Parent, Child or Adult?

  • By Shawn Sommerkamp
  • 09 Jun, 2017

I’m guessing you don’t get asked very often, “Do you respond more like a parent, an adult or a child when confronted?” If I wanted to rephrase in psyche lingo I would have asked it slightly different: “What is your most dominant ego-state?”

Still not clear what I’m getting at? It’s about how we express our personality in the way we behave  based on what’s come to be known as Transactional Analysis (TA). Before you let the complex label bore you, the following information may just save your career.

Understanding TA can help us make better choices when confronted with workplace decisions, especially ones that tend to be more difficult or risky. It is one of the simplest and easy to use communication models in psychology today. Not only is it basic to understand, it can be easily remembered for later use and requires little practice.

Here’s how it fundamentally works:

Everyone assumes one of three roles during any conversation – the Parent, the Adult or the Child. We tend to react in conversation based on what role the other person plays. As I describe each role below, you will probably identify with some.


These are the behaviors we copy from our parents and tend to be authoritative. You might hear someone say, “Under no circumstances,” or “always,” or other verbal commands. When in the Parent ego state, you might point a finger, raise your voice, clinch your fist, get flush in the face etc.


These behaviors are heavily feelings-based and lead to actions such as pouting, temper tantrums, rolling eyes, whining, teasing, delight, squirming and giggling etc. The child ego state can most often come out when stress or exuberance dominates reason.


These are behaviors that tend to focus on what’s happening in the present, uninfluenced by past or future. These are direct responses to the here-and-now and may be described as detached involvement. This is the ideal ego state for successful communication as you respond thoughtfully, without emotion.

Each time we enter communication with a colleague, we assume one of these roles. The role we assume is often based on the role played by the second individual. If the discussion gets heated, and your colleague gets angry, you may be either tempted to act like a Parent and get stern, or take the role of the child and storm out of the room.

The best way to respond is to assume the role of the Adult. Be calm and take in what the person is saying. Acknowledge how they are feeling and validate their viewpoint.

This type of self-control is what helps propel a career. Guidance is given throughout the scriptures on this type of self-control. Here are a few examples from Proverbs:

Proverbs 16:32 (NASB)  "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city."  

Proverbs 12:16 (NIV)  "Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult."  

Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)  "A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense."  

Now That You Know

So now that you know how important it is to be aware of your ego-state within a situation, how can you go about changing it?

You can use a process known as Thought Tuning™.  Thought Tuning™ is a unique and powerful way to immediately shift your thinking when a tense discussion or activity presents itself. It gets its power from the realization of your five core values!   Go here to download  the always-free Thought Tuning™ guide to discover your five core values.  

With knowledge of your foundational beliefs (core values) at the front of your mind, you ask yourself six questions that will instantly shift you from the Parent or Child ego state to Adult. It really is that fast. Over time, your self-awareness increases and you learn to enter each conversation prepared.

Recall your core values, take them with you and practice the six questions as much as possible  in the smaller frames of day to day workplace discussion. Then, when a big opportunity arises for you to be calm, level-headed and Adult-like, you’ll be ready to make a great impact.

Shawn Sommerkamp is a motivational speaker and Executive Coach with 20+ years of Fortune 100 leadership experience.  He founded Motivationeer™ to coach Christian professionals how to use their career to glorify God and support local church growth.

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The Holidays are over. 

It can feel like we go from the ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ to the most challenging time of the year. 

A more appropriate lyric, now that it is time to make resolutions & get back to work, could be one of the following… 

‘It’s The Most: 

  - Stressful
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 …Time Of The Year.’`

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Although your MIND knows that God’s will for you (according to 1 Th 5:16-18) is to:

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Give thanks, no matter what is happening in your life.  This is easy…right? 

A national polling firm named Penn, Schoen, & Berland conducted a survey, mid-2012, evaluating American attitude toward thankfulness. They conducted more than 2,000 interviews across the US general population. I’m only going to share a few pieces of the overall report:    

  • 90% of people said they would describe themselves as people who are generally grateful for their family and friends
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  • 60% say when they do express thankfulness, they do it to make themselves feel good

Where is the one place people are least likely to express gratitude? WORK 

  • 74% of the 2000 respondents never or rarely show gratitude at work (for anything)
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  • 81% would work harder if they were thanked by their boss or company 

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