« Getting out of conflicts – A method and some practical tools, with Transactional analysis ». Review by Laurie Hawkes

Voici le texte  en anglais de la critique que Laurie Hawkes a faite de mon livre : Sortir des conflits – Méthode et outils pratiques, avec l’analyse transactionnelle, critique publiée dans le TAJ.

This is not a TA book. It is a book about conflicts, which the author examines through the lens not just of TA (though TA has a large part in the conceptualisations and is the theory identified in the subtitle), but also through other conceptualizations Le Guernic has acquired through the years. This is a strong point, to me, the blending of TA with other frames of reference. It gives TA a central place, without isolating it as if it deserved or needed to stand alone (a bit in the vein of the recent Script article by Melchor Batista[1] about opening up TA to the academic world).

 In a logical sequence, she offers 3 main steps which are the 3 parts of the book:

(1) identifying conflicts, their origin, causes, meanings, and consequences;

(2) solving conflicts, and

(3) preventing conflicts.  Although the author and José Grégoire, in the preface, warn that conflicts are a part of life and even the best communication can’t prevent them – and shouldn’t.  As they both say, some people fear conflicts and will do almost anything to avoid them, while others seek them out. But the point of the book is understanding them, dealing with them, and minimizing them: to have as few as possible, as manageable and productive as possible.

This will make interesting reading for TA and non-TA people alike, with the harmonious blending of concepts from varied horizons, and the language: as often as possible, the author uses « normal French words » as well as our TA terms. To this I see at least two advantages : we avoid the possible implicit « We’re OK/Others are not » described by Alan Jacobs[2] in his EBMA-winning article. And second, people don’t get the feeling of TA being a separate world, but rather, a very useful theoretical body accessible to all. This point may seem a bit paradoxical, since Berne so often explained that he chose ordinary words rather than long, complicated scientific-sounding terms so that TA would be a « normal people’s » theory. But as pointed out by Jacobs and noticed by many practitioners, « talking TA » can become quite jargony. I find Le Guernic’s book very much in keeping with Berne’s spirit as I understand it: a work of social utility, written in clear, understandable language, with enough of our TA terms and concepts to make readers curious, and little enough to keep it open.

Another interesting feature is that the author includes many examples from everyday life: child rearing, differences in personal speed and the perception of time, the use of personal space, public space, and work space, food, values, school situations (the author spent most of her professional life in the national education system in France), but also social issues such as the right for Muslim women to hide their hair or face under a scarf in various frameworks in France. Even popular TV programs are analyzed through these concepts, eg. the show « Super Nanny », which she uses to remind us of the useful aspects of a positive Normative Parent in educating our children.

Le Guernic offers a dispassionate examination of issues, not taking sides or preaching, merely looking at aspects of the intrapsychic conflict inside one person, or the social, interpersonal aspects between several people or groups of people. She takes a commonsense attitude in suggesting possible options.

Part I was particularly interesting to me. Le Guernic’s theory is that conflicts arise out of our:

– differences – in needs, values, frame of reference, or roles;

– relational styles – due to script. Here she introduces a number of TA concepts, such as transactions, going on to show the 3 kinds of « automatic relations » we tend to fall into outside of awareness : symbiotic, racketeering, and psychological games. This way of introducing TA notions as they become relevant to the point being made, rather than starting with a first section which gives the TA basics, seems to me much more palatable.

– interests – when we compete for advantages or simply have differing interests;

– and power – with a very interesting distinction made between psychological games vs power games (in English we would say power play, but in French it is the same word, « jeu », in both cases). Much of this section is drawn from, and elaborates on, Claude Steiner’s views[3].

To illustrate the variety of her points of view, I’ll summarize and translate part of the pages about the frame of reference, described as « a series of filters between ourselves and reality ». First comes a long quote from an article by J.L. Schiff and A.W. Schiff[4], which I rediscover as surprisingly modern (« An individual’s frame of reference is the structure of associated (conditioned) responses (neural pathways) which integrates the various ego states in response to specific stimuli »). This is tied to an NLP view, with preferred channels and VAKO (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory). Then comes my favorite bit: « The filter of the mother tongue ».

« Any linguistic system contains its own analysis of the external world, different from that of other languages. Translators know well that some things cannot be rendered in another tongue. It isn’t just a matter of vocabulary not always matching, but a way of thinking.

English, for instance, is much more concrete than French. French people use many abstract and general words to communicate. Such abstract words are from the Parent repertoire, so that other Europeans tend to be annoyed by what they perceive as our teachy attitude, whereas to me, this is merely a consequence of our language, a reflection of our culture. »

As an example, Le Guernic offers the phrase, « He swam across the river ». In French, we would say « Il a traversé la rivière à la nage », literally, « He crossed the river swimming ». The French, she explains, focuses on the direction in space, while English looks at the motor aspect. He swam vs. he crossed – same meaning, different verbs. The bilingual person in me is pensive.

And the frame of reference chapter goes on with the use of specialized languages (for instance, the TA language) ; the influence of the physical and geographic environment ; and the effects of our professional training on the scope and focus of our awareness.

My one regret is a bit iconoclastic, I’m afraid: I was wanting to see the author open up the TA frame some more. Not only to add on other views, but to dare enlarge things. For instance regarding time structuring.: for years, when I have taught that notion, I have balked at there being just the 6 modes, and I leave some space for other possibilities, categories which have not been listed. With Le Guernic’s personal views on many concepts, I was hoping to see how she would change that categorization, perhaps add to it or qualify it differently. But she respected the canon. I long to see such ideas regain flexibility and fluidity, to see them evolve.

As a conclusion, I was happy to read this book. It shows that TA is alive (for French publishers) and well and tied to other theories. And as Le Guernic sums up in her ending, « conflict is the product of contrary elements meeting and clashing. (…) (with practice) (…), conflicts can become an opportunity for each and anyone to exercise their thinking and creativity ! ».

Melchor Batista, “Writing a new script for Transactional Analysis”, The Script, May-June 2009, p.5

Alan Jacobs, « Autocratic Power, » TAJ, 17, 59-71 (1987).

Claude Steiner, The Other Side of Power, Grove Press, NY 1981.

Jacqui L. Schiff and Aaron W. Schiff, « Frames of reference », TAJ, 5, 290-294 (1975).

[1] Melchor Batista, “Writing a new script for Transactional Analysis”, The Script, May-June 2009, p.5

[2] Alan Jacobs, « Autocratic Power, » TAJ, 17, 59-71 (1987).

[3] Claude Steiner, The Other Side of Power, Grove Press, NY 1981.

[4] Jacqui L. Schiff and Aaron W. Schiff, « Frames of reference », TAJ, 5, 290-294 (1975).


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