Redefining Professionalism – Looking beyond transactional relationships

Professional relationships are of two kinds: transactional and relational. Let’s explore both together.

A transactional relationship is where you get and give exactly what you think you need—nothing more and often less. There are rigid boundaries in the exchange between involved parties. If you look at the contract, the goods were delivered and received.

On the other hand, a relational exchange is built on guidance that nurtures the potential of those involved. Depending on what one seeks in a professional relationship, it is necessary to attract people who would help further your goals.

Below are five events. Ask yourself- transactional or relational?

  • Buying a car
  • Seeing a therapist
  • Buying coffee
  • Showing up to work at a big company
  • Partnering web development firm to build a website

I don’t know about you, but for all the examples above, I have personally experienced transactional thinking at various points in my life. But, with vision and leadership, the same events can leave a better impression on all participants with a focus on relationships.

Transactional events can become relational if, and only if, the right environment is established.

Establishing the right environment requires the following:

  • Purpose/Vision
  • Reciprocity/ Mutual Respect
  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Empowerment

Going from transactional to relational can’t happen alone.

If you are in the wrong environment and you do what you think is right, it will likely fall flat if you are not playing by the rules! Think about all the layers of people who need to be on the same page! Staff, Management, Leadership, Customers – if just one area is not aligned, the whole thing will come tumbling down!

If you appreciate innovation, think freely, and wish for those around you to resonate with your creative energy, then you need to work with people with a boundless imagination. Individuals committed to a relational, professional relationship respect each other and encourage the blossoming of new and unconventional ideas with long-term impact.

Good listeners make good partners, so do those who have faith in your collective effort. You don’t have to worry about accountability in a relational exchange because you both acknowledge each other’s skills and function with optimism.

However, when you work with someone for a long time, and there is no evidence that they hear you and have mutual respect, it is a transactional relationship. Looking back, you would notice that there has been procurement of goals without growth or fulfillment.  

Locating the shorter end of the stick

  • Do you have the same goal? There could be a conflict of interest in a transactional relationship, owing to the difference in ambition. It is only in mutual interest to bring the involved parties in sync to help them give their best.
  • What kind of relationship they have with you? While professionalism is a positive trait to possess, too much of it can lead to inflexibility, making others uncomfortable. On the other hand, a friendlier approach does not intimidate people and brings candor and honesty in expressing ideas/opinions.
  • Do you communicate or talk? The exchange of ideas, information, and opinions between parties in a professional relationship profoundly impacts the next course of action. Conversely, the absence of clarity in discussions can leave gaps in the progression towards goals.
  • Is your approach process-oriented or result-oriented? Is there a balance between them? A process-oriented approach to handling work strengthens the goals achieved, while the latter accelerates goal attainment. However, both methods have their own blind spots that you can easily overlook in a transactional relationship. 

Think about it, what kind of people do you attract and work with within a professional setting? What type of role do they play in your life? And what kind of role do you play in theirs? Answering these questions requires introspection, so I would encourage you to begin thinking. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t! You have a choice on whom you work with and where you spend your money, it’s up to you to prioritize what’s important to you and take action!

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