Daily Dispatch

Get to the Point

Don’t Speak Like a Patronizing ‘Parent’

By | Mar.14.16 | Client Relations, Communicating, Daily Dispatch, Get to the Point

Get to the Point

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.

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers compensation cases throughout California. She is also available for legal freelance writing assignments. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and the author of four books published by the American Bar Association, including "Women Rainmakers' Best Marketing Tips, 3rd Edition." Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at WCMediator.com and on Twitter @WCMediator.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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2 Responses to “Don’t Speak Like a Patronizing ‘Parent’”

  1. Jackl
    14 March 2016 at 6:13 am #

    This is excellent advice, and I need to keep it top of mind when dealing with criminal law and family law clients who fail to understand that they have to back off from their self-centered beliefs to accommodate the edicts of our opponents and the court, accept reasonable compromises and recognize they are in no position to dictate or bully their way to a result that is not a realistic option.

    This is often the most frustrating part of my practice and I am probably guilty of losing my **** in this kind of encounter.

  2. Virginia Nicols
    14 March 2016 at 11:49 am #

    Being condescending is really counter-productive (and annoying to the person being spoken to!). And yet, using expressions like “Do you hear what I’m saying?” and “Do you see that?” fit in with “Don’t you agree?” as rhetorical statements recommended for public speakers, to keep their audience engaged. A fine line — but one that can be walked, I think, if you’re really caring about how well you’re communicating!


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