Dealing with jerks at work

A jerk is someone who is overly sensitive to parental influences.

Eric Berne, M.D. (Games people play)

We have all had the pleasure of dealing with jerks at work. My personal take on de-personalizing my interactions with such people is inspired by Eric Berne’s book “Games people play”. I remember reading it probably when I was fifteen thanks to my uncle who is a clinical psychiatrist. I did not grok the concepts back then due to the terse words that were used in the book. However, the book kept following me around and eventually it made more sense when I started working.

The book starts off with laying out a simple model of the human psyche and dividing it into the Parent, Adult and Child (PAC) modes of operation. It is quite an intuitive model since anyone would be able to imagine how these three modes would operate. The aha moment, at least for me, was as it delved deeper into how it maps to human interactions, how to detect when a conflict arises and how to de-escalate/prevent such situations.

Lets take for example, the following scenario (exaggerated for drama :-)):

Alice: Explains their approach to solving a problem.

Bob: “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

Alice: “I don’t think you understand how this works”

And it’s all downhill from here until someone intervenes.

From a transactional analysis perspective, Alice was operating in the Adult mode providing a rational explanation. It was directed at Bob’s Adult mode, but Bob chooses to act in a Parental mode directed at Alice’s Child. A Crossed Transaction as depicted below.

Bob broke the fundamental guarantee of this being an Adult to Adult conversation. Now, Alice (or some one else) could intervene and steer the conversation back to being an Adult conversation, but without any intervention, usually Alice’s mode of operation would gravitate towards their Parent/Child mode based on their life experiences.

Such interactions lead to a better understanding of the predominant modes of operation of individuals and could be used to structure conversations taking into account the individual’s modes of operation, while coaching them to overcome their biases.

A simple awareness of the PAC model de-personalizes any conflicts that might arise and helps you steer the conversation in a direction that leads to a productive outcome for the team.

Now, why do individuals have an enlarged Parent / Child ego states is something that might need help from the spiritual sciences, a topic for a later date…