Behaviour change in individuals and organisations

Behaviour change in individuals and organisations


This section covers: 

  • Behaviour change in individuals and organisations 


For behaviour change in terms of health improvement see: 2H Principles and Practice of Health Promotion: Health Promotion Models and Theories

However it may be useful to consider these health promotion theories in trying to understand how individuals behave within organisations; a manager who is trying to guide individuals through a change process in an organisation is essentially trying to change those individuals’ behaviour.

Understanding Individuals: Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is based on psychoanalysis and considers an individual’s behaviour in terms of their unconscious ego state. In order to understand how this works consider the following questions:

  • have you ever thought that you were communicating in one way and later learned that you were perceived in a completely different way?
  • have you ever asked a question at a meeting and then felt about two years old?
  • have you ever told someone off and then felt like kicking yourself for it later?
  • have you ever used the same technique to get what you want from your boss that you used as a child?
  • do you often find yourself being defensive about your ideas or point of view?
  • do you feel that you have to take care of too many people who should be taking care of themselves?
  • do you see yourself as calm, cool and collected most of your working day?
  • do you suddenly have a 'bright idea' that seems to solve a problem?

Everyone has experienced some of these feelings or situations at some time or other. What you may not realise is that these feelings are related to different parts of your personality.

Transactional Analysis (TA) was developed by Dr Eric Berne in the 1950s, and can be used to analyse the structure of your personality using a simple and common sense approach.


Ego states

According to Transactional Analysis we can observe quite distinct types of behaviour which seem to come from different sources within ourselves. These three 'ego states' are called:

  • parent
  • adult
  • child


The Parent

This state contains the attitudes, feelings and behaviour incorporated from external sources, primarily parents. In outward behaviour it is divided into two parts:

  • nurturing parent: concerned with caring, loving, helping
  • controlling parent: criticising, censoring, punishing

When in your parent state, you respond automatically, almost as if you had a tape recording playing in your head. Everyone has Parent tapes - some are helpful - they enable us to carry out routine tasks automatically without having to think too much about them. Other tapes can create problems - if a Parent tape is triggered automatically in an inappropriate situation.


The Adult

The state has nothing to do with the person's age. It contains those behaviours concerned with collecting information, organising and analysing. It operates dispassionately and without emotion.


The Child

This state contains all the impulses that come naturally to an infant. But just as the Parent has different aspects, so does the Child. The Child develops into three parts - the Natural Child, Adapted Child and Little Professor.

  • Natural Child is spontaneous, energetic, curious, loving and uninhibited, the part of you that feels free and loves pleasure. In the natural child you transact freely and openly with others. It is just like the new born baby that responds with love and affection when its needs are met, and angry rebellion when they aren't. Many adults repress their natural Child and exaggerate the Parent.
  • Adapted Child: your Adapted Child developed when you learned to change (adapt) your feelings and behaviour in response to the world around you. Learned feelings of guilt, fear, depression, anxiety, envy and pride are all characteristic of the Adapted Child. It is through such adaptations that we become socialised and learn, for example, to share, to take turns and be friendly. We must learn these skills to get along socially - saying 'please', 'thank you' and 'I'm sorry'. The Adapted Child can become the most troublesome part of our personality.

In the Adapted Child state people often react to external demands by:

  • complying
  • sulking
  • avoiding situations

It is the Adapted Child that may:

  • try to please everyone
  • turn its back on people with problems
  • put off work until a deadline passes

It is the part of us that may feel not OK (see OK corral below) if we are:

  • frightened of speaking before a group
  • depressed when someone criticises our work
  • hurt when things don't go our way at a meeting
  • anxious when important deadlines confront us

Little Professor is the 'thinking' part of the Child - it is creative, intuitive and manipulative. The Little Professor can:

  • dream up new ideas
  • intuitively sense how to solve a problem
  • imagine new ideas

It is the part that knows when to cry, when to look pathetic or winsome to get what it wants.


Recognising Ego States

With a little practice and basic understanding of the Parent Adult Child states (PAC) outlined above it is not too difficult. Once you begin to identify your own ego states it is easy to recognise the PAC states of others.

The following table may help you to begin the process of recognising ego states.



Controlling parent  

Nurturing parent


Natural child

Adapted child

Little professor


Bad, should, ought, don't

Good, nice, well done

How, why, who, yes, no

Fun, want, mine

Can't, wish, please, thank you  

I've got an idea




Pointing finger, pounding table, shaking head

Open arms

Straight posture, level eye contact

Energetic, loose limbed

Slumped, dejected, nail biting

Batting eyelashes

Tone of voice  

Sneering, condescending

Loving, encouraging, concerned

Calm, clear, even, confident

Loud, free

Whining, sulking, defiant


Facial expression  

Scowl, hostile, disapproving


Thoughtful, alert eyes

Joyful, twinkling eyes

Fearful, pouting

Wide eyed, 'innocent'



How to use Ego states

It is possible not only to recognise ego states, but also to develop the ability to switch ego states at will - moving from a caring parent to an analytical adult, to a fun loving child without too much difficulty. Some people find this easier than others. Often people have favourite ego states and tend to stick with those. For example:

  • some people are always criticising or helping people: the constant parents
  • some people continually analyse, and prefer facts to feelings: the constant adults
  • some people operate with strong feelings all the time - they are consumed with anger, aggression, or guilt - looking for kicks, or feeling helpless: the constant child.



A transaction is an exchange between two people. In a transaction each person speaks from one of their three ego states - and it is this inter-relationship between ego states which is the focus of Transactional Analysis.

To be successful, transactions must be complimentary; if they are crossed then the conversation either changes its nature or ends - often abruptly.



A stroke is a 'stimulation' one person gives to another and exchanging strokes is one of the most important activities people engage in. It may or may not involve physical touching. The need for 'stroking' develops from infancy when most strokes are physical. For adults physical stroking is replaced by symbolic stroking such as praise or criticism. Since we all have a basic need for strokes we will work hard to get them - either positive (warm fuzzy) or negative (cold prickly) - any stroke is better than no stroke at all!

Yet it is positive strokes that develop emotionally healthy people with a feeling of confidence in themselves and trust in others.

Your pattern of giving and receiving strokes is often conditioned by what kind of strokes you received as a baby and child. If you were used to negative strokes - being smacked, criticised and shouted at - you will probably go on looking for and giving negative strokes.


Life positions

There are four psychological positions - our position usually reflects our experiences as a baby and young child, and the strokes, or lack of strokes, we received from parents, teachers and other adults.


The OK Corral

I'm OK

You're not OK

I'm OK

You're OK

I'm not OK

You're not OK

I'm not OK

You're OK



I'm OK - You're OK

Most constructive position - accepts own worth and that of others. People here are happy, productive, energetic and are at peace with themselves.

I'm not OK - You're OK

Many people develop this position because of the subtle cold pricklies as a child:

  • 'let your brother do that for you'
  • 'don't worry if you can't do it'
  • 'those nasty shoelaces, let me tie them'

Grownups who adopt this position often feel inadequate and compare themselves unfavourably to others. They seek approval from others unnecessarily and admire them enormously.

I'm OK - You're not OK

Some children develop this position because their parents treat them as if they are always right. Such children develop a false sense of power and superiority over their parents and others. They don't accept responsibility for their problems and project blame on to others.

I'm not OK - you're not OK

Children develop this position if parents ignore them, put them down and give them lots of cold pricklies. The 'I'm not OK' position develops first, only later do children decide that their parents are being unkind, unfair or even cruel. This position is very difficult and can in extreme cases lead to suicide or murder. Fortunately, most people adjust their position to I'm OK - You're not OK, blaming the other party.

Most of us do not consistently act from a single life position and our positions can change from situation to situation.


Games people play

Game players usually assume one of three basic roles: victim, persecutor, rescuer.

  • persecutors are people who:
    - make unrealistic rules
    - enforce rules in cruel ways
    - pick on 'little people' rather than people their own size
  • victims are people who:
    - provoke others to put them down, use them, or hurt them
    - send helpless messages
    forget conveniently
    act confused
  • rescuers are people who:
    - offer an unreal helpfulness to keep others dependant on them
    don't really help others and may actually dislike helping
    work to maintain the victim role so they can continue to play rescuer



The Kaplan triangle Players of games often switch back and forth in their roles e.g. the person playing victim may tire of it and suddenly become the persecutor. (Karpman, 1968).

Some common games

  • to put people down
    - blemish
    if it weren't for you
  • to put down ourselves
    - wooden leg
    kick me


The office nit-pickers - they pick on small inconsequential details. They bicker and quibble over trifles when more important matters need attention. The payoff is a false sense of superiority that comes when the victim feels uncomfortable, inadequate or angry.

If it weren't for you/him/it/them/her (IFWFY)

The people who play IFWFY often unconsciously feel incapable or inadequate. Rather than admit these feelings, they blame others for their situation. They find one scapegoat after another. The payoff comes when the person who starts the game collects feelings of self-righteousness and purity, while the victim (who is blamed) feels bad.

Wooden legs

These players want to be excused from work and responsibility. They often have a burden such as physical or social handicap - but they take advantage of this and use it to excuse themselves.

  • I'm too short
  • I've never done that before
  • I come from a poor home
  • I've always had a bad memory

Players either put themselves down or see themselves as unnecessarily fragile or dependant. They use this to dishonestly manipulate others who are doing their work.

Kick me

Here, players provoke other people to put them down by:

  • drinking
  • taking drugs
  • violating company policies or procedures
  • doing sloppy work
  • consistently missing deadlines

Kick me players like being kicked - it’s what they have learned to expect and accept.


A special type of kick me, putting 'brains down'. Players compulsively make mistakes so that they can make a fuss and proclaim ' how could I have done such a stupid thing?' ‘Where was I when they passed out the brains?'


The Five Drivers

1. Be perfect

  • primary fear: loss of control
  • assets: purposeful, moral, very high standards, task-orientated, logical
  • liabilities: depression, rage, critical, autocratic, dogmatism, bigotry
  • distress caused by: other people’s perceived 'low standards', loss of control, illogicality,  over-emotionalism from other people, failure to achieve goals
  • reduction of stress in self:
    - be willing to appreciate all values
    rank the importance of personal values and respond appropriately
    - raise consciousness of self-righteousness and respond directly from own feelings rather than parentally. Cultivate laughter at the nature of own obsessions.
  • reduction of stress in others:
    - reassure them that they are not to blame
    be punctual
    never discount their worries
    tease playfully
    express your own values with conviction
    confront gently, firmly and calmly
    show appreciation of their achievements e.g. ' That report you procured was excellent'
    give them the facts
    do not force them to talk about their emotions - but show appreciation when they do.

2. Be strong

  • primary fear: rejection
  • assets: self-sufficiency, helpfulness and consideration of other’s needs, reliability, stoicism, ' I'll do it on my own'
  • liabilities: loneliness, coldness, aloofness, invulnerability to others
  • distress caused by: being forced to say what they feel, exposing their vulnerability
  • reduction of stress in self:
    - learn to take as well as give
    be willing to express your own needs and risk rejection
  • reduction of stress in others
    - praise for consideration and kindness
    give an unexpected treat
    do not be effusive
    use irony; ' I must say - you are the MOST unreliable person
    don't force others into expressions of vulnerability
    do not shout
    give others space and time to be on their own
    if you want something done, give clear instructions

3.  Please

  • primary fear: being blameworthy
  • distress caused by: being ignored, being criticised
  • assets: pleasant as possible to everyone, law abiding, helpfulness, generosity, ability to nurture, enjoyment of people
  • liabilities: rescuing, uses clichés, passive aggressiveness, self-righteousness, lack of consideration for the individuality of others
  • reduction of stress in self:
    - accept responsibility for what to do and what you do to others
    listen to others
    allow yourself and others to develop autonomy
  • reduction of stress in others:
    - thank people politely for their help
    stay near the surface of communication
    never lose your temper with them
    if you are angry, express your feelings politely
    confront with patience
    give no strokes for clichés, stroke abundantly for authentic communication
    let them see your automatic response
    - stroke for being the person they are. 'I really enjoy working with you.' ' It's lovely having you in the team.'

4.  Try hard

  • primary fear: failure (and success)
  • assets: intense, committed to righting wrongs, on the side of the underdog, often a worker for political or other causes, passionate, takes on lots of tasks willingly, sets high goals, very hard worker, persistent
  • liabilities: often leaves tasks unfinished, high goals are often not reached, pugnacity, aggression, arrogance, blaming external circumstances for failures
  • distress caused by: being criticised for not caring or for being irresponsible, being told ' you're not trying', perceived irresponsibility in others
  • reduction of stress in self:
    - don't use the word 'try' - say instead 'I will' or 'I won't'
    - before you take on extra work - check that it is realistic for you to do so. If your schedule is full, decide what you will give up in order to take on the new job. Check also that you want to do it as opposed to believing that you ought to.
    - be willing to distinguish between the things you can and cannot change
    - stop comparing yourself to others
    - create standards for yourself which are not related to others
    - start NOW - not tomorrow
    - change hostile pugnacity to enthusiastic commitment
  • reduction of stress in others:
    - ignore competitiveness
    - never let them off what they have committed themselves to do. If you do, the implication is that you don't expect them to succeed
    - do not stroke for trying; stroke for finishing

5.  Hurry up

  • primary fear: life
  • assets: liveliness, adventurousness, responsiveness and sensitivity to other feelings, excited, life and soul of party; enthusiasm, speed, ability to do lots of things at once
  • liabilities: anxiety, hostility, emotional greed, passive resistance, self-destructiveness
  • distress caused by: time to think, silence
  • reduction of stress in self:
    - learn to love life for its own sake
    - develop a belief system
    realise that you do not need to earn love
    - start giving ahead of getting
    - be on time
    - express appreciation
    - make lists, create structures and order despite how you feel about them
  • reduction of stress in others:
  • praise for efficiency
  • enjoy their spontaneity
  • never be intimidated by their outbursts
  • don't stroke for speed, or for the ability to do several things at once
  • stroke for taking time




Body language

Be perfect     Primary fear: loss of control

Perfect/worthless, clean/dirty, tidy/untidy, should/shouldn't, obviously, as it were, depression, believe, of course, exactly, actually, precisely, it's not my fault  

Precision, over-qualification, won't be interrupted, itemising and numbering of points while talking, purses bottom lip between forefinger and thumb

Be strong     Primary fear: rejection

Strong/weak, boring, pull yourself together, I don't care, no comment, vulnerable, it’s no good getting upset/crying over spilt milk, you don't appreciate what I am saying

Over-straight back, legs crossed, apparently in Adult while actually in Adapted Child, pulls socks up, lack of lines on face

Please me   Primary fear: found to be blameworthy

Dear, really? nice, pleasant, bastard, y'know, I mean, please yourself, embarrassed, super, you misunderstand me

Nods head, raises eyebrows, looks away, runs fingers through hair, horizontal lines on forehead, questioning inflexion

Try hard     Primary fear: failure (and success)

Try, could/couldn't, impossible, inferior/superior, fail/succeed, I don't know, it's hard, lucky/unlucky, I'm better than/ not as good as you/him/her

Sitting forward, elbows on knees, chin in hand, puzzled look, asks more than one question at a time, does not answer questions, stutters  

Hurry up       Primary fear:

Hurry up, panic, anxiety, energy, tired, crazy, time, it's pointless, it's futile

Brows knotted into vertical lines between the eyes, speaks rapidly and interrupts him/herself and others, fidgety, breathless, eyes shifty, taps fingers or feet  

Source: Klein, M. Lives People Live: A Textbook of Transactional Analysis. Chichester: John Wiley, 1980


Setting up the drivers

Adults have the job of ensuring the children grow up to be able to take their place in as happy and fulfilling a way as possible. So they give children guidelines about values to help them understand how to do this. However, the children are unable to understand the complexities of the guidelines and convert the instructions into rules. These rules become rigid, repetitive patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour, which tend to take over in times of stress.


Five values



Values (passed on by


Messages (which result in..


Achievement, autonomy, success, being right


·              make a mistake

·              take risks

·              be natural

·              be childlike

Be perfect

Consideration, kindness, service


·              be assertive

·              be important

·              be different

·              say 'no'


Courage, strength, reliability


·             show your feelings

·             give in

·             ask for help

Be strong

Persistence, patience, determination


·             be satisfied

·             relax

·             finish

Try hard

Speed, efficiency, responsiveness


·             take long

·             think

·             relax

·             waste time

Hurry up



  • Berne E. , (1973) What Do You Say After You Say Hello? New York: Grove Press.
  • Berne, E. , (1964).Games People Play. New York: Grove Press
  • Kahler, T. , (1979). Process Therapy in Brief. Human Development Publication.
  • Karpman, S.E. (1968). Funny tales and script drama analysis. Transactional Analysis Bulletin. AOW; 7 (26): 38.
  • Klein, M. (1988). How to be happy though human. Transactional Analysis Journal; 17 (4).
  • Klein, M. (1980). Lives People Live: A Textbook of Transactional Analysis. Chichester: John Wiley.



                                                                      © K Enock 2006, N Leigh-Hunt 2016