Which Do You Prefer: Emotional or Transactional Relationships At Work?

4 Aug , 2015  

“How’s the family doing?” asked my Boss? “Doing fine” I replied. We were meeting after a couple of months and it was his customary question which got my regular answer. He quickly moved on to business and we got busy with our strategy and execution side of work. I don’t think my boss ever knew my wife’s name nor asked once. It did not matter to me as I had no expectations of him getting familiar with my personal life and I too never asked about his family. Yet we had a successful tenure and keep regularly in contact with each other with an annual lunch catch-up till today, long after our “boss-employee” relationship came to an end.

On the other hand, another boss of mine never failed to pass on a gift for the family whenever she caught up with me and would always start off the conversation by asking “how is Varna?” (my daughter). She would then ask about the rest of my family; the most recent books I‘ve read; and share similar snippets of her daughter, her hubby; his recent reads, etc – all of which she does with utmost sincerity and interest. It took me some time to get comfortable with her need to want to connect with me on a personal level as my mental make-up was used to dealing with bosses who were focused only on work.

Since then I’ve had the opportunity to work with a diverse number of bosses and an even large group of reportees; and I have become more aware of the emotions I have at work and about work. Nevertheless, I can’t help but ask if we should develop a personal relationship at all with our bosses and reportees since we are chosen by our employers to come together to achieve a set of common organizational goals within a rapid time-frame (considering the shrinking tenure of an employee these days)? So why are we wasting time getting “up close and personal” with each other?

I paused and had a hard look at my overall emotional ties at work – with about 10 bosses and countless reportees over the past 21 years and I arrived at these:

  1. I visited the homes of only 5 of my bosses for personal dinners or related occasions by invitation. I remember the names of their spouse and kids till today.
  2. To date, I have invited less than 5 of my bosses to my place for either lunch or dinner. These were NOT the same 5 who invited me to theirs!  🙂
  3. I have visited and reciprocated the visits of only a handful of my reportees (no more than 15 of them) and these included wedding invitations too!

Well, we could say that visiting homes may not be a great measure to determine familiarity or depth of relationship with people at work but it is definitely one indicator for increased comfort amongst both. Do you think that in recent days physical familiarity has been replaced by connections and chats over LinkedIn and Facebook?

So why is personal relationship or stronger familiarity with your bosses or reportees important in the world of work?

  1. In an increasingly transactional world, “actual” relationships are fast becoming a premium as transactional ones can be easily made and found such as groups on WhatsApp; number of LinkedIn connections; FB friends; and even Instagram followers!
  2. A large number of employees no longer work “just for the money“. While money is still a driving factor when it comes to switching jobs, we all know that talent stay because of strong and meaningful relationships.
  3. Emotionally connected colleagues never fail to go the extra mile, beyond their line of duty most times, to contribute towards the greater good of the team.

But if moving beyond transactional relationship at work does NOT come naturally to you, I suggest you take these baby steps to improve on your emotional connectedness with bosses and colleagues:

  1. You must first convince yourself that your work mates, like friends, need to have a sense of belonging, identity and recognition which goes beyond fancy offices, fashionable titles and great salaries. It is people that make for a remarkable and inspiring work place!
  2. Spend time asking your boss and/or reportees on what they do when they’re not at work and try to respond (which comes from listening) to their feedback, if possible.
  3. Try to remember the names of your work mates’ spouse and children (if you can, their birth dates too). Personally, I’m poor at this but know of people who are naturally good in connecting to these!
  4. And finally, and this is no rocket science, be nice. Everyone you meet, at work or otherwise, is fighting some sort of a battle – be it small or big. As much as work binds us, it is important to also personally connect with our boss or reportees for long term career success in what could be short stints in organizations.

But work mates can easily spot your fake in your quest to get familiar with them if by nature you are not a “friendly” person. So please keep in mind that your natural style and intent over a long period of time can’t be replaced by a few emotionally connecting talks with colleagues.

So, does your Boss make the effort to connect emotionally with you? Does s/he know you reasonably well out of the office? Or are these irrelevant to you as long as your professional boundaries or respect is guaranteed?

I’m a little indecisive with my answers to these questions as I have benefited from both kinds of relationships. Nonetheless, if push comes to shove, it was emotive charged relationships with bosses that have helped see me through challenging times so maybe I do have a preference for emotional relationships over transactional ones!


Some of us prefer coloured photographs though we admit that black & white photos have their unique impact. The same goes for relationships, be it emotional or purely transactional.

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