Dangers of transaction
Perhaps the nearest we get to a pure transaction in our lives is in business. I want toothpaste, you have toothpaste to sell. I have the money to buy it, we transact. Satisfaction – at least potentially – all round. There’s something very satisfying about a transaction like that. Clean, unambiguous. Relatively little room for disappointment, although even in this simple scene there is potentially some. Generally, it is so straightforward that we don’t even bother to think of it as a transaction.
Relationships are more complicated. They involve a wish to please, to help, to give. But they also involve a wish to get – things like emotional comfort, sex, support, care. In fact, a bundle we call love. At work the two extremes of relationship often get confused. They do so in day to day life at home, too, sometimes. When any relationship also involves sex, it becomes greatly complicated. The willingness to allow someone to invade your privacy to such an extent can never be without expectations that are going to be difficult to fulfil. Whether transactional or not, sex is a far bigger commitment than a marriage vow.
Given the orthodoxy we are now expected to adopt as the price of society, regardless of whether it is orderly and peaceful or disorderly and violent, it is inevitable that our lives become increasingly transactional. Greater control, perhaps in the name of security or efficiency, brings with it core transactions. I care for you, you fill in the form. It happens every day now. People create disciplines and forms of order without pausing to think how they affect the life of person who has to comply. So much has this developed that Compliance is now a career in itself.
Artificial Intelligence won’t itself make this any different but its potential to order our lives more efficiently certainly will. The essence of efficiency is that nothing is wasted. In other words, you always get your pound of flesh. Ecologically, it is necessary for us to become much more efficient. All those who subscribe to climate improvement understand that. A planet of 7 – soon to be 9 – billion people can’t afford to be wasteful and inefficient. So an increasing drive to order is a prerequisite for survival. That is why we will adopt it. Can we balance such discipline with something else?
Happiness, the goal we all seek in life, is not achieved by winning transactions. Of course, there is fun in the game of barter but the outcome of a good negotiation is not judged by ‘win’ and ‘lose’ but by satisfaction of both parties. Many years ago I bought a company in New Zealand. By our standards of business it was quite big. It was privately owned. I took a long time to negotiate with the owners. As always in these situations, you get to know the people you negotiate with. They often become friends – you have been through some rough seas together during your discussions
I did a very good deal from our point of view. As CEO it was my duty to do so. Afterwards I looked at what they had got out of it and wished I had not been quite so successful. In fact, I wanted to give some of the money back! As a public company I couldn’t, of course, do that. It was some time after the deal was completed that I learnt that the CEO I had negotiated with had cancer. He died a few months after I was told. I simply cannot tell whether my negotiations would have been any less rigorous or combative had I known about his illness.
But I can tell you based on all the work we have done over the last thirty years, that one of the ways to achieve happiness is to give more than you get. It is the only way you know that your relationship is more than purely transactional. Easy to understand how this applies at home. Marriage really needs more giving than getting to be sustained. More difficult to know how to achieve this at work. Does the extra hour not claimed for as overtime count? Certainly. Does the help a manager gives one of his subordinates with a learning or exam problem count? Certainly.
In fact, we say that every manager should be a mentor and coach to his subordinates. I predict that within 20 years everyone in positions of responsibility at whatever level will both have and be a mentor / coach. That is one way in which our relationships can be other than purely transactional. We already see good signs of this from the number of companies that ask us to train Mentor / Coaches for them. Those who do so become immensely happy.
Process can ruin your life if it is not balanced with something you do for good, not for money.
Where do you see the person near you who needs help?
If you help them you are already becoming a mentor / coach.