Leadership Development Tools: Using Transactional Analysis (TA) for Cultivating Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Transactional Analysis: Parent-Adult-Child Model

Many students and practitioners of leadership are often on alert for the latest concept, tool, or tip to cultivate greater emotional intelligence (EQ). However, on our search for the latest and greatest, we may be missing out on the nuggets offered by longer standing conceptual frameworks and tools. For example, Transactional Analysis or TA is one such framework that continues to offer leaders support for greater self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management (the four dimensions of EQ).

TA originated in the 1950s by Eric Berne, a Canadian born psychiatrist trained in Freudian psychoanalysis. While this training greatly influenced and informed his work, it did not define it. Unlike Freudian psychoanalysis, TA also focuses on observable communication and behavioral interactions (or transactions) as a means of healing and development. The four basic elements of TA include:

  • The theory of personality or ego-state model
  • The theory of communication or communication model
  • The theory of script
  • The theory of games

Personally, and professionally, I find the first two elements of TA, the theory of personality and the theory of communication, most helpful as leadership development tools for cultivating greater EQ. The primary reasons for this are the simplicity and accessibility of these two aspects of TA. The TA theory of personality with the Parent-Adult-Child (P-A-C) model proposes that we live in and out of three basic inner states, childlike, adult, or parental. The TA theory of communication postulates that we communicate and behave in accord with our inner state.

Four Elements of Emotional Intelligence

With increasing self-awareness (please see my other essays on the importance of meditation and self-observation practices), leaders can recognize (with nonjudgmental acceptance) when they are in a parental or childlike state, refrain from speaking and acting from that state, release the attachment to the patterned reaction, reorient toward the desired adult: adult state and communication style, and replace the habituated (and often destructive or at least unproductive) pattern with a more constructive pattern of relating. Ideally, over time, adult leaders cultivate an increasing capacity for conscious communication.

The parental state and style arise from collective memories or permanent recordings of unprocessed life experiences of interactions with parents and other parental figures, primarily from one to five years of age. One’s basic sense of rules to live by (do’s and don’ts) reside here and cannot be erased (keep reading because our Adult can turn it off!). However, if/when there is disharmony between the parent figures, the impact is greatly reduced. The Parent state and style are often recognizable by absolutes of “should,” “ought,”   “must,” “never,” and “always.”       

The childlike state and communication style arise from one’s subjective (mainly feelings) childhood experiences primarily from one to five years of age. This state and style are often recognizable by strong feelings of both delight and despair.

The Adult state and style arise from life experiences from 10 months onward that challenge the external parental messages and the internal child feelings with direct lived experiences and thought formations. The Adult gains increasing capacity to recognize the parental tapes and challenge the merit and helpfulness of them while also discerning which feelings are appropriate to express and how to do so.

The Adult is recognizable by the growing capacity to assess the validity or rightness of the information (incoming and Child-Parent tapes) and respond accordingly. While there may be times when a Child or Parent state and style might be a leader’s conscious choice in professional settings, Adult: Adult relationships are the aim. 

TA, an oldie but goodie as far as leadership development goes, particularly for cultivating EQ. So, dust off that old copy of “I’m OK, You’re OK” and reread it! You and your colleagues (and loved ones) will be glad you did!

Head, Heart, Hands, and Will: Beyond Personality to an Integrative Approach to Leader Development

From DISC to Insight Discovery to Meyers Briggs, personality typologies are frequently used as tools for leader development. However, after years of exploring and utilizing such tools, personally and professionally, I’ve come to realize that while they can be extremely helpful, when misused (and sadly, they often are misused), they can stifle development and maturation.

Stunted development and maturation of potential leaders, particularly those who have care and concern for life on earth, are NOT what the world needs now! Therefore, to maximize the developmental utility of personality theories, it is imperative to use them as springboards into the developmental journey and not the destination. In other words, to know one’s personality type or temperament is the beginning and not the destination or aim of the leader development journey. Ideally, the aim of leader development is a fully integrated, mature, and whole human being in service to a better world.

Thus, a more optimal use of temperament or personality models is to inform an integrative leader developmental plan and approach that incorporates and balances the head, heart, hands, and will or the four basic temperaments that form the foundation of many personality typologies (e.g., Insight Discovery—Cool Blue, Earth Green, Sunshine Yellow, and Fiery Red).

There are certainly developmental benefits from using personality typing tools to include the increase of self-awareness (including shadow), and greater self-management.  Enhanced self-awareness and self-management are no small feat of course and it’s truly empowering and liberating to grow in these areas! The potential for ongoing growth here continues throughout one’s life. As we discover tendencies toward limiting expressions, we are more able to relax the habitual reactions and consider different perspectives and behavioral responses—truly transformational on the individual, interpersonal, and collective levels!

However, while greater self-awareness and self-management are highly desirable and deeply beneficial, if leaders stop there, they may solidify their identity around their personality type or temperament. This type of solidification of personality can be referred to as overidentification which occurs when we orient our entire identity around a descriptive quality or characteristic such as personality type. Overidentification leads to rigidity, defensiveness, hyper-sensitivity, and hyper-competitiveness as if one’s life were on the line because, in a state of overidentification, it is!  Consequently, this internal state significantly limits growth, maturation, and wholeness, because it blocks, refuses, or destroys any impressions that contradict the solidified identity.

To overcome these potential pitfalls, leaders can use their understanding of their personality type to inform an integrative or holistic developmental plan that fosters growth in underdeveloped areas. For example, a will-oriented personality (e.g., Fiery Red in the Insight Discovery typology) can engage in transformative practices that cultivate the heart (e.g. lovingkindness meditation), the head (e.g., reading and studying), and/or the hands (e.g., service and activism).

While leaders can certainly work on one area at a time, approaching leader development from an integrative or holistic approach can greatly accelerate development and propel us toward self-actualization (see Ken Wilber’s or George Leonard’s & Michael Murphy’s work on this topic). Of course, the developmental journey does not end here as there are higher peaks available to those willing to engage in the lifelong dynamic dance of stillness and action while also surrendering to the ultimate mystery of personal transformation, Divine love and grace.

Note: Leaders interested in exploring an integrative developmental approach and coaches interested in offering a more holistic approach to their leadership coaching may contact me at denise.frizzell@dafrizzell.com.  

Greater Tolerance for Ambiguity: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

Psychosynthesis: A Much-Needed Holistic & Hope-Filled Framework for Healing and Self-Transformation

Psychosynthesis is a holistic approach to psychology, developed by Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) that incorporates psychoanalysis, but significant transcends it by emphasizing health, development, and spirituality. Assagioli illustrated his view of the human psyche in his “egg-diagram” (see Figure) with seven elements:

Figure. Assagioli’s Egg Diagram

Source: Kenneth Sorensen, https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/. Used with permission.

1.   The Lower Unconscious

The lower unconscious, according to Assagioli, contains the basic psychological activities that conduct the operative and intelligent coordination of the body and bodily functions. This dimension of the psyche also holds one’s foundational drives and animalistic urges, as well as emotionally intense established thematic patterns (i.e., psychological complexes), dark dreams and fantasies, and some pathological disturbances such as paranoid delusions, uncontrollable urges, obsessions, and phobias.

2.   The Middle Unconscious

The middle unconscious, according to Assagioli, includes psychological dimensions comparable to waking consciousness with ready access to it. Life experiences are integrated, and standard cognitive and creative intelligence activated in a type of psychological incubation before entering the field of conscious awareness.

3.   The Higher Unconscious or Superconscious

The higher unconscious or superconscious is the region that holds our highest inspirations, aspirations, and intuitions for ourselves, humanity, and our world. This realm is also the source of our higher emotions such unconditional love and higher intelligences. It also holds the deeper experiences of insight, contemplation, and bliss, as well as potentials for higher spiritual experiences and psychic abilities.

4.   The Field of Consciousness

For Assagioli, the field of consciousness, a term he thought useful but not quite precise, referred to the part of our personality of which we are conscious, including the thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, desires, and impulses we are able to see and evaluate.

5.   The Conscious Self or “I”

The conscious self or “I” is the term Assagioli used to refer to the “the point of pure-awareness,” not to be confused with the field of consciousness highlighted above, which refers to the content of experience. The conscious self or “I” refers to the experiencer. He compared the “I” to a projector light and field of consciousness to a screen onto which images are projected.

6.   The Higher Self

Unlike Freud’s psychoanalysis, which only includes a lower unconscious, Assagioli’s psychosynthesis includes the Higher Self or soul depicted above the conscious self in the egg diagram. According to Assagioli, one can experience the Higher Self through the use of psycho-spiritual practices such as meditation.

7.   The Collective Unconscious

Assagioli’s collective unconscious, similar to Jung’s conceptualization of the term, refers to universal, nonpersonal common forms or archetypes that surround and influence us on a collective level. Assagioli distinguished between primitive, archaic forms and higher, progressive forces of a more spiritual nature.

Although not depicted in Assagioli’s original egg diagram (though some contemporary illustrations do include it), another key element of psychosynthesis is the concept of subpersonalities. Subpersonalities, similar to Jung’s persona, refers to parts or formed habit patterns in the human psyche, conscious and unconscious, that we repeatedly express in our lives. For the healthy person, subpersonalities are conscious and in the field of self-awareness and self-regulation. In psychosynthesis, subpersonalities may reside in the lower, middle, or higher unconscious, unlike Jung’s persona or false self. Additional fundamental concepts of psychosynthesis, which highlight stages of Self-realization, include self-knowledge, self-control, disidentification, unifying center, and psychosynthesis, as the peak stage in his model.

Disidentification refers to the necessity of separating oneself (the conscious I) from overidentification with everything outside or beyond oneself. Overidentification can happen any time we identify with an aspect of our life experiences such as a subpersonality, our ethnicity, fear, anxiety, or a role to such an extent that it dominates our lives. Thus, healing and growth opportunities lie in seeing when and where one overidentifies and, with the help of exercises and practices, severing the control of the overidentification on oneself or “I.”

Over time, former objects of overidentification can be healthily integrated into the middle unconscious and accessed more intentionally. The unifying center refers to the discovery or creation of an ideal around which one can reach or reorganize one’s life. Psychosynthesis, in addition to referring to Assagioli’s entire approach to psychotherapy, refers to the peak of the developmental process that establishes a new personality around a primary unifying center: one that is “coherent, organized and unified” (2000, p. 23).

Consequently, personal will (the Will) is a highly significant concept in psychosynthesis such that Assagioli dedicated a book on the topic entitled, The Act of Will. The will is an element of Assagioli’s Star Diagram of Six Psychological Functions (see Figure 5-2/Not included in this essay), which he developed later in his life to complement the egg diagram of the psyche. Lamenting the state of psychology in 1958, Assagioli is quoted as stating, “After losing its soul, psychology lost its will, and only then its mind and senses” (2007, Foreword).

Furthermore, Assagioli held the view of the existence of a transpersonal will, which he viewed as a dormant potentiality for most people. Assagioli’s transpersonal will aligns with what Maslow referred to as “higher needs” and the growing field of transpersonal psychology refers to using a variety of terms that include Christ consciousness, unitive consciousness, peak experiences, mystical experiences, spirit, oneness, and other such similar concepts.

As mentioned above, psychosynthesis proposes a dynamic five-stage healing and realization process (see Table—Not included in this essay). Stage zero highlights the predominate stage of humanity, characterized by what Assagioli called, the “fundamental infirmity of man.” John Firman (?–2008) referred to this human condition as “primal wounding”; wounding resulting from not being seen and heard for who we truly are by significant others in our lives. Stage 1 relates to the tuning in of one’s inner experience and the cultivation of greater self-awareness. Self-awareness is the foundation of all growth and development. Without self-awareness, we tend to react out of instinct and habitual responses or what Firman referred to as, the survival personality. As self-awareness expands, we start to see our tendencies, preferences, and shortcomings.

Eventually, we (often with the help of supportive practices or a skilled guide) begin to free ourselves or disidentify from our habitual thoughts, feelings, reactions, and roles, thereby cultivating the witness or individual observer “I” (Stage 2). Over time, we may start sensing a more expansive identity or connectedness to life and begin to feel new vocational urges, creative impulses, or directive promptings (Stage 3). From a psychosynthesis perspective, this involves surrendering and inviting a more intimate, conscious relationship with the Highest Self or soul. The fourth stage of psychosynthesis corresponds to a period in which we are formally responding to the invitations of the Highest Self (in contrast to the personal self or ego in its contemporary usage) and developing more spiritually.

Survival of wounding, exploration of the personality, the emergence of I, contact with the Highest Self, and response to the Highest Self represent the five stages of psychosynthesis. However, Assagioli and others (e.g., Firman & Gila, 2002 and Brown, 2009) cautioned that these stages do not represent a set developmental sequence, but potential responses to the human condition that can occur at any age.

It is important to note that Assagioli presented psychosynthesis in two subcategories: personal psychosynthesis and transpersonal psychosynthesis. The emphases of personal psychosynthesis are self-awareness and self-regulation. The foci of transpersonal psychosynthesis are on the realization of one’s Highest Self/soul and the actual psychosynthesis, the reformation of the personality around a new unifying center or ideal.

Numerous practices and exercises align with psychosynthesis overall and in these two categories. Thus, to identify a narrow set of core practices is inconsistent with this reality. However, it is fair to say that visualization, drawing, self-observation, and meditation are common practices among psychosynthesis-oriented counselors, therapists, and coaches. In addition, as highlighted above, disidentification is a core concept of psychosynthesis and activities aimed at freeing oneself from overidentifying with a dimension of our being or life other than the center of pure awareness or “I.”

Given today’s pressing global challenges and the subsequent demands on human beings, psychosynthesis offers a holistic and hope-filled paradigm for the journey toward healing, well-being, self-actualization, and Self-realization.

Note: Modified excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders”