Richard Maun – icecream

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The Adult Ego State

1 August 2010

Do you think this cafe is in Norfolk? Would they have made the same mistake?

Here's a cafe in Mississippi. How would they have handled the order?

Here is a tricky problem to solve: Imagine you’re a shop assistant in a cafe, on a hot day, working hard to keep tourists refreshed and topped up with tea and scones. A new customer walks in and asks for a hot sausage roll and a scoop of maple and pecan icecream. How do you handle this testing order? Do you:

a) Serve the icecream first, then ask your colleague how the till works and fart about pushing buttons, then remember to heat the sausage roll and hand it to an increasingly agitated customer?

b) Stop and think about what would be a sensible order to process this request?

c) Heat the sausage roll, take the money whilst it’s in the oven and then serve the icecream last?

Well if you answered b) or c) then you’re right, whereas when this happened to me a couple of weeks ago the assistant plumped for a). Which was teeth grittingly irritating to be a part of. Fortunately the icecream hadn’t all turned into soup by the time I made it back to my office, so no lasting damage was done, but it did remind me about the Adult Ego State.

Here And Now Awareness

Put simply; when we’re grounded, rational, alert to our environment, fact finding, questioning and/or cycling through options to solve problems then it’s likely that we’re in our Adult Ego State. By contrast, if we’re using ‘gut instinct’ to solve a problem then we’re probably in our Child, and if we’re know what we ‘should do’ then our Parent is likely to be switched on.

It’s useful to know about the Adult, because when we have to solve problems it’s easy to discount (overlook, or twist) facts and that can be fatal. When we’re in Adult we act like a dogged sleuth and piece together the jigsaw of available information, check out assumptions and remain open to new ways of thinking.

Ask A Question

If we want to move ourselves or a colleague into their Adult (perhaps from a sulky Child place) the way to do it is to ask a question. Questions invite us to think, and thinking invites us to gather and process information. Sounds obvious perhaps, and knowing how to ‘move’ people is a useful skill to have as you can stop arguments and enable people to make better quality decisions.

A Myth

It used to be suggested that Adult was so good that you needed to stay in it all times, which is both almost impossible to achive and therefore nonsense. To be effective in work and life we need to value and use the good bits from all our Ego States. Over-use of Adult can make us sound like Metal Mickey (remember him?) and if you want to have fun then head for your Child energy and enjoy yourself. That’s not to say that Adult is a place devoid of emotion. Far from it. If you’re in a fire, for example, you’re going to be pretty stressed, just take a breath and think about what you need to do, rather than running about screaming uselessly.

Be A Detective

Eric Berne observed behaviour and identified the ‘here and now’ thoughts, feelings and actions we he characterised as the Adult Ego State. If we want to be successful in our lives, one way is to learn from him and to use the squidgy stuff between our ears to gather and process information in a grounded, rational and objective way. I think of this as ‘being a detective’ and we call don a trenchcoat and be Columbo from time to time. Or if you prefer; attach a little moustache and have fun recreating Monsiour Poirot.

We can all be detectives and we can all ask questions and check out the facts, in order to solve problems. Or, to put it another way, in the cafe of life we can use our Adult Ego State to serve the hot sausage roll of fate after the icecream of destiny….

Our Task For This Week

Is to…use Adult to gently challenge someone by asking about the facts supporting their call for action…

Amazon Review

Job Hunting 3.0 has had it’s second review now (thank you again) and if you have read the book please do add your comments to Amazon as they make a difference. Just click here – thank you!

Pass It On

If you know someone who would be interested in this blog post please forward it to them, or ReTweet it, or let them know they can subscribe to regular emails via the box on the homepage.

Thank you for reading to the end…

Next week is about five ways to defuse an argument; essential holiday reading!

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The Parent Ego State

18 July 2010

This finger belongs to Queen Victoria. Who is pointing the finger at you in your head?

This finger belongs to Queen Victoria. Who is pointing the finger at you in your head?

Here’s a dilemma: Should I go to the beach or stay in and do some work? Naturally my Child wants to go and play and yet there’s a voice in my head that whispers caution…it would make sense to take advantage of a quiet house. I could get some work done and then have some time off to play. I ought to use the opportunity and tick off a couple of items on my to-do list…

When you re-read that dilemma it looks like you can ‘hear’ two people struggling to get their point across. In my Child Ego State I want to go and build sand castles and the other voice is my Parent Ego State, which is telling me what really is the best thing to do.

Who Is In Your Head?

The term ‘Parent Ego State’ refers to the collection of other people who have influenced us and who we carry around in our head. We carry their words and phrases and ways of thinking around with us and when we replay them, we’re said to be in our Parent Ego State. So, when I’m saying to myself that ‘I should be doing some work’ what I’m doing (in TA terms) is replaying a tape of Mum, or Dad encouraging me to work. Our heads are full of the voices from the past and we take them on board by a process called Introjection, which means we just absorbed them in directly without considering their meaning or purpose. We tend to do this at a young age and most of the tapes relate to the key influences we had at that time. Perhaps our family, our first teacher, a neighbour, or aunt or big brother all left their mark on us. Because we were young we didn’t question what we heard we just sucked it up and added it to our store of memories.

Leadership And Taking Care

Now that we’re ‘grown ups’ we use these people to guide us and sometimes they’re helpful. We follow their rules and use their advice to make decisions. We copy what they did (or said to do) to take care of ourselves and others. Sometimes we need a bit of leadership and sometimes we need to look after people, so these influences can be helpful to have.


We might also carry around rubbish. We might have too many rules and these limit our freedom to act, or set restrictions on how we can have fun. We might have learned to take care of people by ‘smothering’ them with love or affection, or by telling them what to do before they’ve had a chance to ask for help. This isn’t a great way of taking care and is often the root cause of well meaning, but patronising behaviour.

The chances are that we all have a few rocks in our head and part of life is about recognising them, smiling when we trip over one and then doing what makes sense to us now. Often when we use the words should, ought, must we are in our Parent Ego State and are trotting out someone else’s wisdom, or rules.

So What?

Knowing about Ego States is useful because we can think about our behaviour and can decide to make changes. We can find new people to guide us, or can challenge what’s in our head and can stop doing the work and can build sand castles instead. That’s what I did on Sunday. And I had an icecream and I swam in the sea. It was great.

Eric Was Here First

I was asked by someone if I ‘credited Berne’s work’ in my Ego State-related posts sometimes, as Eric Berne was the founder of TA and someone who came up with many of the models. This was a real Parental instruction, the smugness of which instantly made my Child feel rebellious (my Child hates being out-smugged). So, in the spirit of rebellion I thought it would make a great blog post for next week: How the Parent and Child Ego States interact. Can you guess how they get on and how they get stroppy?

Eric Wasn’t Here First

Sadly for my credit-hound Berne didn’t invent Ego States, which is why I haven’t credited him as such. He based his work, and freely acknowledged it, on the ego psychology described mainly by Paul Federn and developed by Edoardo Weiss. What he did do was suggest that the archaic parent/child influences were also employed alongside a more grounded and rational position, which he called the Adult. We’ll meet the Adult Ego State in the future. He also drew some models and said lots of clever and thoughtful things and we love him for that too.

Our Task For This Week

Is to…spot one thing that we do, or don’t do, that is based on one of our Parental tapes. When we find the thing, we need to ask if it’s helpful, or if it is getting in the way and needs to be ejected. Listen out for the shoulds and oughts as they are often a big clue. Should we do that thing? Really???

Amazon Review

Job Hunting 3.0 has had it’s first review (thank you) and I’ve been told an excerpt is likley to be in the Sunday Times too, so that’s two good things to celebrate. If you have read the book please do add your review to Amazon as they make a difference. Just click here – thank you!

Pass It On

If you know someone who would be interested in this blog post please forward it to them, or ReTweet it, or let them know they can subscribe to regular emails via the box on the homepage.

Thank you for reading to the end and remember to begin spotting when you’re in your Parent. If you want to, that is.

Next week is about when the Parent and Child battle it out…and get on sometimes.

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Click cover to view details on Amazon


Riding the Rocket

How to manage your Modern Career

Published 2013 Marshall Cavendish



Bouncing Back

How to get going again after a career setback

Published 2012 Marshall Cavendish



How to Keep Your Job

Brilliant ways to increase performance, stay employed and keep the money rolling in

Published 2011 Marshall Cavendish



Job Hunting 3.0

Secrets and skills to sell yourself effectively in the Modern Age

Published 2010 Marshall Cavendish



Leave the Bastards Behind

An insider's guide to working for yourself

Published 2007 Cyan Books and Marshall Cavendish



My Boss is a Bastard

Surviving turmoil at work

Published 2006 Cyan Books and Marshall Cavendish


© Richard Maun 2015 / Click here to contact