I just watched Randy Hnatko, a sales training specialist working at Sandler Training present on the topic of transactional analysis. Transactional analysis “is an integrative approach to the theory of psychology and psychotherapy [with] elements of psychoanalytic, humanist and cognitive approaches” (from Wikipedia: Transactional analysis).
According to the theory, there are three ego states: parent, child, and adult. I will give a quick summary of what Randy said about each one.
There are two main types of parent egos. The first is critical and negative, and the second is nurturing and caring. Typically with parents, the father falls into the first category and the mother into the second.
The father is judgmental and tells his child what is right or wrong. He makes very black-and-white statements, either agreeing or disagreeing. He says “You should not do this” and “You should do that” with the pointing motion we have learned to associate with critical judgments. Because of this, we have learned to shut down and not open up in these situations. And by extension, when we encounter people who are critical in real life, we have a tendency of not opening up to them.
The mother is nurturing, caring, empathetic, warm and supportive. When you are in pain or uncomfortable, the mother will try and help you and make you feel better. She will not make judgments about how you got to that point, or tell you that you should not complain.
For example, consider a boy who has just had his dad teach him to ride a bike. The parents are extremely proud, and the child is able to go out and ride his bike without supervision. He makes a sharp turn and falls off, scraping his knee, and comes running home crying to his parents.
The dad’s judgmental reaction will be, “Why did you fall off your bike? I taught you how to ride a bike. You shouldn’t have been reckless and fallen off like that.” The mother’s nurturing reaction will be “Oh let me see your knee. Does it hurt? Let me kiss it better. I’ll put a band-aid on it for you,” giving the child a hug and comforting him.
There are three types of child states. The natural child, the adaptive child, and the rebellious child.
The natural child is carefree, joking, and spontaneous. He or she is the child who will step in a rain puddle without thinking about the consequences and get his or her clothes all dirty, as well as other passersby. “Oops!” the child will say. The natural child is relaxed and playful, and will make jokes without thinking about whether said jokes end up being offensive.
The adaptive child seeks approval. He or she was exposed to a lot of criticism when growing up, and so the adaptive child is always seeking to get approval from others. An example of this is in the Asian culture, where parents typically push their children to get good grades in school, to work really hard and to succeed. The adaptive child will always bend and flex and do whatever is needed to gain acceptance.
The rebellious child puts up walls. When he or she is challenged, an automatic response is to say, “Don’t tell me what to do,” and stop listening to whomever is doing the criticizing. The rebellious child will take offense to an off-hand remark or joke that does not agree with him or her. Sometimes the rebellious child can be a bully to others.
The adult ego state is the logical one. It is the Mr. Spock—the referee between the child and the parent. It knows to look at issues methodically and logically, and sees when emotions are not applicable and need to be put aside for the time being.
Applications to sales
In sales, there are two goals. The first is to make sure people don’t perceive us as being critical. Being critical causes either a rebellious child or an adaptive child to show up in a prospect. To avoid being perceived as critical, you need to talk from your nurturing side, which is typically more difficult for men.
The second goal is to get the prospect’s child state and emotion on the table, since it is the most liberal in making buying decisions, which is arguably something you cannot easily encourage. An adult state is usually the most useful for this application however. Make sure to avoid a situation where you are the one with emotion on the table, because it can easily cause you to accept a non-advantageous deal or to become confrontational yourself.
Typically a combination of 70% nurturing state and 30% adult state can be ideal when approaching a prospect. You don’t want to joke around too much, to be rebellious, or adapt to unrealistic needs, so keep your child state in check.
An example sale
One of my co-workers brought up an example sale he was working on a while back. The prospect had decided to belittle our trade and said, “Web design is a commodity; everyone does it. I could easily find another company with cheaper rates. In fact, I could talk to the owner of your company and get a better deal if I wanted to.” The client was trying to get my co-worker to take offense in order to get his emotion on the table.
He needed to recognize it and challenge him: “Well, if you think you can do that, go ahead. But I know he will not give you a better deal.” He even could have gone so far as telling him, “It sounds like we aren’t a good fit. You aren’t going to be getting the cheapest prices with us, and it sounds like that is very important to you. Perhaps you should look elsewhere.” In that sense he is throwing the ball back in the prospect’s court, trying to get his emotions to take over.
As long as you are aware of what the prospect is trying to do and keep your own emotions in check, you will have greater success in sales. Keep the 70% nurturing and 30% adult rule in mind.