The Concept of Fair Exchange

The Concept of Fair Exchange is a simple one, and yet it governs every. single. interaction we ever make.  It has nothing to do with money, or the actual “thing” being transacted, and everything to do with the perceived value of what’s being transacted.  Therefore, it can apply to physical objects and emotions just the same.
It works like this:

If you GIVE more than you TAKE, you feel RESENTFUL.
If you TAKE more than you GIVE, you feel GUILTY.

Any exchange that you walk away from feeling emotionally balanced or positive, you’ve understood to be a fair one.  Any exchange you walk away from feeling negative has been unbalanced or unfair in your eyes, and you can find a clue to which way the balance has tipped depending on whether you feel resentful or guilty.  At the end of the day, this concept has EVERYTHING to do with our personal boundaries – boundaries which vary person to person.  This may be starting to sound complicated, and yes, it’s responsible for snagging up many interactions we expect to be simple and which don’t go to plan.  But once you understand the concept, it’s extremely simple and it’s the key to ironing out everything from your business dealings to the reaction you receive when you get home tonight!
It’s basic human psychology that we’ll return to things that leave us feeling positive, and not to things that make us feel negative.  Some of us are better than others at handing out second chances, but all of us will eventually tire of an imbalance.

If you’re looking for examples, they’re all around you:

  • Watch two toddlers playing together with toys.  One takes from the other.  The offendED party feels resentful and cries.  The offendING party feels guilty about the tears (or scared that Mum is watching) and offers the toy back.  Balance resumes.
  • If you buy takeaway coffee during your day, the degree you enjoy that coffee is likely to fluctuate depending on your perception of the $/value balance.  If the coffee was originally $2.50 and now it’s $4, you may not feel that’s fair exchange.  If you understand that the value of the contents has changed in monetary terms, you’ll accept your coffee and enjoy it just the same.  If you don’t accept the monetary value has changed, you may choose to go away with a bitter taste in your mouth once or twice before you stop purchasing your coffee.
  • If you undertook to do a certain thing by a certain time (whether at work or at home), and you didn’t meet the agreed-upon deadline with the “goods”, you’re likely to be met with resentment in some form.  If you advise of the revised deadline and somehow bump up what it is you deliver to compensate, you may find you’ve manged to rebalance the exchange – if you’ve correctly read the other person’s need for value.  Like I say, this is just as relevant at home as at work. 😉
  • If you stop to allow cars to filter into your line of traffic, you have a subconscious measure of how many cars is fair.  Once that measure is reached, you’ll want to start moving forward again yourself.  That last car that squeezes in is likely to leave you feeling a small zap of resentment, and they will probably feel cheeky (guilty).
  • If you’ve ever been part of a successful business deal (yaaaaay!), or a concluded divorce (aaaaahhhhhh), you’ll know that the offered exchange went back and forth several times until each side felt their value was successfully met and the deal could be concluded.
  • If you’re a teacher trying to get children to complete a certain amount of work, you’ll generally know where their tolerance level lies.  If you need them to do extra, you’ll need to cushion that with something to keep the “exchange” fair and balanced.  An incentive, if you like.  This will keep the reciprocal good will flowing and the relationship and growth channels open.  If you’re of the opinion that you’re in a position of power and can therefore dictate what needs to happen without any renegotiating of the exchange, you may get a result….today.  Will there be good will?  Will there be good relationship and growth?  Will they continue to fall in line for an extended period of time?  Probably not.  The same applies to politics, managerial positions and marriage.

Understanding Fair Exchange means every exchange we have with another human being is something we can be successful at if we’re willing to make the effort, regardless of whether that exchange is verbal, monetary, emotional or any one of a host of other options.

Here are the key points:

  1. Fair exchange is about both “sides” feeling they are receiving equal value.
  2. “Value” is a personal perception and therefore determining what someone feels is fair may require discussion (negotiation).  This is the part we tend to try and skip, and yet the reward for having these conversations (be they with a 5 year old or the CEO) can be exponential growth of that relationship.
  3. If you give more than you take, you’ll feel resentful.  If you take more than you give, you’ll feel guilty.
  4. Watching for resentment or guilt on the other side of your exchange will help you gauge how the other person is perceiving it and feel for balance.
  5. COMMUNICATE!  It is possible for both sides to feel resentful and undervalued if neither side has communicated their needs.
  6. Fair Exchange applies to work, home, adult, child, friend, stranger etc – it is the “vibe” we put out and how life responds to us.

Fair Exchange is THE KEY to whether our relationships grow and advance or decline and fall away.

Where are you out of fair exchange with someone today?  And who is out of fair exchange with you?

by Christen Killick

November 12th, 2018

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