The transactional nature of relationships

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. ~ Maya Angelou

As a manager I pride myself on a few things, one of the things I really try to put a lot of focus on is helping the people I supervise get to what’s next for them. During their annual reviews I end the sessions with two questions, how can I do a better job of managing you, and what’s next for you? I make sure that folks know that I’m supportive of their career advancement if that’s what they’re after. Or, if they want to change directions, I’m here to support that as well. By knowing what their goals and aspirations are, it gives me a better chance of being aware of training and other opportunities that might be available to help them achieve that next step, whatever it might be.

Recently an opportunity popped up that I wasn’t expecting, but was something that I was quite interested in. It was a new job, a position with a fully online college that focuses on helping older students who either haven’t attended college or who had dropped out. The model had specific adaptations for helping these folks, the same types of folks I grew up with and around. Unfortunately I did not get the gig. I’m pretty much an open book with my bosses and people I work with so they knew I was up for the job. This was met with a lot of negative sentiments, comments like, “I hope they hate your guts” and “honestly, I hope it doesn’t go well.” I did my best to take these comments as the compliments they were minimally intended to be.

You see I’m good at my job, and there hasn’t been a history of solid leadership in my position. So my coming in and running the division competently has made a lot of folks really happy. They finally have structure and some place to go to for answers to questions, someone experienced with a good knowledge of the system. They have expressed this to me and have made it clear they are not looking forward to my eventual retirement. On the surface this seems like a mutually respectful relationship, they appreciate what I do for them and in turn like and respect me for doing this work.

However, I was reminded during this job search process, as I need to be from time to time, that almost all relationships are transactional, or conditional if you will. You see it became pretty clear that the people I supervise are only supportive and on my side if I’ll be in position to do for them. But if I’ll be leaving, and not in a position to be able to do for them, well then they are no longer on my side or very supportive. This is the true nature of most work relationships and at times things feel comfortable and more significant, so it’s good to be reminded that they aren’t, and that compartmentalizing my life has always been a good idea.

The fact is most of our relationships are transactional, most people will be your friends as long as you’re providing something for them. Perhaps it’s company to go to events, or being a travel companion, maybe your a shoulder to cry on or just someone giving the attention that they desire. As long as you do these things, they’re your friends. How often have you had someone be a friend who you interact with frequently, who suddenly disappears when they start a romantic relationship, only to return to your friendship when their relationships ends.

We all do this, it’s the deal we make, a social contract if you will, that if you provide for me, I’ll provide for you. It’s not a terrible thing, as long as you remember and understand that the core nature of the relationship is transactional. Of course this is one of the differences with true friends. These are the folks that while we do for them and they do for us, it’s based purely on desire and caring. Transactional relationships are relationships where you typically keep score, in a true friendship keeping score is totally unnecessary.

From time to time I test those relationships that feel like friendships but that I’m unsure about. I typically do this when I start to feel things are getting one-sided. When it’s always my shoulder being cried on, when it’s always me that makes the phone call, or sends the email or makes the effort to visit. Often I’ll just stop reaching out and see what happens, you know it’s transactional when if you stop trying nothing comes back the other way.

I feel really blessed to have four or five people that are true friends. We may fall out of contact for a time, or the relationship may be one-sided for a time, but that happens because of true need, and it’s the fact that you know, they would do the same that makes it so comfortable. While in a transactional relationship you may be weighing the likelihood of some level of reciprocation, in a true friendship it never even crosses your mind.

I hope you have some true friends and that likewise you’re a true friend to them. I have often credited one of my true friends with literally saving my life when I fell apart. That’s how important they are to us. ~ Rev Kane

About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
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