Regardless of the medium, message, forum, or audience, communication activities aim to do one or more of three things: transmit, transact, and/or transform. We can capitalize on these different purposes to develop a strategy and determine tactics, to choose content, and to deliver our messages with increased chances of achieving our communication objective.
We transmit when we send a straightforward message with specific content that does not invite discussion. Transmission is rarely interactive and generally is not expected to be. Its messages are unidirectional; they move from sender to receiver. Transmission messages include signage, some email, regular business updates, and general broadcast news announcements.
As necessary as this type of message may be, it is sometimes overused in business environments, depriving the messenger of the opportunity to make a greater impact on the receiver.
Traditional transmission communications can be made more powerful when the messenger considers the possibilities offered by transaction and transformation. Update meetings, for example, frequently offer only transmission-based messaging—to get the information out—when they could employ the more powerful transaction or transformation modes. Either can enhance the significance of an update, for instance, by detailing the why, how, and who of the update results and by focusing on the impact of these results on the audience.
A messenger who wants to transact wants to move the audience to do "business." Transaction implies that something measurable will happen at the end of the communication. It may be as simple as agreeing to an action or process. It may be "signing on the bottom line." Transaction is bidirectional, moving from messenger to receiver(s) and back again.
Transactional communications drive our business lives. They may involve implementing a process change or convincing an individual or group to see a data set in a new way, a sales pitch or a marketing activity, an attempt to get an appointment or to negotiate a higher salary. Often, multiple transactional messages may be required to achieve the desired goal, and each should be crafted in conjunction with what you know about your audience's characteristics and disposition.
A transaction has a strong persuasive tone and a clear message about what needs to happen next. It succeeds when the interaction accomplishes the messenger's intended goal without sacrificing the receivers' goodwill.
The messenger whose goal is to transform has the most difficult task. He must not only transmit important information and create a strong transaction between himself and the audience but also enlighten the audience in a way that leads not only to attitude changes but to self-motivated action.
Such an achievement requires a more sophisticated communication technique because it suggests a fundamental adjustment by the audience. It may employ a greater amount of detail and persuasive tactics. The expectation is that the listeners will understand and accept the need for change (of behavior, understanding, perception, or specific action). Successful transformation often requires the sender to create multiple "ah-ha" moments for listeners as they internalize the communication.
Transformational communication is most often associated with paradigm shifts, with redefinition of organizational goals, and with professional growth and development. Change agents, managers facing new objectives or implementing new processes, and professional coaches all rely on the power of transformational communication.
The most successful communicators learn to merge these three messages types in portions appropriate to their particular audience and objective. Most often, achieving an objective does require a blend of all three, so transmit, transact, and transform as you build your path to achieving your purpose.