What is this?
Transactional Analysis or TA is a theory of human communication that is based on the exchange of basic human units of acknowledgement called "strokes" and the various ego states we use in obtaining them. It was developed by Dr. Eric Berne in the 1960's and was popularized with the books "Games People Play", "I'm OK, You're OK" and others.
Why is this important?
People have many needs - one of our most basic needs is human connection and interaction. People need a certain amount of "strokes" to satisfy their need - strokes can be either of a positive or negative nature, and negative strokes are often preferred to no strokes at all. If you have had a cat for a pet, you may have seen it display a need for a certain amount of attention - like us, it needs to satisfy it's "stroke counter" within a given time frame. If strokes are withheld for a time, they must usually be "made up" at some later time.
Strokes are any form of acknowledgement - eye contact, touch, speech or even electronic signalling and communication may serve as a stroke...the email or text so eagerly anticipated. The most common stroke is a smile with some eye contact and a sincere "Hello". Failure to exchange strokes or to inappropriately do so is generally not accepted in society.
People have differing needs in terms of how many strokes and of what type - this is largely a product of conditioning. The need for strokes causes some people to contrive "games" wherein they can obtain needed strokes and this can lead to unpleasant situations and conditions for the unwary "loser" of games. Some people call it drama and games often play out dramatically.
The ego states we use when communicating with others are valuable to understand in order to improve our effectiveness with others. There are 3 fundamental ego states in TA: The Parent, The Adult, The Child.
The Parent and Child ego states have variations which change the value and effectiveness of our communication. The Critical Parent is no fun to be around, the Nurturing Parent grows people, the Enabling or Coddling Parent does not encourage growth but rather stunts it. The Little Professor Child is often known as a "smart _ss", the Needy or Adaptive Child is insecure and the Natural Child is fun and adventurous. The illustrations below will give somewhat different terminology but you will easily get the point.
Being aware of these ego states, the use of strokes, the use of games and how they function can help us deliberately begin to avoid ego states which do not serve us well and thereby communicate more efficiently and effectively with ourself and others.