Transactional analysis in organisational development

Written by lalla scotter
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Transactional analysis in organisational development
Transactional analysis can help improve communication between people in organisations. (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Transactional analysis was developed by the psychiatrist Eric Berne in the 1950s. It is a social psychology that draws on a range of psychological and psychiatric theories and techniques to understand and improve communication and relationships between people. Organisational development specialists and management consultants use transactional analysis to help improve individual and group behaviour in organisations.

Ego states

Central to transactional analysis is the concept that there are three ego states that explain individuals' psychological viewpoint and how they relate to others. These ego states are called Parent, Adult, and Child. Typically, someone in the Parent ego state is controlling, instructing and critical. Someone in the Child ego state is emotional, submissive or insubordinate. The Adult ego state is associated with mature, objective, rational behaviour. There are likely to be problems with communications or "transactions" between people in different ego states.

Life positions

Dr Thomas Harris took this model of ego states further in his 1967 book, "I'm OK, You're OK." He suggested that there are four "life positions" that a person can hold. What life position an individual holds has implications for how an individual lives and how he develops relationships with others. These life positions range from "I'm OK and you're OK", which is a healthy position, to "I'm not OK and you are not OK", which is potentially a highly damaging position. In organisational development interventions, analysis of these "OK modes" can show why management behaviours that are critical, inconsistent or interfering, for example, are ineffective.


In transactional analysis, compliments, praise, and other means of recognition are called "strokes." Research has shown that babies need to be touched in order to survive and grow. Adults also need to receive strokes, to the extent that most people prefer to receive negative strokes than no strokes at all. When people don't get enough strokes at work, they may start playing psychological games, just to get some recognition. Psychological games are bad for both individuals and organisations.

Application to management

There are many possible applications of transactional analysis in organisations. One important example is improving how managers communicate with the individual members of their teams. Some recommended changes following transactional analysis could include moving some individuals to jobs that better match their skills and abilities. It is essential that people experience success. Consultants might also recommend making arrangements for individuals with lower self-perception to work in teams. Group interactions generally feature giving each other support and encouragement.

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