The Transactional Trap

After a few minutes of riding the shopping cart around like a nine-year-old, I skidded my way over to the carpet section at Home Depot. I was a man on a mission. My new area rug was sliding uncontrollably on my apartment floor and I needed one of those anti-slip pads.  I searched up and down the aisles to no avail and decided to get some help. 

“Excuse me, I’m looking for those pads you put under a carpet to prevent it from slipping, Where can I find them?” I asked the orange-clad associate. 

He thought about it for a few seconds and replied, “Hmm, we don’t have any of those. Sorry about that.” 

Dejected, I dragged my cart away to find the remaining few items on my shopping list. Not one to give up easily, I made one final pass through the carpets section before checking out. Halfway down the aisle, at eye level, I stumbled upon “carpet tape” for securing rugs to slippery surfaces. Success! 

Now that I’m home, I’ve been thinking about the experience. The employee technically answered my question correctly — Home Depot didn’t have the anti-slip pads I asked for. But I wasn’t there to buy a particular product — I was there to stop a rug from drifting around like a deck chair on the Titanic. I was there to solve a problem. 

Unfortunately, I think this type of communication is extremely common. Especially in the business world. We’re busy and feel pressure to treat each interaction as a transaction instead of an opportunity to uncover and solve an underlying problem. It’s a two-way street and I’ve been trying to keep this in mind during recent exchanges. 

How can I ask better questions? Instead of asking for specific “anti-slip pads”, I need to focus on the root problem and ask for help fixing a sliding rug. 

On the flip side, how can I dig deeper to become more consultative in my problem solving? The question I’m being asked probably isn’t the true problem — but just the tip of the iceberg. 

Where have you seen this in action? How have you overcome the transactional trap?

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