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Why You Should Operate in Adult Mode (…and leave Child and Parent Mode behind)

We are often told it shouldn’t matter what others think of us. That statement rings true to a certain extent, however, we must admit that how others view us often plays a (major) role in our success.

An important component of Executive Presence is, in fact, how others view us.

I don’t mean the way people view us in a shallow or superficial way, but how they view us as professionals and employees in our organizations. It’s true we don’t always act like mature and rational adults, but it’s important that we show up as such, especially in the workplace.

These are the different modes we as humans tend to operate in:

Child Mode. This is when we complain, gripe, and fuss when we don’t get our way or something doesn’t turn out as planned. In this mode, we usually only think for ourselves and we tend to think irrationally.

Parent Mode. We act in an authoritative, protective, and sometimes controlling manner. We make all of the decisions (usually without consulting others) and we communicate with others in a direct and no-nonsense manner.

Adult Mode. This is the ideal mode we want to operate in. Here we’re rational, mature, and professional. We’ve got it together in a cool, calm, and collected manner, regardless of the situation. We’re able to make decisions based on what’s best for both ourselves and others.

When working on our Executive Presence, it’s important we’re aware which of these modes we tend to operate in, and how it impacts the way others view us. Because we want to operate in Adult Mode, let’s look at how we can avoid acting in Child and Parent Mode.

There are many emotional triggers that can cause us to react in Child and Parent Mode, and it’s important to know what those triggers are for you (hint: Child and Parent mode are usually triggered when our core values are tested or questioned).

Here’s an example: Let’s say family is an important value of yours. One late afternoon, your supervisor asks you to complete a report. Completing this report would cause you to stay at work late and miss your kid’s soccer game. Because family is one of your core values, this could be an emotional trigger for you and cause you to act in Child Mode. You may feel sorry for yourself, put the blame on your supervisor, or complain to your coworkers and family members. Now that we know that’s an emotional trigger for you, we can avoid acting in Child Mode and move straight to Adult Mode in these types of situations.

In Adult Mode, we handle the situation professionally

and come up with a solution where all parties benefit.

Here’s a personal example: One of my values is optimism. My emotional trigger gets pushed when someone is bringing the group down with negativity, or ideas are being shot down with saying like “that’ll never work” or “we’ve already tried that.” This causes me to either roll my eyes (Child Mode) or get protective over my ideas (Parent Mode). Because I know it’s an emotional trigger for me when my value of optimism is tested, I’ve conditioned myself to respond in Adult Mode in these situations. Adult Mode looks and sounds like this –

Me: “What I hear you saying is you don’t think this idea will work because we’ve tried it in the past and have been unsuccessful” (Acknowledge the person using active listening).

Me: “That’s interesting feedback and I appreciate that you don’t want us to make the same mistake twice” (Show them you value their input).

Me: “I’d be willing to bet we could come up with some new and creative ideas to make this work – how about we work together to come up with a solution?” (Bingo: problem solved and BOTH parties benefit by having input in the solution).

Here are my challenges for you:

1. Figure out what your core values are. What do you personally value that would typically send you to Child or Parent Mode when those values are questioned? Here is a short list to get you thinking: Achievement, Integrity, Balance, Respect, Loyalty, Happiness, Recognition, Learning.

2. Start taking note of how you act in high pressure or high stress situations, especially in situations when your values are questioned. What’s your automatic reaction? Do you shut down? Roll your eyes? Get defensive? Tell others they’re wrong?

3. Be prepared to act in Adult Mode. Here’s how: Show respect to those you feel disrespected by. Actively listen to them and acknowledge them, then and come up with a solution you’re both satisfied with. This will help you gain trust and respect among many, which is a wonderful way for others to view you.

Want to learn more about Executive Presence? Contact Us Here.

Want to learn more about Executive Presence? Contact Us Here.

Visit The School of Executive Presence to explore coaching and development options and current program enrollments!


Whitney Ohmer is a Talent and Organizational Development consultant for the Corporate Talent Institute. To learn more about her organization, visit

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