When You Give, the Recipient isn’t Always Who You Think

As we explore ways you can leverage the principles of influence for your own self-improvement, we’ll consider giving and the principle of reciprocity this week.

Reciprocity is the psychological term that tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who first give to them. The wise persuader looks to give “gifts” that are meaningful, customized and unexpected for the recipient. Giving in this way makes it easier to request a favor down the road.

But the person who gets the “gift” may not be the one who gets the most out of the transaction. In much the same way that employing the principle of liking impacts the persuader, so does reciprocity when it is done with right motives.

Ancient wisdom says, “Tis better to give than receive.” I know when I was a kid I thought, “No way!” because at Christmas, birthdays and other times it felt way better to get the gifts than give them.

However, as I got older I started to see the wisdom in those words. For my wife’s 52nd birthday I got her something I’d never heard of anyone giving before. I was excited to give it to her because of its uniqueness and I kept telling all of our friends about it because that heightened the surprise for Jane. My gift on that birthday was a promise that I would give her a gift a week for a year. In other words, 52 presents for her 52nd birthday.

I have to tell you it’s been a lot of fun for both of us! Certainly Jane enjoys the gift each week but what I think she appreciates most is the thoughtfulness. She doesn’t know anyone who has ever received that gift so she feels special. Each week when I give her a gift I video it then post it to Facebook because so many people are curious about what the 52 gifts will be. Everyone seems to enjoy it so it’s been nice to spread some cheer.

What I’ve enjoyed is a renewed focus on Jane because I’m constantly paying attention to what she says and does so I can find gifts that are meaningful. Our daughter, Abigail, gets in on the action too because I run many of my ideas by her.

Why is it better to give than receive? I’ve seen several reasons.

First, you experience joy when you give because being kind to others releases the hormone oxytocin into the blood stream. Oxytocin is the hormone that bonds mothers to babies and makes us feel closer to one another.

Second, while receiving is nice you never know when it will happen. However, giving is your choice and you can engage in it many times throughout the day. It could be buying coffee for the next person in line or letting someone over in heavy traffic. It really is the thought that counts and then taking action.

Third, quite often giving makes recipients more generous with other people they come in contact with. You can have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve set a positive chain of events in motion.

My fourth and final reason (but there are more) is that you’ll have confidence knowing if you need a favor you can turn to many of the people you’ve given to in the past and they’ll want to help you in return.

In the end, your act of giving generously, giving without strings attached, benefits you every bit as much as the recipient and sometimes more. Much like I wrote about the principle of liking last week, when you engage the principle of reciprocity not just to receive yourself, but out of a more noble reason, you become the real beneficiary.

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