When delivering sessions on Transactional Analysis and how to use it to develop rapport, instigate effective communication and manage conflict meaningfully, I often use Fawlty Towers. From the reactions of the groups I work with, it seems to be reasonably timeless and the majority of people enjoy its humour. In short, Basil plays a great Adapted Child to Sybil’s Controlling Parent, Basil enjoys the power of his Controlling Parent when dealing with the Adapted Child Manuel, Manuel then plays a lovely Nurturing Parent to his Siberian hamster, and Polly remains in Adult throughout most of the crisis happening around her.
From now on, however, I will have to include the Commons Select Committee which occurred earlier this week. It starred Rupert Murdoch, his son James Murdoch and a number of MPs from various parties. It also featured a walk on part (or stand up part) by Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s wife.
To set the scene …. Two of the most powerful media people in the world, who have had a huge influence within the British media for at least 20 years, have messed up big style. MPs, whose political parties have felt the need to seek their favour and work with them in order to gain their support in order to get into or remain in government, have suddenly been released from their self-imposed shackles and are free to express their opinions without a Murdoch backlash. They have an hour to ask the Murdochs questions about their big mess up.
The Murdochs don’t want to be there – they had been unavailable for the meeting up until a few days ago – but have agreed to come. Imagine what they feel like having to be under the cosh having been able to dictate the rules for so long. The MPs are wanting to exorcise their demons.
So, off we go. The MPs want to ask the 80-year old Rupert a number of questions first. He starts to struggle with them. He is starting to expose his lack of leadership at the helm of his company. His son, who is sitting next to him, is feeling very uncomfortable for his father. Every now and then, James’ discomfort becomes too great for him, and he interrupts to ask if he can perhaps answer the questions on behalf of his father as he will be able to give far more detail. James is told that this will not happen, and that they will get to him in due course. It is one of the best examples of the Drama Triangle (Karpman), one of TA ‘Games’, that I have witnessed. The MPs are the Persecutor and Rupert is the Victim. Every time James attempts to be the Rescuer, he also becomes a Victim. Time after time.
The MPs are queuing up with their questions and supplementary questions. The scheduled hour passes and it is apparent that this will go on much longer. But what did you expect? If you have been at the hands of the school bully for 20 years and then the school bully comes and says sorry and a person in authority says that you can take your retribution if you want to, you might take it. And if you can give him one metaphorical kick, and he can’t fight back, why not give him a few more?
And these MPs were, I think, trying to stay within their Adult ego states. But they didn’t do it very well. There was too much history. They tried to dress their values and feelings up in Adult terms, but it didn’t work (“Mr Blair visited you halfway round the world before the 1997 election. Anyway, that does not matter”, and “Can you tell us how much all those characters have been paid off?”). As a result Their Controlling Parent ego states were shining through like early morning sunlight through the slats of a blind. There they were, being Basil whacking his broken down car with a large branch – oblivious to who was watching.
Consequently, the majority of the questioning was disappointingly poor, even though they took 3 hours rather than the planned 1 hour. The Murdochs, on the other hand, remained in the Adult ego state remarkably well.
And then we had Wendi’s walk on part. Enter stage left a person with a foam pie, intent on presenting it unceremoniously into Rupert’s face. Wendi sees this. At this point we are about two and a half hours into the session and she is probably angry and upset on behalf of her husband. What an opportunity to off-load all that anger on to the pie man. And she does so with a right hook. In TA terms, he got stamped. The bell goes – end of the round. All parties retreat to their corners for time out (and to clean up the pie).
A parent who has just verbally laid into their child, and then extricates themselves from the situation, sometimes realises that they should have controlled themselves a little more. They go and be nice to the child to try and make up. Is that what happened to our MPs during the recess? Did the penny drop – either through self-reflection or because someone had the opportunity to tell them? Becasue when they came back, they tried to make up. How impressed they were with Wendi … what a hook … well done Wendy! How Nurturing they were – or were they Adapted, fearing that they might be next? Too late though, they had already shown their true colours.
And then it ended. And in comparison, the time the MPs had with Rebekah Brooks was very tame. But the main event on the billing had been a wonderful illustration of TA in action. Just a little disappointing that it turned out like a sitcom when it should have been so revealing.
Well, I think that’s ensured I will never have any opportunity of supplying services to the Murdoch empire. And perhaps I should change my phone pin number while I remember …