Relational vs. Transactional Communication

Enjoy The Work blog post. Relational vs Transactional Communication.

Every time a founder interacts with an employee, an opportunity exists to either strengthen or weaken the relationship.

Often the result is determined by the type of communication used — either relational or transactional. Both have their time and place and understanding when to use each is a skill great leaders master.

Relational Communication

When we really listen to one another, discuss topics other than the project at hand, and/or share a vulnerability, that is relational communication. It’s about finding areas of commonality for even brief moments of genuine connection.

Transactional Communication

Sometimes though, we just need to get something done. Not every interaction should be a lengthy affair and in fact, a concise exchange is often sufficient.

But what happens when we lean too far in either direction? Imagine if every time you connected with a team member, you exhaustively discussed non-work topics. Sounds terribly inefficient, right? Far less would get accomplished, and if taken to its logical conclusion, the entire business might be put in jeopardy.

And the Converse? If all communication were reduced to the staccato of quick questions and demands, basic humanity would be robbed from the office. People at startups work relentlessly not for compensation (which largely falls below that of large organizations) but for the inspiration of the grander mission and the camaraderie of their fellow martyrs. Remove the heart from your communication and risk removing the heart from the entire team.

Striking The Right Balance

We each have an emotional bank inside of us. It tracks the relative strength of each relationship in our lives. Every time we communicate with one of our people, we have a chance to either make a deposit or withdrawal from that account.

As a leader, you are the chief accountant. Knowing which accounts are running low or high is a core responsibility, and it is up to you to create an infrastructure that promotes a healthy balance.

Fortunately, if your startup operates like most, this infrastructure is already being built through the various rituals by which we come together. Every meeting presents an opportunity for both transactional and relational moments — you just have to know when each is appropriate.

Compounded Interest

It’s the secret to effective retirement planning. Make contributions steadily, even if in small amounts, and over the long term, the impact can be transformative. Your team needs similar attention. We are tempted as founders to do as much as possible every single day. Go from one project to the next, don’t eat, barely sleep, and by all means, remove all personal distractions.

The challenge is that such a lens will work in the short term but will leave your emotional bank account desperately thin. It’s like living paycheck to paycheck and still expecting one day to retire.

There are times when we need to just get stuff done; for all the other times, take 90 seconds and just ask the person in front of you how they feel. The long-term dividends will make both of you richer.

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