The Simple Concept That Governs All Our Interactions

Reaching and maintaining balance with others.

There is very little we do that doesn’t require us to interact with other people.  From our family living arrangements to driving to work, to negotiating shareholder agreements, there is one principle that governs whether these exchanges go well or not.  It’s worth refreshing our understanding and examination of this principle every so often.
The concept of Fair Exchange is a simple one, and yet it governs every single interaction we ever make.  Every interaction we have with another person involves an exchange – be it energy, communication, money, information and so forth.  The concept of Fair Exchange has nothing to do with what’s actually being exchanged, and everything to do with the perceived value of what’s being exchanged. 
Stay with me here…
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 are just that – uniquely personal.  Whilst the underlying reasoning may sound complicated, the concept itself is extremely simple.  Considering that it’s responsible for snagging up many interactions we expect to be simple and which don’t go to plan, unpacking it a little may be the key to ironing out everything from your business dealings to the reaction you receive when you get home tonight!
That we return to and build on the things that leave us feeling positive, and avoid things that leave us feeling negative is basic human psychology.  
If you’re looking for examples, they’re all around you:

  • Watch two toddlers playing together with a toy.  One takes that toy from the other.  The party giving up the toy feels resentful and cries.  The party taking the toy feels guilty about the tears and offers the toy back.  Balance resumes.
  • If you buy takeaway coffee during your day, it’s probably part of your routine that you look forward to.  If you discover that the coffee that cost you $2.50 last week is now $4.00, your brain is going to weigh up the concept of Fair Exchange.  If you understand and agree that the increase in price is valid and the coffee really is THAT good, you’ll continue to enjoy your coffee.  If you don’t feel that the value you’re receiving justifies the increase, you’re going to enjoy your coffee less and the resentment may eventually mean you no longer buy that coffee.  The value you’re receiving may be attached to more than just the coffee.  You may regularly meet friends for that coffee, or get extra great service at that particular coffee house.  All of this “feeling” contributes to Fair Exchange.
  • 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 managed to rebalance the exchange – if you’ve correctly read the other person’s need for value.
  • 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 or a concluded divorce, 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 these contracts don’t meet the concept of Fair Exchange, their imbalance will infect every exchange that is built on top of them moving forward.
  • If you’re trying to motivate someone to complete an amount of work that is over and above their norm, you’ll know that an incentive may be required to keep the exchange fair and balanced and the energy flowing.  If you feel you’re in a position of power and can dictate the outcome (the stick approach), you may receive the work but are unlikely to receive goodwill moving forward.  If you’ve used an incentive to balance the fact that you’ve asked for more, faster (the carrot approach), and you’ve understood the value of that incentive to the person doing the work accurately, the relationship will remain balanced and effective.  You’ll receive the work and they’ll feel appreciated for their effort.

This exchange applies to politics, managerial positions, marriage, and any other interaction you may wish to build on.

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.  Balancing our interactions is an investment that is rewarded exponentially.

Here are the key points:

  1. Fair exchange is about both “sides” of an exchange feeling they are receiving equal value.
  2. “Value” is a personal perception.  Therefore determining what someone feels is fair may require discussion and negotiation.  This is the part we tend to try and skip or make assumptions about based on our own value system, and yet the reward for having these conversations (be they with a 5-year-old or the CEO) results in the 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. Investing the time to understand the balance needed in our interactions gains us solid foundations and speed of trust as we move forward within those relationships.
  7. Fair Exchange applies to work, home, adult, child, friend, stranger, etc – it is the “vibe” we put out and how life responds to us.  If you’re not getting the response you anticipate, the chances are good your exchange is out of balance.

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

May 31st, 2021

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