When you talk to people, are you focused on the transaction or your interaction? A transactional encounter is one where you're going through the motions to get the task or the discourse done. Maybe you are texting, talking on the phone to someone else or just dazed and confused, but the bottom line is that you're not engaged with the other person or the process. Interaction occurs when two people are engaged in a dialogue or actively participating in the process.
For example, think of the last time you went out to eat. When you ordered, was the waiter friendly, knowledgeable and quick? Did he or she show authentic interest, assistance and interaction in helping you with your order and when paying the check?
That kind of interaction is so noticeably different from a typical transaction that it is now considered a fluke, instead of what customer service should be. As a consumer, it is so refreshing to be engaged in this kind interaction and on the receiving end of good service! Businesses who have employees focused on the interaction also seem to have owners who clearly have a different strategy for hiring and training people than their competitors, who are focused on the transaction.
Effective interaction can affect outcomes
This is just one example of how effective interaction can affect the outcome. In this case, the restaurant has a loyal customer who is telling others about how great they are.
Ask yourself: What are you talking about, and are your conversations focused on the transaction or interaction? When you are talking to people, are you clear about the purpose of the conversation? Are your thoughts, words and actions aligned with that purpose and the outcomes that you hope to achieve?
If you are focused on the transaction, there can be a tendency to treat the conversation in a matter-of-fact, Sergeant Friday approach: "Just the facts Ma'am." The conversation is like a flowchart - cover all the bases and move on to the next topic, person or activity. The implied message behind the message can be interpreted as "I don't have time for you or what is important to you."
During this challenging economic time, when organizations are "doing more with less," common after-effects include employee fatigue, increased absenteeism, low morale, and diminished productivity or quality of work. All of these impact the end user or consumer of your products or services.
There is a lot of talk about "employee engagement." But are you really walking the walk or is it really just another form of transactional communication with a fancy label? If you want to utilize real employee engagement, take a look at the quality of conversations you're having. Are they "transactional" or are you really interacting with them?
Turning the tide
A recent study indicated that 63% of the workforce under age 45 plans to leave their current employer when the economy improves. While it may be politically correct to say the impetus for leaving are a better opportunity for advancement or more money, the bottom line is that most people start looking and choose to leave an organization based on perceived negative interactions with management.
So how does one turn the tide from transaction to interaction?
It's all about the level of participation in that conversation. How are you participating in the conversation? How are you listening? Are you an active participant as a listener? Or are you thinking about what to say next or envisioning the other person with a big "L" on their forehead.... "Loser..." "How many times have we heard this before?" "Here she goes again..."
Good managers and leaders understand that conversations require participation. It's more than "just the facts." They understand that when they speak to colleagues, employees, customers or suppliers, they are conveying multiple messages:
- The content of the message: is it clear and consistent with the organization's policies and practices?
- The delivery of the message: is the delivery consistent with the organization's core values, such as "respect," or "integrity" or "good communication"
- The quality of interaction: are you really listening? Is it participative?
If you are looking for improved employee engagement or increased customer retention, an easy and cost effective place to start is by examining your conversations. Are you talking about things that are relevant and important to the other person?
Chatting about the weather or the latest sports scores are ok, but unless you are a meteorologist or sports broadcaster or coach, you'll get more mileage with an interaction that is focused on the person, their work or their purchase.
One conversation at a time
Authentic interaction is heartfelt, but not sappy, and comes from a place of caring and wanting to be of service or making a difference. It's about leaving the other person feeling glad they had the interaction with you. Even difficult conversations can be authentic, caring and leave a person feeling respected. How do you start? One conversation at a time.
Start by really listening to the conversations that you're having with people. Are you approaching it like a transaction or an opportunity for authentic interaction? Do you care enough about yourself, your organization and the people with whom you converse to choose to have authentic interactions?
If not, just know that you may be missing out on opportunities to make a difference in someone else's life or closed to the possibility that someone might make a difference in yours.
It's just a choice. And you can choose to change it with your next conversation.