Project Management

How Talking ‘up’ Or ‘down’ to Project Members Can Damage Relationships

Without our knowledge, we may be talking ‘up’ or ‘down’ to someone on our teams, on the other hand, we may be on the receiving end as well. As Susanne Madsen describes in this article appearing in, talking ‘up’ or ‘down’ to people breeds unhealthy communication patterns. The best relationships are the ones where we treat each other as equals, irrespective of hierarchical positions.

The Parent-Adult-Child Model

This model by Eric Berne describes the concept of ego states, and its understanding can help build better working relationships. According to the model, we encounter another person in one of the three states every time we meet them. Therefore, we take on one of the ego’s psychological mindset, depending on who we meet – this shapes the way we think, feel and behave.

The Parent

Typically, in this state, we assume the behavior, thinking, and feelings of authority figures from our formative years. As a result, we are lecturing, judging or criticizing others and focusing on identifying problems. At work, this may manifest itself in an overly authoritative leader who affords little freedom, or even as an overprotective manager who does not trust the capabilities of others.

The Child

Opposite to the Parent state, when we assume this ego, we are submissive and compliant or rebellious and carefree. We usually adopt this state when someone addresses us in the Parent state – where we ourselves appear more submissive or can even appear to be more playful as well.

Assuming either the Parent and Child states can be harmful to relationships, we should treat each other as equals, and assuming the Adult state can help us do that.

The Adult

In this state, our, thoughts, actions and feelings are governed by facts. As an Adult, we are objective, rational and less emotional, and see people as they are, without projecting onto them. A manager in this state treats subordinates as equals and trusts their capabilities.

Therefore, instead of talking ‘down’ to a team member, present him/her with facts. Likewise, when someone addresses you in the Parent state, refrain from responding in the Child state, and respond as an Adult, in a calm, composed and rational manner.

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