Transactional vs Human Relationships in Business.

In my consulting practice, I have worked with nearly 140 clients over the last 14 years. From CEO’s to line-managers, working in start-ups and in the Fortune 100’s; I have sat across the table, and side-by-side with a wide range of executives.

 In looking back on all of those business relationships, I feel comfortable lumping everyone into one of two categories: “transactional” or “human” relationships.

 A transactional relationship is one based on the exchange of goods and services in a linear and one-dimensional fashion. An example is a client who will try to get the lowest price for the highest delivery of goods within a set timeframe. Success is measured on quality of outcome, delivered in an expeditious manner. A set of deliverables is defined, and must be achieved as promised. It is a very linear and one-dimensional process. Withdrawing money from an ATM is a transactional relationship, as is paying the toll to cross a bridge—and so is many a business relationship. While an effective way to do business, I find transactional relationships lack the creativity and work/life (and human) balance that I require in life. In fact, I find them quite sterile.

 I prefer a human relationship.

 Like a transactional relationship, a human relationship involves the exchange of goods and services, but it is how the exchange is conducted which defines the difference. It is, if you will, about the journey. Yes, it is a softer, more emotion-driven process, but it can have the same pragmatic delivery as a transactional relationship. A human relationship is simply about the mutual exchange of needs and expectations, in a more fluid, and flexible way.

 Most of my client engagements are at a human level. I’ll set a scope of deliverables, but as we move through the process, new discoveries will be made that impact how and what we do for an assignment. I recently had one project start out as a marketing assignment, and turn into a corporate culture/HR and recruiting assignment—all because my client and I were fluid and flexible in our expectations, and listened to the needs of the day, rather than the contract signed yesterday. As an old boss of mine once said “I always reserve the right to become smarter than my first answer might suggest.”

 Human relationships are based in mutual respect between both parties and an understanding that humans are fallible, react emotionally, and need to be motivated beyond the carrot-and-stick mentality of a transactional relationship. We all want to be heard, and praised, and well regarded. And, if we are treated like humans, we will respond in kind. Recently, a client asked if we could meet at her house instead of the office, so she could be close to her young kids. “Of course, why not.” On another day, a client asked to step out from a meeting to take a call from his dad. When he came back, we spent 20 minutes talking about father-and-son relationships and were both the better humans for it—and had a stronger client-consultant bond for sure.

 I set a goal last year to only work with those willing to work at a “human” level, and to leave the “transactional” types to others. So far so good. The most rewarding discovery in working at a “human” level—it makes me want to be a better human when my clients treat me with human respect.

 Yes, I always reserve the right to get smarter—and more human.


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