The Bartering Mindset

A Mostly Forgotten Framework for Mastering Your Next Negotiation


Chapter 1
The Limits of the Monetary Mindset

On 9 April 2017, shortly before the departure of United Flight 3411, passenger David Dao was forcibly dragged from his seat, up the aisle, and off the flight by airport authorities – kicking, screaming, and bloodied. Other passengers captured the soon-to-be viral video on their phones, imploring the authorities to stop their seemingly brutal treatment. As the world watched, the backstory slowly emerged.

United had determined, after fully boarding the flight, that they needed to put four crew members into passengers’ seats. They offered passengers monetary incentives to take a later flight, and three accepted the offer. But the airline needed a fourth. In the absence of any takers, they randomly selected Dao, a doctor trying to return home. Learning of his selection, Dao became increasingly agitated, mentioning his ailing patients and refusing to leave the flight. From there, the situation escalated and culminated in his forcible removal and subsequent hospitalization.

In the wake of these events, United’s troubles only multiplied. The viral video sparked worldwide outrage and condemnation on social media, especially on the Chinese website Weibo, where it attracted 210 million views within two days (a major problem, considering the airline’s strategic focus on Asia). Incensed passengers around the world called for a boycott, and the company’s stock initially took a $1 billion hit. United’s CEO seemed to make matters worse, first by saying they had “re-accommodated” Dao and then by blaming the passenger for his belligerence even while praising the company’s measured response.

The focal issue in this story was the disputed seat, not the monetary incentives offered to passengers. Nevertheless, the story embodies what this book will call the monetary mindset: an I-win-you-lose way of looking at the world that originates, at least in part, in our daily monetary transactions. United’s stance embodied the monetary mindset in that its decision-makers saw themselves as occupying one side of an adversarial relationship with one other party, Dao, who wanted the opposite of what they wanted. Thus United saw no alternative to a show of force or a forced compromise on the monetary incentives. United’s behavior and the world’s reaction reveal the monetary mindset’s shortcomings. This book will describe a mindset that can serve everyone better, helping us solve our own problems and meet our own needs much more effectively: the bartering mindset. By the end of the book, you should be able to devise a solution to the seat dispute that does not involve anyone’s forcible removal.

But first, let’s consider the mindset we already have: Think about a typical weekday, and count the number of times you at least implicitly use money. How many monetary transactions do you engage in, be they with cash, credit, or check? Maybe you buy gas in the morning, lunch at work, or an on-demand movie at home. Maybe somebody else pays you a salary or some other form of income. And even if you don’t engage in any explicit monetary transactions, isn’t money all around you – in the ads on the web, the bills in your mailbox, and the back of your mind when your kids leave the lights on? Whether we know it or consciously consider it, money is all around us. For most of us, monetary transactions are ubiquitous.

And monetary transactions are ubiquitous for a good reason: they help us satisfy our needs and thereby solve our problems. Fundamentally, we use money to meet our unmet needs and help other people meet theirs. When you needed fuel, sustenance, or evening entertainment, didn’t money help you obtain them? When somebody else needed your skill set or services, didn’t they pay you for that reason? Anytime we need something from someone or someone needs something from us – and regardless of whether that someone is a person or an organization – engaging in a monetary transaction is an obvious and omnipresent way of obtaining it, albeit not the only way.

Even before the days of Adam Smith, the economic benefits of monetary transactions and the surrounding monetary economy were well established: buying lunch with the same resource your employer just provided makes life easy. Indeed, monetary transactions are ubiquitous because they allow us to solve our problems so efficiently. For example, if we had to scrounge around for something to trade with the cafeteria manager whenever we wanted lunch, we would undoubtedly live in a hungrier, poorer, and less pleasant world. So the economic benefits of monetary transactions and the surrounding monetary economy are not in question.

Yet an economic analysis of the monetary economy says little about its psychological effects. This book starts from the premise that the ubiquity of monetary transactions has an adverse psychological effect: it trains us to make a particular set of assumptions whenever we have a problem – assumptions that essentially portray our own needs as directly opposed to somebody else’s. Assumptions that I call the “monetary mindset. ” Satisfactory as that mindset may be for satisfying our everyday needs efficiently, it serves us poorly when we apply it to our biggest problems and most pressing needs. Steeped as we are in the monetary economy, though, most of us do just that. In sum, while money is not the only way we solve our problems, it’s such a ubiquitous and useful solution that it steeps us in a particular mindset – a mindset that can backfire when applied to bigger and more consequential problems: individual, organizational, and social.

Table of contents


1 The Limits of the Monetary Mindset
2 The Bartering Mindset
3 Step 1: Deeply and Broadly Defi ne Your Needs and Offerings
4 Steps 2–3: Map Out the Full Range of Transaction Partners and the Full Range of Their Possible Needs and Off erings
5 Step 4: Anticipate the Most Powerful Set of Partnerships across the Market
6 Step 5: Cultivate the Most Powerful Set of Partnerships across the Market
7 Integrating the Bartering and Monetary Mindsets
8 Objections to the Bartering Mindset
9 Conclusions and Applications


We use money to solve our everyday problems, but money has a psychological downside: it trains us to think about negotiations narrow-mindedly, leading us to negotiate badly. In the bartering economies of the past, barterers had to use a more sophisticated form of negotiation to trade what they had for what they needed. Brian C. Gunia shows us how to look outside today’s monetary economy and apply the “bartering mindset” to make us master negotiators.