How to create rare and life-changing relationships with anyone (even your heroes)

There are two types of relationships:

  • Transactional
  • Transformational

Transactional relationships are economic and functional. They’re based on exchange of money, goods, or services. They serve a very clear point. And when that point no longer makes sense or has been fulfilled, the relationship ends.

Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!

Transactional relationships are important. They’re how you got the groceries in your fridge, the place you live, the clothes you wear, and most of the things you enjoy in your life.

However, when it comes to creating the deepest and most important connections, transactional mentalities won’t work.

The problem is, most people are transactional in their relationships. By very nature, transactional relationships are about getting the most you possibly can in exchange for as little as possible on your part. They’re all about you, and what you can get. Not about what you can give.

And all though it seems brutally obvious — this isn’t how you develop powerful relationships with anyone. Let alone relationships with key collaborators or mentors who can take you to “the next level” and help you grow 100X or more.

Transformational relationships, on the hand, can start out as transactions. But they go far far beyond the exchange of money, goods, or services. By very nature, transformational relationships are about giving the most you possibly can in attempts of helping others. They’re about advancing other people’s goals in a synergistic and win-win way — because clearly, you could do far more together than alone- Per Helen Keller.

But transformational relationships go much, much further than that.

Your relationship isn’t transformational if it doesn’t change you. If you’re not getting better. And if there aren’t generous gifts given without compulsion.

Your relationship isn’t transformational if it’s primarily about you.

Your relationship isn’t transformational if you’re not creating a bigger pie — both for the relationship and all involved. But beyond that, your relationship isn’t transformational if you aren’t making the world a better place.

Your relationships aren’t transformational if you don’t truly love the people you’re with. If you aren’t genuine. If you’re not thoughtful.

Relationships are the key to life. Actually, from a “relational perspective” — relations between entities are ontologically more fundamental than the entities themselves.

Ontology is a fancy world for “reality” or “nature of being.” What this means is that the relationship BETWEEN things is more REAL than the things themselves.

Your computer isn’t objectively a computer. It’s a computer TO YOU. To your dog, that computer is a strange thing that makes an odd sound and has cool lights.

It’s the relationship BETWEEN you and your computer that IS THE REALITY.

Context = king.

Relationships = THE ONLY REALITY.

Sadly, most Western thinkers believe things in and of themselves ARE THE REALITY. Which is why we are such an isolated culture at this time.

When relationships are the reality, you prize people far more deeply. You value the deep meaning you get from the relationship. You’re far more intimate, honest, and caring. You’re far more likely to express gratitude, and to share your voice. And to stand up for those you love. Because the relationship is everything. It’s not something you just cast aside. It’s not merely a means to an end.

Do you view your people as objects or people?

If objects, the relationship is a transaction. A means to an end. Not THE REALITY.

If you view people as people, then the relationship is the reality. The end. And in such a case, true transformation can occur.

Here’s more:

They are based on giving and grace

Recently, I almost got kicked-out of my Ph.D. program at Clemson University. I’m a non-traditional graduate student with non-traditional goals. Sometimes, it’s been scary to be open and honest about my goals.

Over a few years of bad communication on my part, as well as incongruence with key relationships — I almost got kicked out. I’d gotten transactional in my relationship with my key adviser, a relationship that for a time was transformational. Once things became transactional, molehills became mountains. Small problems became catastrophic.

The relationship died. And understandably so.

Failures and mistakes are one of the fastest ways to determine if a relationship is transactional or transformational. If transactional — there isn’t much room for conflict, messiness, mistakes, etc. because the relationship doesn’t have a foundation of loyalty, trust, and protection. Communication is held back.

Given my situation, for the past few months I didn’t know what my future held in my PhD program. I’d sunk 4 years into something that might no longer happen.

Then Bob Sinclair, a professor in my department, decided to step in and help me finish. He didn’t have to do that. He had no obligation to help me. And I’ve done nothing to “earn” his help.

But he helped me anyways. And that gift he gave me transformed me. I was humbled deeply by a generous gift that I absolutely didn’t deserve. I was forced to look in the mirror, face my faults, and become better. Become transformational and make it about what I could give, not what I could get.

It took me immediately back to my WHY for studying psychology in the first place. It brought me back to the “beginner’s mind.” It gave me motivation beyond myself to succeed. I now wanted to succeed for Bob. Because he went out of his way and out on a limb to serve me.

Those gifts of grace — the ones you could never earn — are the one’s that should transform and teach you the most.

There is no score keeping

In transactional relationships — everything is tracked and measured. The store clerk isn’t going to give you a few bucks off because you’re a good person.

No. You’re going to pay full price, or you don’t get the item you want from the store.

Transactional relationships destroy intimacy. It’s total business. The relationship IS AN ITEM. The MEANING is the transaction. Nothing deeper. Nothing more.

In transactional relationships, there are always constant reminders of what’s been sacrificed for this relationship. There are reminders about all the missteps the other person has made.

Nothing is simply given just because. Every “gift” is remembered and there’s an expectation of quick reciprocity or else.

One of my mentors, Joel Weldon, is brilliant at helping people clarify their messages and deliver them in the most powerful and simple way possible. He told me that every single one of his clients has a yellow envelope-style folder with notes on the inside. On the outside of the envelope are notes — specifically stating how much time he’s spent on the phone with each of them.

However, with his clients that he TRULY LOVES working with… the transformational ones, there aren’t such notes. He’s not keeping track of the time being spent on the relationships that are transformational. Because he gets so much out of those relationships. He’s not keeping track of the time spent. He’s willing to spend a few extra minutes, or more. Because the relationship really matters.

Many relationships start as transactions. For example, I hired Joel to help me with my communication skills. But that relationship stopped being transactional very quickly. We connected deeply. We started serving and helping each other. And he’s helped me in ways I could never help myself. In fact, he changed my life.

Because he genuinely cares.

And he only genuinely cares because we created a genuine and generous relationship. I’m not just trying to get my money’s worth. It goes so much deeper.

Everyone feels protected

NBA All-Star, Mark Eaton, recently wrote an important book called THE FOUR COMMITMENTS OF A WINNING TEAM. The fourth commitment is that every person on the team or in the relationship needs to feel protected.

When people feel protected, they’re willing to share what’s on their mind. They’re willing to fail. Because they know that the other people in the relationship has their back.

When a person doesn’t feel protected in a relationship, they don’t speak up. They don’t share what’s on their mind. They don’t take risks. Instead, they pander to the relationship. They don’t act in their power. They act as a victim.

Transactional relationships won’t protect you. If you don’t show up how you’re supposed to show up, you’re not protected. Instead, you’re rejected.

In transformational relationships, you have lots of protection.

Who do you protect?

Whose protecting you?

Do you feel safe being yourself? Or, are your relationships on a thin sheet of ice? And if you make a wrong move, a huge crack will shatter your foundation and you’re going down?

According to Eaton, feeling protected is the key to doing invaluable work. Because you can’t do your best work without the love, help, and support of others.

Similarly, you become invaluable in your relationships when others feel protected by you. When they feel they can be honest. Where they know you’ll be there for them to pick them up if they fail. That level of trust allows them to go big in their lives. What a gift you’ve given them.

What a gift they’ve given you.

Others are given credit for your success

“Self-made is an illusion. There are many people who played divine roles in you having the life that you have today. Be sure to let them know how grateful you are. Example: the person who introduced you to the person who introduced you to your spouse or business partner or client. Go back that far.” — Michael Fishman

Tim Poulson is a brilliant strategist. He once told me, “You can pay people in other ways than money.” One of the best ways you can pay them is by giving them credit.

Credit for the connection.

Credit for the idea.

Credit for helping you when you couldn’t help yourself.

Adam Grant says there are “Givers” and “Takers.” Some people give credit. Others take credit. The ones who take credit are transactional.

They say “I love you” to each other

“You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.” — John Wooden

This may be strange, but if you tell your friends and family you love them, they’ll be blown away. I once knew a Polynesian missionary who told everyone he loved them. It was clear he was sincere.

I asked him why he did it. What he told me changed my life. “When I tell people I love them, it not only changes them, but it changes me. Simply by saying the words, I feel more love for that person. I’ve been telling people all around me I love them. They feel treasured by me. Those who know me have come to expect it. When I forget to say it, they miss it.

Said author Harriet Beecher Stowe, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.

In all of my deepest relationships — especially “business relationships” — I tell them I love them. They respond the same way. And it’s mutually felt. And the relationship is so much better. We actually love each other.

Our language enhances our convictions to the relationship. It’s not cheap talk. It’s commitment. It’s love. And it leads to greater connection and intimacy and success.


How many of your relationships are transformational?

How transformed are you by those relationships?

How transformed is the world?

It’s only through transformational relationships that the synergistic power of 100X can happen. Collaboration between two or more people who REALLY CARE about the others. Who protect them. Who pick them up.

Who do you have that you could call at 2 AM if you were having an emergency?

Do you have someone you could call at 2 AM if you were in trouble?

How would they respond?

That’s a good way of measuring the quality of your relationships.

Ready to upgrade?

I’ve created a cheat sheet for putting yourself into a PEAK-STATE, immediately. You follow this daily, your life will change very quickly.

Get the cheat sheet here!

This article first appeared on Medium.

You might also enjoy…