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JUNE 28 - COLUMNIST, DENNIS HOOPER: Serving Conflicted Individuals

Building Future Leaders

By Dennis Hooper

JUNE 28, 2010 - In my previous article, I described “conflicted relationships.” This week’s column is a continuation. If you missed last week’s column, look back at the previous issue or send me an e-mail.

Within each of us resides three “ego states,” any one of which might interact, in a given situation, with any of the three “ego states” in another person.

The Child represents our emotional, self-centered, and irresponsible selves. The Parent can be nurturing or judgmental, prefers to be in control, and resolves situations by using its pre-recorded impressions of “how people should be.” The Adult state is rational and analytical, solving and preventing problems based on cause-and-effect logic.

Because of past history (and maybe other factors), some individuals seem to interact with others only from the Parent or the Child ego states. Routine collaboration on “eye level” with others is not typical for these individuals. In any situation, they seem to see themselves as either “one up” or “one down” relative to others. Their choices are limited to being in control (as when they are the designated leader) or being subject to the authority of another. My contention in last week’s article is that this limited, dual-role perspective usually results in conflicted relationships.

First, let’s recognize that being conflicted is natural, and that we are all conflicted to some extent. (I confess it is easy for me to drop into my Child state and avoid responsibility! Or to jump into the Parent role and start suggesting what other people should be doing!)

It is also natural for us to want to be cared for. After all, we came into the world dependent on our parents (or some other authority figure) for our food, love…everything! Further, whether we become literal parents or not, we all understand the role of being responsible for individuals less capable. Therefore, it is normal and comfortable to assume the role of either Child or Parent.

Working with others in a collaborative way (Adult-Adult) is healthy and constructive because of the enhanced outcomes it generates. It is, however, learned behavior and not automatically acquired. Competition (Parent-Parent), dependency (Parent-Child), and responsibility avoidance (Child-Child) are far more frequent (and “natural”) relationships than collaboration.

If you have learned to interact with others from the Adult state, it can be frustrating to routinely deal with someone who is comfortable only in the Parent or Child states. Since both Adult-Parent and Adult-Child are awkward relationships, there is continual stress on you to flip into a complementary Child or Parent state. To encourage a healthy collaborative relationship, however, your task is to resist this pressure, creating an environment that encourages the other person to flip from the Parent or Child states into the Adult state.

Although not easy, this is possible, especially with practice. I offer two suggestions.

First, when facing a situation with a conflicted individual, invite him or her to join you in creating potential response options. Generating and considering the advantages and disadvantages of options is characteristic of the Adult state.

Help the other person resist making an immediate decision (those who prefer the Parent state choose quickly based on what their pre-existing standards say is “right,” “good,” or “appropriate”). Also, avoid the trap of making the choice for the individual (those who prefer the Child state dodge decisions so as to not make mistakes).

Second, with individuals who genuinely want to improve their collaborative capabilities, teach this Parent/Adult/Child model. Raise the individual’s awareness as to how frequently “collaboration” is possible. Agree to evaluate your interactions together. This will require tenacity, as the other person, at least initially, may reject your feedback.

Continue to suggest ideas for how the individual might share in the responsibility without assuming control of the situation. Over time, the individual’s ability to function collaboratively will grow, and the extreme emotions of feeling overly responsible or irresponsible will diminish.

If you’ll take the time and put in the energy applying the two action steps above, you’ll empower the other individual in a refreshing and inspiring way. Further, your future interactions with the individual could be significantly less frustrating for you and productive for the organization.

Dennis Hooper is a leadership coach, helping organizations build future leaders. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Call him at (478)-988-0237. His website is

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