Leading from Parent Ego State [April 14 2017]

Time after time my clients talk about the relationship with their boss. I hear lots of great examples but sometimes they tell me something like "She is like my mother" "He reminds me of my father when he is angry". In other words they feel bad, discounted or suppressed by their boss due to the transactions they experience. When it happens often enough these team members might start looking for another job (i.e. another boss). A well-functioning leader should be able to use his or her whole personality (i.e. Child, Adult and Parent ego states) as each part has its crucial function to maintain a healthy relationship. In my opinion, most of the time the importance of the Adult ego state is over-highlighted or the A-A communication is over-suggested by various TA leadership development resources. I agree with its importance too. I also say that the proper context can justify the presence of the Child and Parent ego states in the leader. This is what makes a leader a human, in my point of view.

The functional ego state model divides the Parent ego state into two parts. Nurturing Parent and Critical Parent. Each has a positive and a negative side. Today I am going to write about the Critical Parent ego state and how it can appear in leadership. First I will show some examples how it can make the team members' lives more difficult then I will show the positive side of this ego state. Let us start with an example.

It's Monday morning. You are late from the office. You go to your boss and say: "Good morning. I am sorry for the late. What did I miss?" He only says: "Well." Then he turns around and disappears with the coffee mug in his hands. Oops.

Source: https://housecallpro.com/assets/office-space-ed782a652dc9a5c4bc9ccd275df6bcc5b490974a88215e3c2d70f6bf66faab55.gif

His words were not too informative but his nonverbal behavior told you everything. Let us see the visual summary of this short crossed transaction.

You initiated an A-A communication. Your boss however aimed his negative CP verbal and nonverbal response to your Conforming Child (CC). The communication came to an end immediately. All his nonverbal messages (harsh and deep voice, hand on the hip, cutting the eye contact, turning the chest and the head away, leaving your personal and social zones) were inviting you to feel, think and behave in a certain way: the CC way. Of course, it is just an invitation. Your response is up to you.

Now, later in the morning your boss shows up at your cubicle and all of a sudden asks: "Did you get the memo about it?"

Source: https://media.giphy.com/media/u3HerNhGMmvQs/giphy.gif

You get scared of his communication coming out of the blue. Words don't come easy for you in the moment. All you can say is: "Err". Seeing this, your boss disappears again. What happened here? His words sounded like an A-A communication. But what he was talking about was not related to the here-and-now context. It was an ulterior transaction. The seemingly Adult communication was not aligned (it actually was incongruent) with the nonverbal behaviour (his sudden invasion into your personal zone, harsh voice, nodding head, looking down at you, resting his hand on "your territorial objects" and grimacing his face). Visually it looks like this:

In both examples above we can see the negative Critical Parent communication patterns from the boss. It is negative because it is not constructive, it does not help to solve the problem, make better decisions and build better relationships. The problem is not the CP ego state. The problem is its negative (destructive or maladaptive) feature. As you see in these two examples the words used might as well be quite OK. What causes troubles is the nonverbal layer. What are these? The proxemics (e.g. invading in, abandoning etc.), the context (e.g. appropriate timing of the messages, appropriate reactions), the incongruity (the words are not aligned with what the body is communicating), the tone of voice (e.g. too loud), the gestures (e.g. hands on hips, shaking head), the postures (e.g. closed or distancing) and the facial expressions (e.g. contempt or disgust). In other cases the negative CP can further poison the situation with words and expressions. These factors tend to form a negative impression.

If a leader uses them, they immediately jeopardize their good relationships with their team members, even via email. They can be trust shaking. And if trust is shaken in the leader-member relation, it can throw several other things out of the window.

This is why I recommend two steps for leaders to take. (1) Be AWARE of your own negative CP features. What are they? When and how often do you use them? With whom are they present? You can even ask for feedback about them. If your working environment is open enough, turn to your colleagues to tell you when they can see you in negative CP. Give them Permission to do so. (Do not Persecute them when they are doing so!) (2) After realizing you are in negative CP, MODIFY your communication style. It can be the positive CP (a.k.a. Controlling or Regulating Parent), the Adult or other positive aspects of other ego states.

Let me give you some WARNING SIGNS of the negative Critical Parent (especially when they are too frequently used or used in an inappropriate way or in an inappropriate context). Their user can easily be seen in the Persecutor role:


Source: https://media.giphy.com/media/jOEE5F9fCd3S8/giphy.gif

"Are you kidding?" "job-killing" "hell-bent" "detrimental" "An idiot could come up with a better idea." "dupe" "You'll never get it" "Shut up" "Awful" "Disgusting" "Don't" "impossible" "insane" "insidious" "pain" "You don't have any integrity, do you?" "poor" "terrible" "threatening" "bad" "evil" "junky" "questionable" "unfavourable" "You're completely irrational" "unsatisfactory" "unwelcome" "reject" "repulsive" "revenge" "rotten" "rude" "vindictive" "can't "clumsy" "inadequate" "corrupt" "You're an a*****e" "crazy" "You're not even worth listening to." "cruel" "faulty" "frightful" "fuck" "dreadful" "lumpy" "repelling" "dead" "damaging" "deformed" "hate" "destroy" "horrendous" "insufficient" "You're so biased; why would I ever listen to you?" "horrible" "Why do I have to keep telling you what you should already know?" "hurtful" "cursed" "offensive" "You don't get it. I'm done" "fake" "directionless" "oppressive" "I've told you a million times; you just don't care." "disappointing" "false" "never" "no" "I can't believe anything out of your mouth. You're a liar" "nobody" "You just don't get it." "noxious" "dissatisfied" "mean" "malicious" "Find somewhere else to go." "loathe" "misshapen" "missing" "sad" "irritable" "Can't you ever get anything right?" "scary" "fear" "Why don't you do what's right?" "shocking" "sickening" "stinky" "You've worn out your welcome here." "stupid" "idiot" "worthless" "Do you even know what a good agent is?" "doomed" "yucky" "disgraceful" "zero" "downhearted" "You only care about yourself" "fed up" "bloody" "You don't know what you're talking about." "guilty" "shame" "You disgust me. I don't even know why I am still listening to you" "harassment" "hostile" "You're so immature." "humiliated" "hysteric" "Don't bother trying to convince me; it won't work." "incompetent" "Don't make me laugh" "incorrect" "You're whining (or moaning) again." "inefficient" "defective" "keep out" "lazy" "I don't care what you do (or say) anymore" "ridiculous" "You know, if you were a decent person, you wouldn't talk to me like this." "limited" "Sorry isn't good enough when you act so infantile." "messy" "misled" "Just get out." "jerk-off" "mocked" "nagged" "You actually believe what you're saying?" "neurotic" "nuts" "Where'd you come up with that dumb logic?" "obstructed" "offended" "panic" "bullshit" "picked on" "pissed off" "psychopathic" "put down" "questioned" "Quiet!" "reject" "resentful" "You're too much trouble; I'm out of here" "rotten" "sadistic" "screwed up" "Let's face it; you're not the sharpest tack on the board" "drop dead" "For your information" "I'll show you" "I beg your pardon" "Is that what you call it?" "Keep your shirt on" "Kiss my arse (or butt)" "Let me be the judge of that" "Over my dead body" "Wait a minute" "Whatever" "Speak for yourself" "Stuff it" "The same to you" "Watch your mouth" "Nonsense!" "Get out of my sight" "What a pile of crap!" "Leave me alone" "You are a failure" or "I'm just wasting my time with you"

Note 1: I advise you to avoid using these expressions even if you are not a leader.

Note 2: These words and expressions can also be used in other ego states too (e.g. RC). To get a more accurate judgement on ego states, you need to examine the tones, postures, gestures and facial expressions as well as the context and congruity.


The negative CP can have different voices depending on the context, the relationship and the actual mood. It can be silent to be sarcastic and passive-aggressive. For example it can say "I love you too" in a sweet voice. You can interpret it in the context as an attack and an unexpected response. Other times it is very loud and intensive just like in the example below:

The tone itself cannot tell if it is a negative CP. Sometimes the voice of a RC cannot be differentiated from the CP. You need to have more information (i.e. Clusters) to decide.


Including shaking head, pointing finger or turning head away.

Source: https://media.riffsy.com/images/59052690b72cdd3242d1cca35b74570f/raw


For example coming and standing close, showing dominance, threatening body:

Source: https://i1.wp.com/moviessilently.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/merry-jail-lubitsch-this-means-war.gif?resize=270%2C229


Tensed, it can show anger, contempt or disgust. This is how we never wan to see our boss' face:

Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/qdTITK1JwNk/maxresdefault.jpg


This pattern of thinking, feeling, behavior brings stable, determined value and norms. It helps in good times and bad times. It brings Protection. This is what gives a leader stability, as rock. If a leader does not have it, laissez-faire or autocratic leadership will be seen depending on the amount of his or her negative CP. If the leader has it, democratic leadership can be seen. Servant leadership is based on this. People trust and are ready to follow this leader because of the unshakeable determination it holds. It also shows engagement and dedication. The rules are clear and they are maintained with mutual agreement.

Source: http://www.the-numbers.com/images/movies/Boss-The-2-News.jpg

The positive side of the CP (the Controlling/Regulating Parent) can bring value to your leadership. It can exclude the inappropriate behaviors in a team, it is not oppressive like the negative side, it is setting up clear boundaries and with that it provides Protection for the members. It does not want to control the Child in the members (like the negative CP) and it governs the Strokes in an appropriate way (the negative CP is limiting them believing "others don't deserve it"). Expressions like "Well done" "It is good" "Right" come from here. It can control, regulate, supervise and govern the norms and rules in the team. If it is not working well in a leader, then the moral and ethical aspects in the team's operation might weaken soon. If it is there, it can positiveley change even the world.

Source: http://www.mkgandhi.org/images/Mahatma_Gandhi1.jpg

If the negative CP is dominant in the leader then the members can feel themselves stroke deprived and frustrated in their position. If the leader is using the positive CP then goal of the messages sent to others is to help them accomplish their tasks, to protect the boundaries and agreements we earlier mutually set up and to provide everybody's well-being. The honest intention of the positive CP's communication and behavior is to support the ones who need support. If for example one of the team members smokes and coughs a lot, the negative CP might say "It is ridiculous that you cannot see you are killing yourself, silly. Stop it immediately" while the positive CP would say "Give up smoking, Bill. It hurts you." It does not hurt others' dignity or discount others' needs, judges others, over-control or set up rules that make no sense. This type of a Critical Parent can come in handy in several business situations a leader can find himself or herself. It is always constructive and we need it if we want to achieve great performance. It transfers values and beliefs to help others. It brings closer the corrective behaviors others might need in order to come back on the right track or reach higher goals. It brings your attention to your areas for improvement. It can be brutally honest but to develop, you need to face reality. Remember it is rooted in the constructive intention to help, develop, support, to take you to the next stage.

Source: http://cdn.karatebyjesse.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Mr-Miagi.jpg

See the difference? One more example of the negative CP. Check how it judges. Even with no words you can see the contempt on the face and the "threatening" finger pointing close to the other person's face. (I wouldn't wanna be in his place.)

Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/56/4f/37/564f37ce9ff5f60b087d0c4f26e4a213.gif

And finally see some positive CP examples. First I can show you how it can say NO. Check how calm it is. At the same time it looks so determined.

Source: http://media1.giphy.com/media/12h4pgk1SRtLuo/giphy.gif

Now see this gesture that could have been given from the FC as well. It actually comes from the CP as it is approving something. It shows this gesture to evaluate a performance. It says "It was OK. Well done. You can go on."

Source: https://i2.wp.com/www.verbosityreviews.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/chuck-norris-thumbs-up-dodgeball-gif.gif

And when it wants to make sure others understand the norms or rules:

Source: https://sheialanipov.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/soul-mate-gif.gif?w=454&h=179

And finally when it tells you what to do, you have the expression that you are helped, the problem is solved, support is given, you are accepted and actually you do the things.

Source: https://media.giphy.com/media/2fXuQelb1AT9C/giphy.gif

If you have any questions, comments or stories, share them with me via email. We can publish them here.

(c) NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION COACH - www.nonverbalcommunicationcoach.com


by Bali Polyanki


(c) All Rights Reserved 2017