What is Transactional Communication?

It is pretty ironic that the best way to understand the Transactional Model of Communication would be to use the Linear Model of Communication. 

Communication has been the turning point of the exemplary development of an entire species on the planet Earth. Through this simple act of receiving and sharing information via numerous mediums, we established a remarkably successful civilization. How did we come up with empires through words? Scholars that studied the process of this alchemy and came up with patterns. They observed them recurring subconsciously in the art of communication. These patterns, in business-like terms, have been coined as Models of Communication.  

The first ever theoretical Model of Communication was called the Shannon and Weaver Model. The three-part model was originally designed to understand the radio and television transmission process. It was later observed that it is also applicable to human communication! The Shannon and Weaver model was a linear process which looked something like this.

Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication

The Linear Model Of Communication

The Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication is a linear model of communication because there are two parties in this scenario who play their designated role. These parties include the sender and the receiver. The message travels from the sender through a channel that encodes and decodes the message. 

A linear model of communication is often one sided, where one party plays a more significant role in imparting a message than the other. While some models do use the feedback mechanism, the initial idea originates from the sender and the receiver merely responds to it. The receiver is not allowed to propose another idea or conversation. 

The linear model of communication posed a lot of disadvantages. The most prominent one being that one party is garrulous and the other is retired. The communication in this scenario lacks dynamics and often offers limited platform to the opinions of the receiver. 

For example, a company advertising its products on television. The company (i.e. the sender) advertises the product (i.e. the message) to the viewers (i.e. the receiver) through television (i.e. the channel). However, the viewers cannot immediately give any positive or negative feedback to the company immediately. They also have no say in the advertisement in general.

The three broad classifications of communication models are: 

  1. The Linear Communication Model 
  2. The Transactional Communication Model
  3. The Interactive Communication Model

Dean Barnlund and other scholars identified the drawbacks of the linear form of communication and proposed a model of communication that was more dynamic in nature. 

Barnlund’s Model of Transactional Communication

According to Barnlund’s Model of Transactional Communication, communication is a complex and multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. 

Transactional Communication is a two-way model of communication where both parties play the role of sender and receiver simultaneously. It is interactive, continuous and influenced by the nuances of relational, social and cultural contexts. 

The Transactional Model of Communication looks something like this.

Transactional Model of Communication

Elements of the Transactional Communication Model


A sender is the person who starts the conversation. For example, when you ask the waiter for a glass of water, you are the sender of a message.


A message is the information the sender is trying to transmit through verbal or a non verbal medium. For example, “Can I get a glass of mineral water, please?” is the message sent by you, the sender.


The recipient on the other side of the communication who receives the message sent by the sender is the receiver. For example, the waiter is the receiver.


Any interruption that hinders the process of communication is called the noise. It doesn’t literally mean “noise” as in unpleasant sound, but a barrier in communication. For example, the waiter accidentally brought you regular water when you insisted upon mineral water. In this case, the noise would be a misunderstanding or the waiter hearing an incomplete message. 


The channel is the medium by which you deliver your message. For example, here you communicate verbally. However some restaurants have a digital menu system where you order on the screens on the table. In such a case, your channel would be a computer. 

Features of Transactional Communication

Simultaneous Exchanging Roles

Both the parties engaging in a transactional communication play the roles of senders and receivers simultaneously. This means, the sender of the message is also a receiver and the party receiving the message can also formulate and send a message back. This is also why senders and receivers in this model are often referred to as “communicators”


Since the sending and receiving roles in a transactional communication are simultaneous, there can’t be a large number of parties involved. If there are more senders than receivers or vice versa, the communication process would be chaotic and the message would be subject to an unprecedented amount of noise. Therefore, the transactional model of communication only applies to interpersonal communication. 

Building Alliances

We do not only employ transactional communication to deliver a message. We use it to build relationships, create alliances and form bonds. We share our message while simultaneously receiving behavioural feedback from the opposite party and vice versa. The influence of relational, cultural and social factors also helps us achieve our ulterior motive through transactional communication. 

Workplace Relations

Contextual Nuances

The kind of conversations that happen or messages that are passed are influenced by the contextual nuances. These nuances can be relational, social or cultural. The time and the place is also taken into consideration before carrying out a transactional communication. For example, you cannot discuss a new comedy film when your friend is in the hospital and has just received the news that his mother is in a critical condition. 

Non-Verbal Communication

Another feature peculiar to transactional communication is the consideration of non-verbal signals. Even a bow, smile, twitch of the lip or an unnecessarily long blink of the eye is considered communication. For example, when you’re throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, just one angry glance of your mother can communicate her message. Without uttering a single word, she told you to stop being a baby and shut up otherwise you are inviting a long lecture for yourself at home.

Noise and Barriers

The fact that transactional communication also includes non-verbal channels creates more entryways for noise and barriers. Expressions can be misinterpreted and things that were seemingly “obvious” may be not so obvious after all. A lot of information is left to assume and decipher and when deciphered incorrectly, invites a lot of arguments and miscommunication.

Noise can be external, psychological or physiological in nature. 

For example, an External Factor could be the loud noise at a restaurant could be a factor why a waiter can’t grasp what you’re ordering. A Psychological Factor could be that a person who has lost a loved one can understand the meaning of grief a lot better than a person who hasn’t experienced it. Lastly, a Physiological Factor could be a person losing interest in a conversation and not paying attention anymore.

Simultaneous Feedback

Luckily, the system of transactional communication offers a simultaneous and real-time feedback system in case there has been a miscommunication. If both the parties communicate in a healthy manner and take all contextual aspects into consideration then the communication can be clear. 


Listening is a very important factor in the transactional model of communication. It’s essential that you’re empathetic while listening. Since this model uses the feedback of the first receiver as the message of the second receiver, it is important that they both pay attention. If there is no listening, the chances of barriers and noise also increase. Here’s how you can improve and refine your your listening skills.

online meeting

Principles of Transactional Communication

Transactional Communication is not only influenced by technical elements but also contextual aspects. Perhaps this is what makes it stand out from other models of communication. The three contextual spheres that are taken into consideration under transactional communication are mainly non-verbal in nature. The uniqueness these nuances share with the transactional model of communication make them the principles of transactional communication.

Social Context

The social context determines the rules, norms and unwritten laws of the society that people abide by while communicating with each other. The social rules limit and illustrate how the communication would pan out. For example, the traditional Indian culture greets people by joining hands and saying “Namaste” whereas the Japanese culture bows down in respect. The simple Japanese action of bowing down would communicate respect and greeting.

People learn how to behave in society through observational learning or trial and error. You learn how to thank people, greet them, speak the truth, respect elders, be disciplined etc. When an action causes you embarrassment, you make sure you don’t repeat it again. If something is not acceptable in a certain scenario, you likewise are likely not to repeat it. For example, using cuss words in an educational institution is against the norms of the society. When found cursing in the classroom, Rohan was punished. He therefore learns the social context of the scenario while using transactional communication.  

social context

Relational Context

When the context of communication is based on the interpersonal history and the kind of relationship shared between the two parties, we call it the relational context. While meeting somebody new, the kind of transactional communication style employed would be more formal and sometimes even awkward. In the case of somebody you’ve known for years, you will be more casual and easygoing. 

Relational Context defines the kind of language and tone you would use to talk to people. For example, speaking to your best friend formally would be weird and might even arouse suspicion on their part whereas speaking to your professor in a casual laid back language would be counted as disrespectful. 

Cultural Context

Cultural identities play a huge role in shaping the communication of an individual. Culture determines the way of one’s life which in turn decides how the individual carries out conversation. The factors that determine the cultural context include one’s gender, race, caste, class, sexual orientation, upbringing, family system, presence or absence of elders, religion, language, country of origin, ethnicity etc.

People who belong to the same cultural or ethnic group usually have a smoother transactional communication due to the plethora of commonalities between them. People belonging to different cultural groups may face hindrance. Even cultural groups that are dominant in the place find it easier to communicate than people belonging to a minority. These minorities are unfortunately pushed to the sidelines and find it difficult to be heard. Sadly, this is where exploitation begins.

The role of culture played in the transactional communication is paid little heed in the society. For example, worldwide issues like racism and sexism are predominant because of the presence of imbalance in the cultural influence of communication. 

Transactional Model of Communication

How does this model of operate?

The Transactional Model of Communication involves continuous transformation and change. It therefore accepts the communicators to be independent entities and also acts in any manner they need. It is because both receiver and sender play an important role in keeping the interaction active in the transactional model. For example, the transactional model wouldn’t function correctly if the receiver is not giving feedback to the sender.

Communication can also occur through ordinary interactions and talk. Those who share personal and environmental aspects can participate in a way that is more efficient, effective, and well-organised. For example, talking to people you know is far easier than talking to strangers.

Advantages of Transactional Communication

Gives Importance to Non-Verbal Communication

The real world relies on non-verbal communication and context more than theory can explain. The Transactional Model of Communication covers these aspects in its theory itself to make it more suitable for real life. 

Strong Feedback System

As discussed earlier, the feedback system of the Transactional Model of Communication is quite strong since it provides real-time feedback. In fact, the model can only work if the feedback system is functional. This makes the conversation healthier and more communicative. 

Equal Opportunities

The Linear Model of Communication restricts the receivers to only be receivers and the senders dominate the communication. In the Transactional Model of Communication on the other hand, both senders and receivers are given equal opportunities in the communication process. 


Disadvantages of Transactional Communication

Gives Importance to Non-Verbal Communication

It is tragic how the asset of the model of the communication also becomes its liability. When communication is relied upon assumed or “obvious” information, the sender has predetermined expectations from the receiver and the message is bound to be unclear if the receiver does not have the legend required to decode or to fully understand the information.

Interpersonal Communication

Since the sending and receiving roles under a transactional communication are simultaneous, there can’t be a large number of parties involved. If there are more senders than receivers or vice versa, the communication process would be chaotic and the message would be subject to an unprecedented amount of noise. Therefore, the transactional model of communication only applies to interpersonal communication.  


When one of the parties loses interest, noise and barriers creep into the communication process. As discussed before, listening is an important aspect of the transactional model of communication. If one of the parties doesn’t listen then the communication will come to a standstill. 90% of the people are poor listeners or at least lose patience to listen in the process of communication after a short amount of time. You can check out our hacks to become an empathetic listener to cut down this disadvantage!

Daily-Life Example of the Transactional Communication

Payal and Arjun have been in a relationship for four years. Since their fifth anniversary is approaching, Arjun decides to surprise Payal and buy her a chic and fashionable purse from a reputed, high-end boutique. Upon arriving at the store, Arjun scans the entire place to find the best design he thinks Payal would like. Payal comes from an almost upper middle class, vegetarian family. The gift he is planning to get her is not her usual purchase. He knows her well enough to guess her choices.

The salesperson at the store looks at Arjun glancing at the bags. He waits for a moment to study what kind of bags his customer is inclined towards. Then he approaches him with a fond smile and greeting. The salesperson shows Arjun a variety of bags, explaining the artistic features in each of them while simultaneously understanding Arjun’s body language and deciding whether he should continue to pitch that bag. 

Finally, Arjun’s eyes land on the perfect sage green purse with a clean finished stitch. He even notices that the purse is 100% vegan. He is delighted to find the perfect purse for his beloved girlfriend. He mentions that price is no object and purchases the purse for Payal. 


In this situation, both the salesperson and Arjun employ the transactional model of communication while communicating their message.

Arjun pays heed to the relational factors, i.e. finding the best bag for Payal because he loves her even though it’s fairly expensive, the cultural factors i.e. he asks the salesperson to show him a 100% vegan purse because Payal is a vegetarian. 

The salesperson on the other hand studies the social aspect of Arjun and his behaviour as to how he is reacting to each of his recommendations and leads him to the perfect bag. The salesperson is simultaneously sending and receiving messages, which makes him a communicator. 

Interactional Model of Communication

Transactional Communication VS Interactional Communication

Transactional CommunicationInteractional Communication
Both parties play the role of sender and receiver simultaneously.Both parties play the role of sender and receiver alternatively.
It is influenced by social, relational and cultural contexts.It is influenced by physical and psychological factors.
The participants are labelled as “communicators.”The participants are labelled as “senders” and “receivers”
We use this to not only convey a message but also form relationships and alliances.The main focus here is usually to convey the message.

In Conclusion,

While this article shares an overall glimpse of what transactional communication is, you may refer to the work of Barnlund’s Model of Transactional Communication to educate yourself even further. Mastering the art of transactional communication makes the process of speaking and listening healthier. It will enable to you explore many opportunities that may have been blocked due to communicational barriers. In turn, transactional communication is another key to success.

Enroll in our transformative
1:1 Coaching Program

Schedule a call with our expert communication coach to know if this program would be the right fit for you

Scroll to Top