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Get to the Point

Don’t Speak Like a Patronizing ‘Parent’

By Theda C. Snyder

The parade of presidential candidates across my television screen has reminded me of the transactional analysis best-seller, “I’m OK, You’re OK.” Transactional analysis is a psychoanalytic therapy method. It defines three ego-states: Child, Parent and Adult. While in their Parent ego-state, speakers tend to use patronizing speech patterns and gestures.

Listen to any of the presidential candidates, and you will frequently hear them preface a statement with “look” or “listen.” A speaker in Parent ego-state might repeatedly stab a finger at the listener. These demands for compliance can be seen as patronizing.

Another patronizing speech mannerism is the coda “you follow?” appended to a sentence as if the listener were not quite bright enough to get the message.

It’s easy to slip into Parent mode when clients are asking for advice. You’re functioning as the Parent model. But the language can come across as condescending or rude. These usages are even less acceptable when speaking to judges, opposing counsel, colleagues or your spouse.

Transactional analysis posits that the psychological goal is to operate in the Adult ego-state. An Adult objectively appraises reality and makes decisions about it. Clients may be in their Child state when they are with you, acting emotionally or irrationally about their cases. You can communicate most effectively and do your best lawyering as an Adult. One way to stay in that mode is to avoid patronizing speech patterns.

Illustration ©

Categories: Attorney Client Relations, Communications Skills, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point
Originally published March 14, 2016
Last updated April 26, 2018
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Teddy Snyder Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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