Do you know how to handle a difficult conversation, or do you become a child?

No matter the role, working in the travel industry will always present challenging situations, where we find ourselves in a position of conflict; travel consultants handling a demanding customer, operations managing a complaint, marketing responding to a public flogging of the brand, and managers having difficult performance discussions with non-performers. I’ve worked in the travel industry for over 30 years, and have yet to come across anyone who enjoys these situations. Some, sadly, don’t have the tools to manage these scenarios effectively, becoming a child or parent when they need to remain in adult mode. How do you handle them?

American Psychiatrist Eric Berne created the ‘PAC’ (parent, adult, child) model, which he said describes our three ego states. These ego states relate to how we react in various situations.

The Parent Ego

This ego state is filled with ‘how to’s, you should, do this and don’t do that’. As children, our parents and those in authoritative positions used these words to help us to follow instructions quickly, usually in a manner to protect, but sometimes in a critical way i.e., ‘don’t touch the plug socket’, ‘put your clothes away’, ‘don’t speak to me like that’, ‘well that was stupid, wasn’t it?’, ‘why on earth did you do that?’ etc. Can you think a time when you’ve used the Parent Ego at work? What was the reaction? What was your reaction when somebody used the Parent Ego with you?

Invariably, we go into child mode when somebody uses the Parent Ego state with us.

The Child Ego

As we get older (usually as teenagers, but as toddlers, too), we rebel against instructions. This can be exhibited by despair, whining, silence, shouting, anger, arguing, crying, sulking and using words like ‘I don’t care’, ‘don’t know’, ‘I need’, ‘I want’, ‘I didn’t’, ‘whatever’. When we slip into a child ego state, we trigger the parent ego.

The way to communicate effectively and avoid confrontation is said to lie within the adult ego.

The Adult Ego

Is rational, and deals in facts, figures, data and information. They don’t enmesh by using examples of previous behaviour that aren’t relevant to the discussion. They judge on the here and now. They avoid emotional language and they’re assertive without being patronising, rude or abusive.

It’s critical to remember that the other person involved in your conversation also has opinions, feelings, and emotions. If they feel attacked, they’re most likely going to go into defensive mode of parent or child.

Remaining in adult mode at all times, and following a good five step process for difficult discussions, will always ensure a positive outcome.

  1. What do you want to achieve by the end of the conversation, that’s fair to both parties?
  2. Be prepared with factual information, don’t assume, don’t enmesh
  3. Have a discussion based on facts, not a debate
  4. Take accountability for your own actions, failings and next steps
  5. Find a common ground and agree the way forward

We enlist the help of senior travel industry professionals to help author our travel courses. They use their years of experience to provide helpful lessons which will enable you to achieve more in your role.

We’re passionate about empowering the travel industry community. If you feel the same, share this blog to your social media.

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