Every Human Society Teaches its People This

Marcel Mauss, the late French Sociologist, wrote a book
called The Gift. He asserted that
gifts are never truly free because reciprocity dictates that people return the
favor by doing something for the gift giver. He went so far as to say every
human society raises its people in the way of reciprocity.
I’m on the Westerville Education Foundation
(WEF), a non-profit board that raises money for the Westerville schools when
budgets fall short or where budgets may not cover certain expenses. I was
persuaded to join the board by two State Auto colleagues who had been through
my Principles of Persuasion workshop years ago.
A few weeks ago I was manning the WEF booth
during a Fourth Friday event, a summer event in which residents pack uptown
Westerville for food, drink, and music while vendors display their wares. One
way the WEF tries to grab people’s attention is by using a game kids can play
and win prizes. While the children play we hand out literature to their moms
and dads and quickly tell them what we do.
As I volunteered I couldn’t help but notice
something that happened in nearly every instance after a child won a prize. One
of the parents would inevitably say to their child, “What do you say?” Upon
hearing that every child turned to us and said, “Thank you,” before leaving
with their prize.
That simple act was repeated so often it made
me think about Marcel Mauss and his belief that every human society teaches its
people to respond to the act of giving. The principle of influence known as reciprocity says we feel
obligated to give back to those who’ve first given to us. This is where the
phrase “much obliged” comes from. It is a simple acknowledgment that once
somebody has done something for us we feel obligated to do something for him or
her at some point in the future.
As parents teach their children to respond to
acts of kindness and gifts with a “thank you” they are conditioning their kids
to reciprocate. As the children grow up they learn more sophisticated ways to
repay the favor. Eventually acts of kindness are met with thank you letters,
thank you cards and return gifts.
The key to utilizing reciprocity is to be the
first to act, the first to give. Once you’ve given something to another person
the principle is set in motion and they feel somewhat indebted to you. If you
wait for someone to do something for you, then you’ll be the one in debt.
You don’t need a budget to ethically engage
reciprocity. Simple acts of kindness trigger the principle. When someone feels
what you’ve done for them is genuinely in their best interest – as opposed to
an act of giving simply to curry a favor – they’ll want to freely reciprocate
most of the time.
If you want to become a master persuader then
start looking for ways to become a giver. It becomes much easier as you begin
to change your thinking from “who can help me?” to “whom can I genuinely help?”
Opportunities to give and help are always abundant so take stock in who you
are, your resources, talents, etc., and begin looking for ways to use those to
benefit others. Don’t be afraid of losing anything in the process because as the
late Zig Ziglar famously told audiences for decades, “You can get everything
you want in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” Zig
was 100% correct because the more people you help, the more people will want to
help you when you need it.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


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