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The Big Bang Theory of Reciprocity

Across much of the world, it’s the holiday season and for most people the biggest holiday of them all is Christmas. Some celebrate Christmas as the season of joy and peace. For others, it’s the season of love and for many more it’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

A huge part of celebrating Christmas is Santa Claus, Christmas trees and holiday music. In some stores Christmas music started around Halloween! Of course, the holiday season represents the bulk of sales for many retail stores, sometimes accounting for as much as 70% of their annual sales!  A successful holiday season is a matter of economic survival for many stores.

All of this leads to another Christmas tradition – gift giving. The television show The Big Bang Theory had an excellent skit on the exchange of gifts, where Sheldon feels pressure because Penny got him a Christmas present. Here’s some of their exchange.

  • Sheldon: You bought me a present?
  • Penny: Yes.
  • Sheldon: Why would you do such a thing?
  • Penny: I don’t know, because it’s Christmas.
  • Sheldon: No Penny, I know you’re thinking you’re being generous but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift, you’ve given me an obligation.
  • Penny: Honey, it’s okay, you don’t have to give me anything in return.
  • Sheldon: Of course I do. The essence of the custom is that I now have to out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as the gift you’ve given me. Gosh, no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year.

It’s a very funny scene so if you’d like to watch the clip click here. The skit does hit the rule of reciprocity fairly well. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who have first given to us. We also feel we should respond in kind so Sheldon was responding to a lifetime of conditioning when he felt like he had to match Penny’s gift.

We also see reciprocity at work in another of the Christmas traditions – exchanging holiday cards. Have you ever gotten a Christmas card in the mail from someone not on your list? How did you feel? I bet the majority of you reading this would respond in one of two ways:

  1. Get a card in the mail to the other person right away, or
  2. Add the person to your mailing list for next year.

Why do we respond this way? Because we’d feel socially awkward around the other person if we didn’t get them a card or gift and they took note of that.

We are so conditioned by reciprocity that we even respond when we don’t really want to. Here are some examples:

  • You’re at the mall and someone shoves something in your face and begins asking you questions. You respond – even though you’re rather they not do that – saying, “No thanks” when in reality you’re not thankful.
  • You get mailing labels in the mail and you respond to these “gifts” by sending the charitable organization money.
  • You’re out for drinks with friends and have had enough and are ready to go home but you stick around to buy one more round of drinks because you don’t want to be seen as having several drinks and not paying for a round yourself.

But there’s good news in all this. Sheldon wasn’t 100% accurate in the skit. He said suicide rates skyrocket this time of year and that’s not true. According the NYU Lagone Medical Center, “The media often links suicides during this time of year to the ‘holiday blues.’ However, various studies have shown no relationship between depression and suicide, and the holiday season. In fact, researchers found that depression rates and suicides actually drop during the winter months and peak in the spring.”

So, while it may be the season to reciprocate, don’t buy gifts and send cards this time of year under penalty of death. However, beware, you might feel awkward around some people if you break the rule of reciprocity but that feeling will pass eventually.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 100,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

What Reciprocity Is and What It Is Not

We’re knee deep in the holiday season, the traditional time of gift giving in many parts of the world. There is also quite a bit of reciprocation that happens during this season. I write that because quite often we give gifts to other people because we know they will be giving us a gift. God forbid we aren’t ready to exchange gifts because most people feel awkward when they receive a gift but don’t have something to give in return. To avoid that feeling have you ever run out to buy a gift or holiday card from someone and quickly stuck it in the mail because they gave you a card or gift first? That’s reciprocity working its magic on you.

The principle of influence known as reciprocity defines human behavior that’s been around as long as mankind: we feel obligated to give back to those who first give to us. We’ve been conditioned to give in return because over the course of evolution we learned we are all better off when we help those who’ve helped us first

I’m sure every person reading this understands the principle of reciprocity and my definition only serves to make them think, “I already know that.” What most people don’t really understand is how to engage the principle because all too often I read articles and blog posts from marketers, sales trainers, and others who like to cite Robert Cialdini’s work…but do so incorrectly!

I recently read a blog post on getting consumers to say yes using reciprocity and two examples were used:

“But 4 get 1 free”

“Free gift/shipping when purchase for $60 or more”

Neither example is an application of the principle of reciprocity. Do you know why?

As noted earlier, reciprocity is engaged when you’ve given to someone or done something for another person first.

That feeling of indebtedness makes the other person want to “return the favor” so to speak. Neither example used in the article I cited above did anything for the consumer or gave them anything in advance. In each case what they were actually offering was a reward. Rewards are predicated on an, “If you…, I will…” basis. Both of the above examples were actually rewards that could read:

“If you buy four you’ll get one more for free.”

“If you buy $60 or more in goods your shipping will be free.”

Think about it for a moment. You can’t get “one more for free” or “free shipping” unless you do something first.

Make no mistake about it; rewards motivate behavior. There are decades of studies to back that up and it’s a fact that rewards are more effective than the threat of punishment.

The word “free” is a big motivator too. Dan Ariely brilliantly points that out in a chapter from Predictably Irrational called “The Cost of Zero Cost: We Often Pay Too Much When We Pay Nothing.” All too often we’ll go out of our way to get something free. For example, have you ever purchased extra items on Amazon so you’d spend enough to get free shipping? People spend a lot more money to get “free” stuff!

Rewards change behavior but some studies show you can engage people with reciprocity by giving a much smaller gift in lieu of a large reward and get a better result. In workshops I often share a study in which owners of a construction company were either offered a $50 reward for completing a survey or given a $5 check up front in consideration of their time. Only 23% who were offered the $50 reward completed the survey but 52% who received the $5 check up front did so. And the savings was anywhere from 57% to 77% depending on how many ultimately cashed the $5 check.

As a business owner, if you knew you could more than double your response rate and save 50%, 60%, 70% or more by going the reciprocity option instead of the traditional reward route, wouldn’t you choose the reciprocity option? Of course you would…and now you will going forward.

I don’t point this out to be nit picky or combative. Rather, I point this out because when I teach people about persuasion I tell them, “If you use the principles ethically and correctly you will get more people saying yes to you.” If people think they’re using principles correctly but they’re not, then they won’t see the results they hoped for. That leads to people thinking, “It sounds good when Brian says it, or when Dr. Cialdini writes about it, but it doesn’t’ work in the real world.” It does work but only if you do it the right way.

Here’s my final thought – if you want to engage people in a low cost, easy to implement, sure fire way to motivate the behavior you want, save yourself time and money by going the reciprocity route in lieu of using traditional rewards.

Obamacare, Abortion, Gay Marriage and Christmas aren’t going away

This post is going to upset some people and

that’s okay because we’re all entitled to our opinion. What I’m going to share
is my opinion but it’s rooted in the psychology of persuasion.

Obamacare, abortion, gay marriage and
Christmas aren’t going away anytime soon. It seems as though each of these
cause intense debate because there are passionate people on both sides of each issue
– those for and those against.
Why do I believe neither Obamacare, abortion nor
gay marriage will go away? In a word; scarcity. This principle of influence
tells us people value things more when they are rare or going away. It’s the
reason we react so strongly when we think we’re going to lose something.
Think back to childhood when you got that long
awaited privilege; to eat dinner in front of the television! You begged and
begged, for what seemed to be a lifetime, to get this golden opportunity. Then
one day your mom or dad caved but assured you it was a one-time thing. And
what happened the next day? You asked again but this time heard, “No.” You
protested, “But you let me yesterday!” Arguments became commonplace and I’m
willing to bet as time went by you ate in front of the TV more and more.
Parents are usually hesitant to extend privileges
like dinner in front of the TV, staying up later on school nights or getting
candy at the store because they know its inevitable there will be arguments
down the road. Once we have something we don’t want to give it up and I believe
the same principle will dictate people not wanting to give up these “rights.”
Women have enjoyed freedom of choice for
several decades; tens of millions will
enjoy access to health care with the passage of Obamacare; and more and more
people are heading to states where they can legally marry their same sex
partner. If the government tries to take away any of these rights/freedoms I
think there would be violent protest because it all goes back to scarcity, the fear of
loss. As hard as people worked and as vocal as they may have been to gain these
rights they’ll work even harder and be more vocal in their attempts to stop any
legislation that might repeal them.
How does this apply to Christmas? Every year
in December we hear people talking about “the war on Christmas.” Let me state
emphatically, there’s no “war.” Go ask a veteran who’s seen combat if the
debate over Christmas is anything like war and they’ll set you straight. There
are however, many people who want to limit or do away with Christmas for a
variety of reasons.
I believe Christmas will be around for a long
time too because so many people want to keep it. It’s the same psychology that
applies to Obamacare, abortion and gay marriage, and it will propel people to
fight hard to keep their Christmas traditions.
Another reason I think Christmas as we know it
will survive is because the other side isn’t fighting to gain something,
they’re only seeking to prevent people from tying in Christ to Christmas and
thus making it a religious observance.
As I noted earlier, people will work much
harder to keep what they have than they will to gain the very same thing.
Studies show the average person will work about twice as hard to keep the same thing,
as they will to gain the very same thing.
How does this apply to you? Understand
whenever you seek to take something from another person or limit them in any
way it’s very likely you’ll be met with resistance because that’s human nature.
So before you extend something – eating in front of the television, a new
compensation plan, an offer to help – make sure you’re willing to deal with
some rough consequences if you decide to change your mind because whomever
you’re dealing with will feel the pull of scarcity and react accordingly.

 

Brian, CMCT®
influencepeople 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Tis the Season to Reciprocate

 

Here in the U.S. and across much of the world, it’s the holiday season and for most people the biggest holiday of them all is Christmas. Some celebrate Christmas as the season of joy and peace.  For others it is the season of love and for many more it’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus.
A huge part of celebrating Christmas is Santa Claus, Christmas trees and holiday music. In some stores Christmas music started around Halloween! Of course, the holiday season represents the bulk of sales for many stores, sometimes accounting for as much as 70% of their annual sales.  Sales success during the holiday season is a matter of economic survival for some stores.
All of this leads to another Christmas tradition – gift giving. The television show The Big Bang Theory had an excellent skit on the exchange of gifts, where Sheldon feels pressure because Penny got him a Christmas present. Here’s some of their exchange.

Sheldon: You bought me a present?

Penny: Yes.

Sheldon: Why would you do such a thing?

Penny: I don’t know, because it’s Christmas.

Sheldon: No Penny, I know you’re thinking you’re being generous but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift, you’ve given me an obligation.

Penny: Honey, it’s okay, you don’t have to give me anything in return.

Sheldon: Of course I do. The essence of the custom is that I now have to out and purchase for you a gift of commensurate value and representing the same perceived level of friendship as the gift you’ve give me. Gosh, no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year.

It’s a very funny scene so if you’d like to watch the clip on YouTube, click here. The skit does hit the rule of reciprocity fairly well. This principle of influence tells us people feel obligated to give back to those who have first given to us. We also feel we should respond in kind so Sheldon was responding to a lifetime of conditioning when he felt like he had to match Penny’s gift.
We also see reciprocity at work in another of the Christmas traditions – exchanging holiday cards. Have you ever gotten a Christmas card in the mail from someone not on your list? How did you feel? I bet the majority of you reading this would respond in one of two ways:
  1. Get a card in the mail to the other person right away, or
  2. Add the person to your mailing list for next year.
Why do we respond this way? Because we’d feel socially awkward around the other person if we didn’t get them a card or gift and they took note of that.
We are so conditioned by reciprocity that we even respond when we don’t really want to. Here are some examples:
  • You’re at the mall and someone from a kiosk shoves something in your face and begins asking you questions. You respond – even though you’re rather they not do that – saying, “No thanks” when in reality you’re not thankful.
  • You get mailing labels in the mail and you respond to these “gifts” by sending the charitable organization money.
  • You’re out for drinks with friends and have had enough and are ready to go home but you stick around to buy one more round because you don’t want to be seen as having several drinks and not paying for a round yourself.

But there’s good news in all this. Sheldon wasn’t 100% accurate in the skit. He said suicide rates skyrocket this time of year and that’s not true. According the NYU Lagone Medical Center, “The media often links suicides during this time of year to the ‘holiday blues.’ However, various studies have shown no relationship between depression and suicide, and the holiday season. In fact, researchers found that depression rates and suicides actually drop during the winter months and peak in the spring.”

So while it may be the season to reciprocate, don’t buy gifts and send cards this time of year under penalty of death. However, beware, you might feel awkward around some people if you break the rule of reciprocity but that feeling will pass eventually.
Brian, CMCT®
influencepeople 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.