Coach’s Lesson on Reciprocity

Pat was so excited to share with Coach Smith how her week had gone that she arrived at the coffee shop 15 minutes early. When he walked in she waved excitedly. He smiled and nodded as he waited in line for his drink. As he made his way to the table he could see that she was beaming and said, “It looks like someone’s having a great day.”

Pat replied, “I’m so excited to share with you everything that went on this week.” As she detailed what she’d done and the responses that she’d noticed, Coach just sat there with a wide grin. Then he said, “I’m so happy for you Pat. Building a strong relationship with your team through the principle of liking is the foundation for everything else. In one sense it’s the most important thing and in another sense, it’s also the easiest. I say easy because we’re social creatures and we’re naturally wired for relationships. Being thoughtful and strategic as you were makes building those relationships easier.”

Coach went on, “The reason liking is the foundation is because it sets the tone for all the other principles. I think you’ll grasp that as we start talking about the second principle, reciprocity.” 

Coach could see Pat furrowed her brows and had a look in her eyes as if she wasn’t sure what was coming next. He said, “Reciprocity might be a somewhat unfamiliar term but I’m sure you’ve heard the term reciprocate.” 

Pat said yes, “I’m familiar with that word. That’s where I give to someone who has given to me first. It’s give and take.”

Coach replied, “Yes and no. Yes, reciprocity is that feeling of obligation to give back to those who first give to us. However, we don’t use a give to get mentality. In other words, we don’t do something or help someone just to get them to do something in return. If people think you’re only helping to get a favor then they might reject your offer. This is why the principle of liking sets the foundation. If you really lay hold of liking and genuinely begin to like the people that you’re with, it changes your giving. For example, don’t you genuinely want to help your friends, simply because they’re your friends and you want the best for them?” 

Pat reflexively answered, “Absolutely!”

Coach went on, “If you’ve really grasped the principle of liking, and use it on yourself to like other people, you’ll naturally want the best for them. That’s what changes you’re giving. Suddenly you’re not giving to get but you’re giving because you truly want the best for the people that you know and like. When they sense your sincerity, that’s where everything begins to change because, when you need help, those people that you’ve helped will want to help you in return. Does that make sense?” 

“I never looked at it that way,” Pat said. She went on, “It makes complete sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that I can’t believe we don’t all do things that way.”

Coach told her, “It doesn’t happen because too often we’re focused on the wrong things. We try to get people to like us and the only time we offer help is to get something in return. People see through those approaches and that’s what keeps them from forming the kind of relationships you need in order to lead a successful team.”

Then coach shared an example from Pat’s playing days. “Pat, Do you remember when I asked you to work with Kate on her foul shooting and Sarah on Her three-point shot?”

“Sure Coach. Both were struggling early in the season,” Pat answered.

Coach went on, “I asked you to help both of them because they had specific needs and you are an excellent free-throw and three-point shooter. Did you notice after that how willing they were to do whatever you asked and support you in your role as a leader?” 

“Now that I think back on it, yes, they were some of my biggest supporters. They helped bring some of the other girls on the team along,” Pat told Coach.

Coach said emphatically, “Bingo! It was a strategic use of reciprocity on my part to help form that tight-knit team that we were by the end of the season.”

He continued, “Let me share a couple of things that will help magnify your giving. First, make sure whatever you give is specific to the person’s wants, needs, or likes. In other words, don’t give a Starbucks gift card to someone who doesn’t drink coffee.” 

Pat responded, “Of course, that would be silly.”

Coach went on, “Yes, but quite often people assume others like the same things they like. Spend time getting to know people and you’ll understand what they prefer so that you can customize your giving to each person. The second thing to consider is more is better. If someone likes Starbucks, a $5 gift card is nice but a $10 gift card is even better.”

He paused for a moment because he could see Pat was furiously taking notes. Then he went on, “And the final thing to consider is to make your giving unexpected. We all anticipate gifts on holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, or anniversaries. However when someone gives something out of the blue, simply because you were thinking of the other person, there’s a wow factor to that.”

The wheels were turning and Pat’s head so Coach asked what she was thinking. Pat  replied, “I’m amazed at how much I learned in just one week by really focusing on my team. I’m just beginning to think about how I could use that information to inform my giving.” 

Coach glanced at his watch, noticed time was getting short, and began to wrap up the session. “Pat, I grew up going to church and there are two things I learned that tie into what we’re talking about today. The first is the Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s a great starting point. Treat people or give to people in the way that we would want to be treated or given to. But, the more you get to know people the more impactful you’re giving will be because you’re not treating them or giving as you would want to receive but as they would like to receive. The second thing that I know to be true is this; it’s better to give than receive. I know when you start to implement this principle with your team you’ll find that to be the case. There is joy in genuinely helping people that we care about.”

It was nearly four o’clock when they stood up. Pat told Coach. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough for these lessons Coach. I’m so glad we ran into each other a few weeks ago and I’m thankful you’re taking time to meet with me.”

That brought a smile to Coach Smith’s face and he replied, “As a coach it’s always been my goal to impact my players. These sessions give me tremendous joy because, even though I’m not coaching a basketball team, I see I’m still having an impact on people. Thank you Pat for allowing me to do that.” 

They confirmed next week’s meeting, exchanged a quick hug, wished each other well for the weekend, then went their separate ways. 


  1. And Now for Something Completely Different
  2. Coach’s Lesson on Liking
  3. Game Time for Pat
  4. Coach’s Lesson on Reciprocity
  5. Tis Better to Give
  6. A Lesson on Peer Pressure
  7. Putting Peer Pressure to Work at Work
  8. A Trusted Expert
  9. Becoming a Respected Leader
  10. Ask, Don’t Tell if You Want Commitment
  11. Less Directive
  12. Wins and Losses
  13. Don’t be a Downer
  14. Self-sacrifice
  15. Pay it Forward

Brian Ahearn, CPCU, CTM, CPT, CMCT

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, he’s one of only a dozen people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by BookAuthority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His new book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable.

Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 400,000 people around the world.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.