Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Beating the Brats..How to recognize when the person you’re trying to communicate with is stuck in ‘child-mode’...

It’s frustrating isn’t it?  Even more so when that ‘child’ is someone in a position of authority from whom you may be seeking authorization on an important project or mature and insightful input in an urgent matter.  We’ve all been there I’m sure.  I’m also confident that we’re all guilty of similar behavior ourselves from time to time.

Experts in Transactional Analysis tell us that there are 4 types of child-like behaviour. 

They are: Adapted child (positive or negative) and Natural (or Free) child (positive and negative).

I’ve re-branded them in a simplistic fashion so that they’re easier to recognise when you next come across them.

Adapted child (positive) is reasonably complicit, but only because they refuse to take responsibility for their own destiny.   They are resource-hungry individuals who will swallow up your time and energy like a stray dog let loose in a cake shop.  You will have encountered this type of behaviour in people whose immediate requirement is for you to hold their hand in order to get them through their day.  The ability to make decisions without your input is non-existent.  Oh yes, they may seem quite cute and innocent at first but you’ll soon start to consider good hiding places when you see them approaching and even wonder how they ever managed to dress themselves and make it into work.  I often refer to this type of person as, Hopeless Brat’.  

Adapted child (negative) is a much worse individual.  You’ll be glad to spend your days with their opposite number as soon as you meet them.  Single-minded and sulky individuals who when things don’t go their way will stamp their feet and behave like a child caught in the infantile syndrome knows as the ‘terrible twos’.  They’d scream the place down if they could get away with it and will often do things just to spite people and situations.  If you’re old enough to remember the Richmal Crompton’s ‘Just William’ novels then you’ll recognise the similarities between this person and the Crompton’s lisping fictional character Violet Elizebeth Bott; who’s typical response when being denied her own way was, I'll thcream and thcream 'till I'm thick". Therefore unsurprisingly, the tag that this individual is awarded is, Spoiled Brat’.

Now let’s look at the other mode of ‘child’, starting with natural (or free) child (positive).  Natural child (positive) is motivated by praise and prefers to work in an environment that allows them free-reign to do what they want.   That said, the product of their efforts is often immature and usually worthless.  Typically, they fail to understand where the boundaries are and often don’t just cross the line but metaphorically pole-vault it by acting inappropriately at the most inappropriate of times.  They’ll say that they’re just injecting some humour into the situation when in effect, they’re embarrassing themselves and everyone unfortunate enough to be connected to them.  For the sake of easy recall, I’ll call this character ‘Silly Brat’.

On the other hand, natural child (negative) sits at the wildly irresponsible side of the spectrum.   They will usually blame others for their misgivings and offer weak excuses such as lack of training, lack of support, and lack of competence in others for their own shortfalls.  Purposefully devious, they tote a large blame-thrower and they’re not afraid to use it, often telling stories that are untrue in order to seek a blameless existence.  Timelines are meaningless and they are usually late with pretty much every aspect of their being.  They hold scant regard for systems and processes and view them merely as barriers that have been put in-place purely to prevent them from operating.  They fail to take on-board the potential seriousness of a situation believing that they’ll continue to be owed a living and that they’re irreproachable.   We’ll call this person ‘Delusional Brat’.

So there my friends is our brat-quartet.  The trick of course is to guide them out of this mindset and behaviour to bring them back into Adult-mode; if only to negotiate your business and get some definitive level of cooperation.  It’s not always easy, I’m sure you’ll agree.  But the worst mistake you can make is to mirror their behaviour which invariably results in a form of brat-tennis as you both attempt to score points to win the brat-battle.  One law of Transactional Analysis is that reciprocal behaviour builds a cyclical series of exchanges where no party ‘wins’ and no progress is ever made. 

So, remain calm when you are next confronted with a brat.  Consider their motivators and play to their needs so that you can win them over to your level of conversation and thinking. Above all, try to recognize brat behaviour in yourself and beat it down with an enthusiastic smack as soon as it starts to rear its ‘bratish’ little head.

Wishing you luck in all that you do,



  1. Keith, here in Minnesota we just experienced a two-week shutdown of state government and so much of what you describe occurred in the negotiations. I've shared your insightful post with my facebook and twitter followers.

  2. Hi Susan,

    I'm glad that you got some value from my post and hope that the situation in Minnesota is quickly being resolved. Good luck with that.

    Warm regards,