Columns > Published on March 25th, 2022

Transactional Networking is Trash Networking

What is transactional networking?

Transactional, by definition, is a term for something related to the exchange of goods or services; buying and selling. "Quid pro quo," as Hannibal Lecter would say.

Networking is the organic process of interacting with others in a social construct to share ideas and information, developing professional relationships.

Transactional networking is making connections in a small group of people with the overarching goal of advancing your own agenda, business goals, or sales. The dangerous thing about this type of behavior is that most people either don't realize they are acting this way, or they know exactly what they're doing; they just aren't forthright about their intentions. This is a problem.

Don't be like Hannibal Lecter.

Reciprocal relationships, either personal or professional, require both parties to agree on the terms of the reciprocity according to what each person feels is fair and mutually beneficial. It requires a lot of communication. A full awareness of how the relationship functions. Yes, there can be healthy reciprocal relationships.

Transactional networking, typically, does not involve a communicated agreement. Usually, one person views the interaction a certain way and the other person is unclear about the expectations.

Here’s are some of the difference between transactional and relational networking:

Viewing others as commodities or resources is immediately felt by others. People can tell when they are being used.
  1. Transactional networking is disingenuous
    Without authenticity, relationships in a professional environment cannot deepen or grow organically. Meaningful connections with others are stunted, never moving beyond "what can this person do for me?" Viewing others as commodities or resources is immediately felt by others. People can tell when they are being used. Trust is essential to a thriving community, so if there is even a whiff of transactional networking, it will kill the spirit of genuine friendships. It is fake to support or build up others with the expectation that they should do the same for you. This will become clear enough when expectations are not met and the transactional networking is not benefiting the person using this method. 
  2. Transactional networking is a burden
    Everyone in a community is living their own life that comes complete with their own cares, worries, and burdens. The last thing anyone needs is to complicate their life further by adding a transactional relationship without even agreeing to the expectations. An example of this in the writing community is in the exchange of review copies going out to readers. The expectation here should be that the free book comes with zero strings attached. It is a free book in exchange for review consideration. At no point in time should anyone feel obligated to read or review a book they were given for free unless that reader/reviewer made some kind of contractual agreement signed in their own blood with the actual devil. Shit happens. A free book is not an obligation. Period.
  3. Transactional networking is built on assumptions
    The old adage is assume makes an ass out of 'u' and 'me'. Assuming that because you did X, Y, or Z for someone, they owe you some kind of future reciprocity breeds resentment. It's always clear in a community of professionals who is making assumptions based on acts of service or support. They are typically the ones feeding the rumor mill or sewing seeds of negativity. This is because they feel like they are on the outside of the larger community due to failed expectations placed on people they viewed as "friends" who did not live up to their perceived exchange of support. True reciprocal or mutually beneficial relationships are created organically and from a place of respect and/or a desire to honor one another through celebrating successes and milestones—not out of an obligation or assumed expectation but from a genuine relationship.
  4. Transactional networking doesn't build community 
    Prioritizing relationships based on what they can do for you down the road is self seeking—putting one's own interests and welfare above everyone else and what they might need. Being supportive and celebrating others feels good for the person receiving and the person giving. It's a win/win way of building a community and deepening authentic relationships.

The opposite of transactional networking is relational networking. Here's why this is better:

Imagine a community that built its worth or value on relationships instead of transactions.
  1. Relational networking is authentic
    Building a network based on relationships promotes authenticity. The emphasis is no longer viewing individuals as resources but as actual people that could become friends. Social media is the perfect place for this to happen organically. Most people share both professional and personal updates, so instead of just supporting each other professionally, you can take the time to get to know people personally, too. Birthdays, pets, photos of family—these are all opportunities to see professionals in your network as real people and not stepping stones to help advance your career. Be genuine. Don't just engage with people personally in the hopes that they will become a friend so you can use them for gains—that's twisting relational networking into transactional networking and people can feel that. Genuinely show interest in people because you want to get to know them.
  2. Relational Networking is liberating
    Nobody owes anyone shit. Your network, your community, does not exist to serve your needs. Even if you have been a part of a specific, niche community for a long time and have built it up with genuine relationships and mutual support, that community still doesn't owe anyone anything. This is a liberating feeling. Forming relationships without obligations, reciprocity, expectations of favors, or benefits is freeing. This is truly the only way to be. If relationships are being formed with any kind of strings attached or expectations, there will be drama. There will be bad blood. Humans are complicated enough without adding layers of toxicity that will eventually blow things up. It's best to enter into a community with the understanding that you don't owe anyone anything and they don't owe you. Otherwise, burnout is inevitable. I have often seen people say they have given so much but get nothing in return, and this is usually because of some failed expectation on the community to give and receive. Give to give not to get.
  3. Relational Networking builds Real Community 
    Imagine a community that built its worth or value on relationships instead of transactions. This shift in focus would result in healthier interpersonal social practices and ultimately lead to less drama. A community that supports a "we" mentality instead of a "me" mentality. That's all anyone really wants right? To be a part of something that grows together, pools resources, creates a stable infrastructure and ultimately generates a safe place for creativity and professionalism to thrive.

Listen, this is the ideal, not the reality. Any time a lot of humans come together, things will get messy. Eliminating transactional networking and prioritizing relational networking is a start. The jumping off point. It can't happen overnight but it can easily be the new goal. When someone is transactional, just establish a standard and correct their thinking. 

This community is not transactional.

Lead by example

Set boundaries

Welcome others

This is the way.

About the author

Sadie Hartmann, “Mother Horror” reviews horror fiction for Cemetery Dance Online and Scream Magazine. She is a co-owner of a curated, horror fiction book subscription company called Night Worms. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, kids and Frenchie.

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