• Terry R. Bacon

How to Be More Effective at Exchanging

Exchanging is influencing someone by offering to exchange something they would value in exchange for granting you what you want. Words that describe exchanging could include negotiating, trading, swapping, bargaining, bartering, dealing, and haggling.

Explicit Exchanges

Some exchanges are explicit, which means both parties know they are trading one thing for another. The transaction is apparent and aboveboard. Here are some examples:

You are shopping at a fruit stand. The seller’s sign says that apples are 59 cents each. You select an apple and pay for it. In this case, both parties are exchanging. The seller influences you by displaying ripe, tasty looking apples and indicating how much they cost. You influence the seller by offering to pay that price. You might also say that apples are just 49 cents at a stall a short distance away. The seller may agree to sell the apple for that much or may argue that his apples are better, or he may offer to sell the apple to you at a five-cent discount. However this transaction plays out, this is mutual influencing through an explicit exchange. In many countries, bargaining for goods and services like this is a cultural norm.

Your colleague’s son is in a school play on Thursday, and she doesn’t want to miss it, but she is scheduled to work the evening shift that day. You have four days off, and she asks if you would be willing to take her shift on Thursday so she could go to the play. It’s Fall and you were planning to drive into the mountains to see the Fall colors, although it’s still a little early for the colors to be at their best. Knowing this, she offers to take your shift the following Friday, which would give you a three-day weekend when the colors are likely to be at their peak. This seems like a fair trade, so you agree. Your colleague has just influenced you by offering an explicit exchange.

Commercial exchanges are typically transactional, where each side is seeking equal value in exchange for something the other party is buying or selling. We are so used to purchasing goods and services from retailers—and bargaining when we are buying or selling vehicles or houses—that we may not even think of these transactions as acts of influence—but of course they are.

Implicit or Social Exchanges

Exchanging is based on the psychological principle of reciprocity. When someone gives us something, we are inclined to give back in kind, to return the favor when someone does a favor for us. Reciprocity is the principle underlying human social cooperation. Without it, we could not have civilization, so children are taught to take turns, to say “thank you” when someone gives them something, and to treat others as they would like to be treated. We send Thank You cards when someone has invited us into their home for dinner. We send flowers to express our sorrow when friends lose a loved one, and they send flowers to us when we lose a loved one.

Reciprocity is deeply engrained in our psyche, and, for most people, so is doing good things for others without expecting anything immediately in return. When we do this, we are “paying forward” with an implicit understanding that if we are ever in need, there will be good Samaritans coming to our aid expecting nothing more than a thank you. The principle of reciprocity is at play in all social exchanges like these:

As you pass an acquaintance on the street, you smile and wave your hand. He does the same.

You shake hands with someone you have just met.

You are driving along a country road. As another driver starts to pass you coming the other way, she waves. You wave back.

As you are about to enter a store, you see a woman walking toward the closed door. You open the door and hold it open for her, and she says, “Thank you,” as she passes.

You ask your best friend to take a goofy selfie with you, and she readily agrees.

These social customs are forms of implicit exchanging. You are signaling good will, and the other person reciprocates. Sometimes you hold the door for others, and sometimes they do it for you. How is this