted for it. If you look around your office and see everyone with drawn faces after a project launch, then ordering pizza is a great way to take care of them because they need it. When someone comes into your office and you give them words of encouragement and empathy, it’s great when that’s needed. The lifting up of people, the whole developmental function of your management role is a great way to use your Nurturing Parent faculties. 

Of course, if you do it too much, if you give care when nothing is needed or asked for, it brings about this smothering style of management. You know what I mean, where someone’s hovering over you all the time and asking you if you’re alright. Sometimes I get managers who say their door is always open. I say, of course, we’re human beings, but you’ve got a business contract going on too. It’s fantastic to have that base of empathy in your leadership style but watch out for over caring for your people because it’ll make them dependent. 

Are the Child ego states good ways of communicating in management? 

Rebellious Child is a good way of communicating, believe it or not. You need your team to question: Why are we doing this after 20 years? Aren’t there other ways of doing it? Why should you obey a hierarchy that isn’t very functional? Why should you obey rules that were made 30 years ago when it doesn’t work in today’s world? It’s really good to have that rebellious sense, especially as a change manager or an innovation manager thinking about how things could be different or going against the grain. 

Is that the essence of being an innovative manager? Overusing Rebellious Child to overturn or create anarchy within the system is not going to work. If you’re working in a business, you do have to respect the hierarchy and structure. But the Rebellious Child way of communicating will get your team in a mode where they don’t have to obey the rules and can think creatively for themselves. 

The Adapted Child will help you work within the system. Sometimes I coach people who bypass rules, who redefine the purpose of the meeting or set their own agenda.  I might acknowledge that they have complaints about their boss, but I tell them, “Your boss is getting paid more for a reason. Until proved otherwise, you are working within this hierarchy and you will have to work with this manager, and you will have to manage your manager. That’s 50 percent of your salary right there.” Yes, there are degrees of “being yourself” in a group, but actually, there’s always a degree of adaptation when you work in a group. 

When you use Adapted Child too much as a manager you accept the status quo blindly, and we all know where that has got us sometimes in history.  

Free Child communication is bonding. It brings people to a point where they say, “Let’s do this together. Let’s play together.” 

One of my colleagues wrote a book about managing change as play. Authenticity and intimacy in business is a really good thing. There are countries where there are very restrictive laws against intimacy in business, and that’s a good thing, and we are also human beings who need to connect. 

Using Free Child as a style of communication in business is infectious and will get you going in an agile and innovative way.

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – The function of different communication styles – check the need or the contract — November 12, 2019

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – The function of different communication styles – check the need or the contract

My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products. 

One of the models we use is functional analysis of ego states. We want to teach people to communicate in a way that other people can hear. To be a master communicator, you have to adapt the ego state you’re using, to reach the other person from an ego state they can hear. 

We talked about Structuring Parent, Nurturing Parent, Adult, Rebellious Child, Adapted Child and Free Child. So, what are the effects on communication when you transact from those different ego states? 

Structuring Parent: Let’s start with the critical parent or structuring parent. Pretend you have a puppy and you have to teach it how to sit. You don’t say to a puppy, “Please sit down. How do you feel about it?” You actually say, “Sit!” You use your critical parent or structuring parent voice. There’s a certain command voice to it, it has a certain look to it. It’s directive. There’s a force behind it and it’s very clear that you’re setting a boundary. That’s what you use Critical Parent for. 

The positive thing about using this Critical Parent: you create clear boundaries and direction. So, the Titanic is sinking – you don’t ask people would they would like to go? You say, “Go to the lifeboats!” That’s a really positive function of critical parent. 

However, if you overuse Critical Parent, it becomes dysfunctional because it means you’re always going after your employees with a raised finger, telling them what’s wrong and where they’re missing things. When you give a report back and everything is underlined in red ink, that’s a really bad use of critical parent. 

You invite people to become smaller than you. You keep that unequal balance. We talked about managing intimacy, and this is one of the dysfunctional ways of managing proximity or intimacy. Of course, sometimes you have to give negative feedback, but you don’t have to do it with the energy of trying to make people smaller. We’ll talk about that a bit later on. 

Nurturing Parent: sounds really great, it’s empathic, caring, it’s nurturing. That’s the positive side. A Nurturing Parent might say:” What can I do for you? Are you feeling OK? Would you like a chair?”

This is functional as long as there’s a need or a contract for it. If someone is falling down and you offer them a chair, there’s an obvious need. If someone has told you they’re not feeling well, and you give them a chair, then there is a contract. Using Nurturing Parent in these situations is a really good thing. 

However, when you overuse nurturing, when you start caring for people when there is not a contract and not a need, it can have a negative effect. It’s the difference between mothering and smothering. When you give care when people have not expressed a need for it or not contracted for it, it makes you the one who knows what’s right for them. 

In a management situation, it’s great to have your door open for people so you can take care of them. It’s not so great when you give them care when they don’t need it because that means you’ve stopped them from developing. 

Adult ego state: The positive side is giving information, giving facts and reiterating things so that people go back to what’s real and what’s here and now. 

During the last financial crisis, people came to coaching and said: “I’m really scared, I’m going to lose money.” And I’d ask them questions from the Adult ego state: “Have you lost any money? Is there any indication that you’re going to be badly affected by the crisis?” I sometimes find that people aren’t communicating in the moment. They act from something they’re scared of in the future, that hasn’t happened yet. Coaching using Adult is about asking questions what, how, when, who to bring people back into this Adult state where they can process real time, here and now information, and check the facts. 

Of course, if you would use Adult all time, life would likely get really boring – everything would become factual. I remember watching Star Trek. In one episode Lieutenant Uhuru said to Mr. Spock, “I’m in love.” And Mr. Spock replied, “It’s just a hormonal imbalance of one-point two percent.” This is an example of how using Adult is a great thing, but if you only use Adult, it can become pretty tiresome and bothersome and stop people’s natural expression. 

Adapted Child: This communication style is good because it allows you to follow rules and hierarchy. Look right, left, right, when you cross the street, that’s a pretty darn good use of adaptive child. If you don’t use it, you’re bound to get run over. Adapted Child can be dysfunctional when you do it automatically. When you always adapt whatever people say. If someone asks, “Do you want tea or coffee?” You respond, “Oh, I don’t mind. You choose.” That’s a dysfunctional way of using Adapted Child, because you’re not being autonomous. You’re not using all your ego states to function in the world. 

Rebellious child: In business, using Rebellious Child is a very energetic way of showing opposition or protest. If we didn’t have that Rebellious Child nothing would change. Look at the climate warning protests and Greta Thunberg. Think about how she uses Rebellious Child in a positive way to really tip the balance in the system and create an opening for something new. 

Of course, in some cultures it’s not used enough, and in some cultures too much. Too much happens when we use Rebellious Child to block initiatives. When you hear someone say, “Yes, but…” all the time or when people automatically go against the grain or against structure or against authority without thinking. Then it becomes a dysfunctional type of communication. 

Free child: When you use Free Child too much, it usually becomes negative rebellious child. This free inner child or the golden child, is a part of you that reacts spontaneously and authentically to whatever stimulus is out there. A Free Child transaction could be when you just burst out laughing, when you see someone and fall in love. When you are genuinely hurt or sad and you cry.

Yesterday, I was giving dance classes and I could see people really discovering their Free Child in movement. I could see their faces light up. Free child is relational. It goes beyond any culture, beyond rules. It’s something to treasure. And it’s something people sometimes unfortunately lose on their way to adulthood. 

What does this all mean in business communication? We’ll talk about that next time. 

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – The Function of Ego States – How to communicate effectively — November 6, 2019

Back to Basics Executive Coaching Series – The Function of Ego States – How to communicate effectively

My name is Sari van Poelje and I’m an expert in business innovation. I’m the director of two businesses. One is called the Intact Academy where I train coaches and consultants from absolute beginners to supervisor level. The other business is Team Agility where I help businesses innovate their business more quickly than their products. Intact Academy uses many different perspectives, including group relations, systems theory, family constellations, voice dialogue, but mainly we use transactional analysis. 

Last time we talked about your personality structure being like an archive with three drawers, Parent, Adult and Child. We talked about how consistent patterns of thinking and feeling, linked to patterns behavior get established during your lifetime. 

Today, I want to talk about how you use those drawers. So, the last time we talked about the structure of your personality, this time we’ll talk about the functionality. 

Last time we said, you have Parent, Adult and Child ego states.  Some of the patterns are inherited from your parents, some of it you develop in the here and now, some of them are learned in early childhood.  “OK, so if I have this in my archive, how do I communicate?”

We can use the ego state model to describe various styles of communication. Within T.A., we recognize five styles of communication. Two from Parent, two (or three) from Child and one Adult style. We call this the functional analysis of those states. It’s the difference between analyzing the car (structural ego states) and driving (functional ego states).

Using Parent ego states, we have two ways of communicating on the whole. One is called Critical Parent or Structuring Parent used to give directives. If I tell you: “Make 20 copies” using command voice that could typically come from the Structuring Parent. In Nurturing Parent, we could ask: “What can I do for you?”  A caring transaction, the empathic transaction. 

From the Adult, we’ve got a more factual way of communicating. So, it might be: How many copies do you want? And you’d answer: “Twenty” in a neutral tone of voice.  

From the Child ego state, we talk of two or three ways of transacting, depending on what school you follow. One way is transacting from Adaptive Child, so called because you are adapting to an external Parent or an internal Parent message. For instance, when someone says: “How do you do?” you perhaps automatically put out your hand because that’s what you’ve learned to do from your parents. Or when you cross a road, you look right, left, right, depending on what country you live in. So that’s Adapted Child behavior. 

We’ve also got a Rebellious Child style where you act against the external or internal Parent. For instance: “Why should I make the 20 copies (for you)?”  could be a typical Rebellious Child reaction. 

Lastly, we have the Free Child, so called because it is free from parental influence. So that means that you’re free to react spontaneously and autonomously and authentically from this inner feeling of connection. Sometimes you can look across the room and catch someone’s eye and smile with the joy of this connection. That’s typical Free Child. 

When we talk about communication within transactional analysis, we actually analyze:  from what ego state are you transacting? Each ego state has a different effect.