In my two previous blogs, I wrote about TA concepts that had appeared in a Fenman publication: ego states, contracting and strokes, each related to the trainer in the classroom. In 1992 and 1997, I wrote about how we might relate working styles to the participants and to the trainers. Below is extracted from my article (Hay, 1997) that appeared in the Training Officer.
Have you ever noticed that you work to a pattern - that you seem to have certain strengths in your style but that you also behave sometimes in characteristic ways that limit your effectiveness? Awareness of our own working style, and its advantages and pitfalls, can increase our range of strategies. We can identify ways to be more productive and a little self-analysis can unlock major benefits that we have overlooked. We can also contrast our own styles with those of our participants, and adapt our behaviour appropriately to establish a better connection.
TA provides us with a simple model of five major working styles, each with particular strengths and specific weaknesses. The weaknesses often result directly from an overdose of the strengths; we can have too much of a good thing. When this happens we stop choosing to behave in a particular way and start feeling compelled to act that way. We then overdo it and create problems for ourselves.
As you read the following descriptions, note how much each resonates for you. Most people recognise elements of each style in themselves - and most of us also realise that we have one or two clear preferences!
People with Hurry Up characteristics work quickly, respond well to short deadlines, and get a lot done in a short time. Our motivation is to do things quickly, we feel good if we can complete tasks in the shortest possible time and our energy peaks under pressure. Our major strength is the amount that we can achieve. We spend less time preparing than others do, giving us a chance to design and run more training programmes.
However, give us time to spare and we delay starting until the job becomes urgent. We are the trainers who don’t prepare the course handouts until the night before the course begins - and then find that the photocopier is out of order! Our ability to think fast makes us appear impatient. We speak fast and have a habit of interrupting others. We often pack too much into our courses because we expect people to learn faster than they do.
We need to plan sufficient time for tasks, especially preparation that we are inclined to skimp. To avoid appearing impatient, we should consciously slow down so that other people have time to absorb the information. We must stop interrupting them and concentrate on listening. It can be very helpful to remember to ask about their needs instead of making assumptions, and to paraphrase back to check our understanding.
Be Perfect characteristics involve a quest for perfection - no errors, everything must be exactly right, first time. This working style means we are well organised because we look ahead, plan for potential problems, do our best to make sure everything will run smoothly. We can be relied on to produce detailed course designs and comprehensive handouts.
Unfortunately, we cannot be relied on to produce course material on time because we need to check it so carefully for mistakes. We may miss opportunities to collaborate with other trainers because we are reluctant to issue a draft rather than the final version. We are also likely to misjudge the level of detail required, including too much information and overloading or confusing the participants. We may be pedantic, using long words or technical terms that others do not understand.
To make sure we meet deadlines, we need to prioritise in several ways. Decide which tasks really need perfection and save it for them. Recognise when a summary handout will do instead of a large volume that will never be read. When presenting, we can use the must know, should know, could know levels to identify key information and stop before we bury people in facts and figures.
Please People are like nurturing parents - they care about people and are encouraging and reassuring. We are intuitive and considerate of others' feelings. Our aim is to please other people without asking. We work out what they would like and then provide it. This working style means we are nice to have around because we are tolerant and understanding. We pay attention to the feelings of those around us and ensure that everyone's views are taken into account.
A major problem for us is our tendency to be too nice. We may hesitate to insist that participants take the training seriously, or be too accommodating when they avoid the role-plays or the homework. Another danger is our willingness to volunteer to do the other trainers’ work. We may take on so much that we cannot complete it in the time available - and then we get the blame even though we were ‘only trying to help’.
It's important that we set our own limits and priorities if we are to be respected by others. We need to have the courage of our convictions when we know we have designed an effective course programme, and insist that participants respect our professionalism. We may also need to curtail our habit of mind reading and stop doing things for others that have not been requested - and are often not appreciated anyway. And we probably need to learn to say no skilfully.
The Try Hard working style is all about the effort put into the task, so we tackle things enthusiastically. Our energy peaks with something new to do and we like to follow up on all possibilities. This results in a thorough job in the sense of paying attention to all aspects of the task; in this way we get a reputation for showing initiative. People also value our motivation and the way we have of getting things off the ground. We are energetic and enthusiastic trainers who obviously enjoy our subject.
However, we may be more committed to trying than to succeeding. Our initial interest may wear off before we finish the task; we may start to design one course only to have our attention drawn to something else, and then to something else. When presenting, we may start to teach one topic but then ‘butterfly’ across to others, leaving our listeners confused. Our attention to so many aspects makes the job impossibly large, and our tendency to dabble in so many areas may mean we fail to become expert in any of them.
We need to control our tendency to go off at tangents and concentrate on sticking to the course outline as planned. Like the Be Perfects, we can use the must know, should know, could know as a guide - in our case so that we cover the items on the list in enough detail instead of substituting new topics as we run the course. We also need to control our tendency towards boredom with the later stages of projects and programmes. Sometimes we can find creative ways of making repetitive tasks more exciting but sometimes we simply need to get on with it and run the course again.
Be Strong people are calm under pressure, good at dealing with stress, great to have around in a crisis. With this working style, we feel energised when we have to cope. We have a strong sense of duty and will work steadily even at the unpleasant tasks. We will also keep on thinking logically when others may be panicking. Because we are so good at staying calm and dealing with all that the job throws at us, we are seen as consistently reliable, steady workers.
A problem with this style is that we hate admitting weakness - and we regard any failure to cope as a weakness. We may therefore unconsciously signal to course members that they should hide their own weaknesses, making it difficult for us to then know how to help them. We may also find that participants feel uncomfortable about our lack of emotional support for them in situations such as role-plays where many people feel stressed. It may be difficult for them to get to know us and feel relaxed when we seem to have no feelings.
Be Strong is often the hardest working style to identify in ourselves. Our potential weaknesses may be well hidden. We need to accept that there is nothing wrong with asking for help, and learn to encourage and reassure participants who tell us about their weaknesses. We need also to develop our own ability to self disclose, so that we are seen to be human.
Hay, Julie (1992) Hay, Julie (1992) Transactional Analysis for Trainers Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill, (republished 1996) Watford: Sherwood Publishing (2nd edition published 2009)
Hay, Julie (1997) Trainer training – doing it to ourselves Training Officer 33:10 300-302
© 2018 Julie Hay
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