What Does Transactional Relationship Actually Mean? [What to Know About Transactional Relationships]

Table of Contents

What is a transactional relationship? 

Is it something you have with your credit card?

Is it a real relationship with a human being?

And is it a good or a bad thing?

In this article, you'll identify the signs that point to a transactional relationship with another person and when you should transform it into something else.

You'll also learn why a transactional relationship doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad relationship.

Let's dive in.

The Key Features of Transactional Relationships

1. It's all business

Transactional relationships are business-like relationships.

That doesn't mean they have to be relationships you have in a business setting.

It means that the quality of the relationship has the feeling of business--of just getting things done, and that's that.

While this can be a great relationship to have with a bank teller, it doesn't typically feel good in committed friendships or romantic relationships.

A business-like feeling is a hallmark sign of a transactional relationship.

2. It's not a strong relationship

Transaction, by its very meaning, indicates something fleeting, something you do just to get a thing done.

This does not indicate strength but its opposite.

It's nice to do work with efficiency, but do you want your meaningful relationships to feel like business deals? 

There's no intimacy in a business deal.

Transactional relationships have more to do with numbers and execution than anything else.

3. Are all business relationships transactional relationships?

Not necessarily.

For a business to be successful, it needs to provide value over the long term.

That means it needs to develop meaningful relationships with its customers, business partners, and other stakeholders.

What differentiates a meaningful business relationship from one that is purely transactional is the duration and the quality of the shared experiences.

Chewy, the pet-supply, company, is a great example of this. They are known to send handwritten cards to their new customers--and even mails pet portraits to brighten their customers' days.

It's the meaning created from shared experiences that shifts a relationship from purely transactional to one that is more intimate and adaptable.

4. For friendships or romantic relationships, it's not give and take

A transactional relationship doesn't have to just be about businesslike efficiency.

It also shows up in friendships and romantic relationships.

And in the latter case, transactional means one-sided.

This feels a bit like backpedaling the recent points, so an example is helpful.

When someone gets in a relationship for only one reason--to get a particular need met or to obtain wealth, for example--then it drifts towards the transactional.

The goal is to get something out of it, a notion that is dangerous for supposedly intimate relationships.

A mutually reinforcing relationship is not about keeping score.

It's not about being right.

It's about being something greater together than the two individuals are apart.

5. It depends on the mutual perception of time

"Mutual perception of time."

That sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.

But it's true.

In a transactional relationship, the idea of time spent together is very narrow, and it's not based on shared experiences.

The focus, in a transaction, is on the result.

On the other hand, in a meaningful relationship, shared time is a core component.

When two people get meaning from a relationship, they are both able to refer to long swaths of time and shared experiences.

It is this mutual perception of time involved that defines the relationship.

Just think about the most meaningful relationships in your life.

I'm sure you're able to come up with countless examples of time shared together.

And when you get together, there's no limit placed on the time you have.

The relationship is all about the process, the very act of being together.

Transactions focus on outcomes.

Meaningful relationships lose themselves in quality time.

How to Transform a Transactional Relationship

At this point, you're probably wondering, I think I'm in some transactional relationships, and I want to do something about it.

How do I get myself out of them?

It's worth noting that there's nothing inherently bad about a transactional relationship.

Some relationships will always be that way.

Your bank teller will probably always be your bank teller and nothing more.

But if you've invested time in a relationship and it's feeling awfully one-sided, maybe it's time to do something about it.

Start with this first step.

1. Take stock of your personal relationships

It's time to look at your current relationships.

Make a list of the top 10 relationships that you have.

These are the people you spend the most time with.

Now, consider whether each relationship is a reciprocal relationship or a one-sided relationship.

A reciprocal relationship is another way of saying bidirectional relationship, meaning it goes both ways.

Of the relationships that you listed, how many are reciprocal relationships, and how many are one-sided?

If you already consider certain relationships to be a bidirectional relationships, then great. There's nothing to do there.

What you need to focus on are the ones that aren't up to snuff.

And what you really need to focus on is whether or not you want to invest more time into those.

2. Decide which relationships are worth transforming

This is step two of the process.

For all the one-sided relationships in your life, what are you getting from them?

Do they bring you any joy?

Are they with people who inspire you and make you want to be a better person?

These are important questions to consider.

If you're a combination of the top people you spend time with, wouldn't you want to spend time with people who bring out the best in you?

The kinds of relationships you allow in your life will determine the quality of your life. 

If you have people in your life who are not currently serving you, but with whom you want to have a closer relationship, then please read on.

3. Understand the qualities of transformational relationships

Transactional relationships are not transformational relationships.

They exist to get something done, hopefully in a short amount of time.

Transformational relationships are:

  • Mutually reinforcing
  • Inspiring
  • Deeply committed to by each person
  • Based on shared values

The more you think about the biggest relationships in your life, the more you realize that there is a lot going on beneath the surface.

It's not just a "going through the motions" kind of relationship.

There are several common threads tying you together.

It's like you're two icebergs floating side by side.

What people see from the outside are your words and actions.

But what they don't see are the huge masses of ice underneath, much bigger than anything above the surface.

These are the parts of the relationship that are transformational by nature and founded on shared experiences, principles, and viewpoints.

These kinds of relationships can come from all areas of your life, whether from hobbies you have or organizations you've joined. They can come from your family, or they can stem from a school, job, or church.

The key is that each person is better off for being in the relationship.

4. Take action on new information

If being better off is the guiding force, it's now time to apply it to your life.

Think about the types of relationships that you have.

Refer to the list that you made.

And think about the relationships that you wish to have.

Maybe you're up to your knees in transformational relationships already.

But if you were, you probably wouldn't still be reading.

So now is the time to start taking action by following these guidelines:

  • Knowing that you're unhappy with a relationship is the first step.
  • Knowing which relationships are worth changing is another step.
  • Applying what you learn about good relationships to improve your own are the final two steps.

It really can be that simple.

You deserve to have relationships that lift you up and allow you to see from the higher vantage points in life.

Spot the transactional relationships in your life and decide if they should stay that way.

Some need to be transactional.

A life in which every single relationship is transformational would be overwhelming and too much to bear.

But a life with too few is a life of silent desperation.

Be mindful of what you need in your life.

And then set a powerful intention to make it so.

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