You gotta give to get…chances are this life principle was engrained into your being from an early age. Societies are created and communities held together by this universal code of humanity. Psychologists call this principle reciprocity--people feel obliged to give back to others who have given to them
Let me share a personal example. My wife, Jan, and I were invited to dinner at the home of a couple we had recently met. The couple was nice, but not the type of people we wanted to invest the time to cultivate as friends (I hope this doesn’t sound snobby; it isn’t meant that way). However, on the ride home, not ten minutes after saying we didn’t want to expand this relationship, Jan was talking about having them over to dinner, to reciprocate. When I said I wasn’t crazy about it, I felt her anxiety; she (we) had been inculcated from an early age to return favors in kind. It was a hard decision not
to reciprocate. Have you had a similar situation?
Here is another personal example I bet you can relate to. Let’s say it is the holiday season and you have sent out all the cards on your list of family and friends. Three days before the holiday you get a card from someone you barely know or a relative you don’t particularly like.* If you are like us, you drop everything, search for another card, fill it out and rush it to the mail. Think about how strong this reciprocity principle is: you drop everything to do a task that by logical definition has no value. If you don’t, it will bother you. This is one strong principle!
The reciprocity principle transcends into the business world as well. Most people first think, “Who can help me here?” Top influencers ask, “Whom can I genuinely help here?” When the other person receives from you something that has personal value without asking, it triggers the need to respond in kind. They will be actively looking for a way to return your kindness. This is a powerful builder of relationships and a great way to influence with integrity.
Personal Business Example
Let me share an example of my own. Whenever I talk to someone whom I feel has an interest in building a better services organization, I ask them if I can give them a copy of my latest book, Seriously Selling Services. No strings attached, they just give me a mailing address and that’s it. The response? People like it! I can hear and feel the tone of the conversation become more positive and more open. Later (and without me asking), I often see that this person has bought more book copies that they give to others in their company. Sometimes I receive a call about speaking, consulting, or training. This is a small investment on my part for such a positive return.
If you want to become better at persuasion, embrace this powerful principle and make it a part of your modus operandi. Before every important conversation, think about what you can provide that the other person will value and do so without being asked and without any strings attached. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
The principle of reciprocity, along with other research-based influencing concepts, is explained extremely well in the book by Robert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice (5th edition). If ethically persuading others is important to you, then this is a must-read.
*Cialdini’s research shows that because of the reciprocity principle people will return holiday cards from people they don’t even know!If you’re interested in becoming a better influencer, join me in Denver, May 16-17 for Selling Services: Tools and Techniques for Top Performance. This two-day hands-on workshop will help you and your organization sell services easier and faster.