Feedback and Social Progress

Dec 11, 2020

If you care about personal and professional growth, listening to and processing feedback is one of the most imporant things to focus on. Think of it as advice, but tailored to your situation. We’ve known about this for so long, but it can still be hard sometimes. Why?

Why it’s Hard

There’s the surface stuff about listening to diffucult things, and that makes sense, but I’ve always wanted a deeper explanation.

It took me a few years to connect the dots here, but I just realized the answer to this question is from Games People Play by Eric Berne:

[…] every individual has had parents (or substitute parents) and that he carries within him a set of ego states that reproduce the ego states of those parents (as he perceived them), and that these parental ego states can be activated under certain circumstances (exteropsychic functioning). Colloquially: “Everyone carries his parents around inside of him.”

That every individual […] is capable of objective data processing if the appropriate ego state can be activated (neopsychic functioning). Colloquially: “Everyone has an Adult.”

That every individual was once younger than he is now, and that he carries within him fixated relics from earlier years which will be activated under certain circumstances (archaeopsychic functioning). Colloquially: “Everyone carries a little boy or girl around inside of him.”



That’s for one individual. Let’s focus in on 1:1 conversations, and we can frame a conversation like this:


The converse rule is that communication is broken off when a crossed transaction occurs. The most common crossed transaction, and the one which causes and always has caused most of the social difficulties in the world, whether in marriage, love, friendship, or work, is represented in Figure 3A as Crossed Transaction Type I.

The stimulus is Adult-Adult: e.g., “Maybe we should find out why you’ve been drinking more lately,” or, “Do you know where my cuff links are?”

The appropriate Adult-Adult response in each case would be: “Maybe we should. I’d certainly like to know!” or, “On the desk.”

If the respondent flares up, however, the responses will be something like “You’re always criticizing me, just like my father did,” or, “You always blame me for everything.”

These are both Child-Parent responses, and as the transactional diagram shows, the vectors cross. In such cases the Adult problems about drinking or cuff links must be suspended until the vectors can be realigned. This may take anywhere from several months in the drinking example to a few seconds in the case of the cuff links. Either the agent must become Parental as a complement to the respondent’s suddenly activated Child, or the respondent’s Adult must be reactivated as a complement to the agent’s Adult.


Example: Adult <> Adult

A: We hit our ship date, but in the future you might want to allocate more time to performance testing before launch.

B: Thanks for that. I’ll make sure to do it next time around and let you know if the sprint runs long and I might not have time.

Example: Adult <> Adult, but ends up being Adult <> Child

A: We hit our ship date, but in the future you might want to allocate more time to performance testing before launch.

B: You’re always criticizing me and I wish you’d stop

Note that someone can stil be speaking from the child state, even when they sound like this:

B: The product team has to give us the requirements sooner… how do they expect us to get things done on time?

Example: Adult <> Adult, but ends up Adult <> Parent

A:: In the future could you keep me in the loop on how we’re tracking against our org-wide metrics?

B: There’s too much going on and I don’t want you distracted.

Example: Adult <> Adult, but ends up Adult <> Child

A: Let’s not talk about this at work.

B: If you don’t stand up and support me in all my beliefs, I don’t know what I’ll do.

It’s up to you to decide what you want your work relationships to be like, but hopefully this framework can help people be happier and more productive at work.

This even applies to things you read on the internet.

You’ve gotten this far:

Example: Adult <> Child

Me: [publishes this blog post]

You: I’m so outraged.

Example: Adult <> Parent

Me: [publishes this blog post]

You: sends me long email telling me why I’m wrong.

Example: Adult <> Adult

Me: [publishes this blog post]

You: Well, that’s dumb. Some guy on the internet is using social theories from 1965 to try and make sense of things. I disagree (closes tab)