Reciprocity means, “A mutual exchange.” As a principle of influence it could be described in layman’s terms as the good old “give and take” principle or “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” When someone does something for us we typically feel obligated to do something for them in return, to return the favor, so to speak.
You’re probably familiar with all this but you may not realize just how powerfully the principle of reciprocity works on you. Quite often it gets you to do things without you even realizing it! Answer each of the following questions:
- Have you ever invited someone to a social gathering (party, wedding, graduation, etc.) because they invited you to a similar event?
- Have you sent Christmas cards to people because they sent you one first?
- Have you ever donated money to an organization because you received a “free” gift, like mailing labels?
- If you’ve been to a home party (candles, Pampered Chef, Tupperware, etc.), did you buy something because you would have felt bad not doing so, especially because you were served food and given some gift?
- During the holidays, have you ever bought Christmas wrapping paper, cards or some other holiday items from kids in the neighborhood because their parents bought things from your kids at some point in time?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then reciprocity was influencing your actions. There is something ingrained in all of us by society from the time we’re young that says it’s only right to return the favor. When you do something for me, I feel obligated to do something for you.
It’s important to understand how the ball gets rolling when it comes to this principle. That happens when you take initiative and act first in a situation.
In a sense you’re giving a gift. That gift could be tangible or intangible but the point is this – your act is usually met in kind by the other person.
As we explore influence you’ll come to learn that gifts are most influential when they have some value, are meaningful to the other person and come unexpectedly.
One last, important point about the principle of reciprocity has to do with concessions.
When someone says “no” to you, if you immediately come back with another request, many times the person will feel obligated to meet you halfway because you’re making the first move.