21 — Mutual Exchange of Value

Much of our lives is spent in exchanges. Whenever we make a purchase, that’s an exchange of value; when we make a donation to a favored charity, that’s an exchange; so is the $2 or $10 or $20 you gave to the homeless individual standing on the corner asking for help; and in very many ways, so is the conversation you’ve just had with your child, or your doctor, or the person standing next to you in the grocery store checkout line. It’s pretty obvious to see that, when you purchase something and pay for it, you’ve made an exchange of value. Perhaps it’s more difficult to see that a short conversation in the grocery store line with a complete stranger you may never see again is also an exchange of value, as is the case when you give money to a homeless person.

So, what is the value exchanged—especially in these latter cases? You might ask, Do I really need to consider what value is exchanged in these cases? I know the value of what I gave the homeless person, so do I need to consider what value I’ve received in exchange? Or, the conversation in the grocery store—what’s the value here on either side of the conversation?

The short answer is: Yes, I feel you might benefit if you consider what the value is in these kinds of situations. But more importantly, I feel you will benefit greatly if you consider the value exchanged in situations you take more seriously than a random grocery store conversation.

So, why should you consider the value exchanged, and how will you benefit by doing so? Because the Universe always strives to bring things into balance. You might say, Well, that’s not such a big deal is it, really? Let’s answer that by looking at how an imbalance in an exchange might manifest itself. You’ve gone into your favorite locally-owned clothing store in the center of the small town in which you live. You find a blouse or a shirt on the newly arrived items rack that for which the price is obviously mis-marked way below what it should be selling for. You take the blouse or shirt off the rack and approach the owner and tell her that you want to buy the item. The owner says that it is obviously mis-marked and she couldn’t possibly sell it to you at that price.

Invoking California law or some other authoritative source, you tell her that she must sell it to you at the price that is marked. You forcefully insist on your rights and that the store owner must sell you the item at that price. Reluctantly, she does and you leave the store. How does the store owner feel? Cheated? Stupid for not double checking the prices that her young, inexperienced clerk put on the item? Angry at the clerk? Angry at you for insisting on the obviously wrong price when you “knew” it was wrong? Worried about how that will affect her profitability that month since she is managing on such thin margins in this economic downturn and with the stiff competition she is facing from the chain and big box stores? You can use your imagination here to see a number of other ways in which the store owner might respond.

Now, how do you feel? Elated that you got such a good deal—a steal, really? Superior to the store owner because she was so dumb to let this happen? Indifferent to the store owner’s concerns about selling the item at a price she couldn’t afford?

At one level (usually unconscious), the store owner has just fed her ego more “evidence” to support the negative judgment about herself that the ego is so capable of, and you’ve just fed your ego’s arrogance! At a deeper, even less conscious level, the store owner will now want to make more from other customers, so she may have fewer sales, or may mark her prices up a bit to cover the loss, or some other action that she can now “justify.” At that deeper level, your ego knows it “cheated” (or wasn’t fair, if you don’t like the word, “cheated”) the store owner, but it has to lie to you that it did something like that—after all, you consider yourself an honest person and wouldn’t want to “cheat” anyone.

In both cases, the ego is being fed and growing “fatter,” while the true you is being buried a little deeper within—that is, you’re moving a little further away from who you really are.

Suppose the two of you had each acted from your heart. You might have pointed out to the store owner that it was obviously mis-marked and she should correct the price before someone insisted upon buying it at that price. The store owner might have said something like, That price is below my cost, but because of your honesty, I would gladly sell it to you at my cost.

So, how would you feel about yourself and the exchange under this scenario? Both you and the store owner touched a much deeper part of yourselves. You diminished your egos a bit, and you exposed more of your true selves. What’s the worth of that compared to the “good deal” you got on the item at the mis-marked price?

This is a pretty obvious example to illustrate what is meant by mutual exchange of value. But what about the money you gave to the homeless person? What’s the value exchanged there? Obviously from your side, it’s the value of the money you gave away. It’s also more than that. Did you give the money from love or compassion (a form of love), which is an expression of the true you. Or did you give it from self-satisfaction, or to feel good about how generous you are, or from a sense of superiority, or from some other motive that feeds the ego?

What value did the homeless person have to give in return? Gratitude—not just “thank you”—but true gratitude, which comes from the heart. Trust that they will use it for food or clothing or shelter, or perhaps share it with another homeless person. If later, however, you see that same homeless person coming out of a liquor store, you might feel they didn’t truly value what they received from you after all. Or you might recognize that they are dealing with their own demons—as all of us are—and respond with the love from which you gave it in the first place. Of course, the next time, you might offer to take a hungry homeless person to McDonald’s or IHOP or some other restaurant and pay for their meal directly!

Why focus on mutual exchange of value? Or, maybe it should be “mutual exchange of equal or greater value.” In any event, when your exchange with another is from your heart and from their heart, you both have grown closer to your true selves, and in some small way, you have both enriched each others’ lives a bit. Or maybe a lot, because you never know what an exchange from the heart with another might spark in them—or in you!

On a very practical level, I’ve used mutual exchange of value as the basis of selling for many years. I look for the greatest value I can create for my customer/client with what I have to offer (products or services), and I ask them a “fair” price for what I’m offering them. Sometimes you do have to help the customer see the value to them in what you’re selling them, but that’s part of the consultative selling process and helps them to feel good about what they’re paying for what they’re receiving.

If I don’t have a solution/product that truly fills their needs, I will try to recommend them to a vendor who I feel could help them. In this regard, they still receive value from the time they’ve spent with me and in considering my/our product/solution. More than once, this has resulted in a customer coming to me at a later date with another opportunity to do business together, often when what they need is much bigger than what they were originally considering.

How do you apply mutual exchange of value in your life, in your exchanges—big and small? Do you? Would you like to? Try it and see what a difference it makes in you and in those you deal with—be they buyers, sellers, employees, chance acquaintances, family, etc.