Influence PEOPLE: The Book – Reciprocity

In early April I shared a little from a book I’m working on. To build a more excitement I thought I’d share another short section from Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, which will be available this summer.

Principle #1 – Reciprocity

“You can get everything you want in life, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
Zig Ziglar, famous author & motivational speaker

Simply put, reciprocity is 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, to return the favor, so to speak.

You can easily think of a time when someone went out of their way to do something for you in return for a good deed you initially did for them. Although you probably recognize the principle just described, if you’re like most people, you may not realize how powerfully reciprocity actually works on you. Quite often reciprocity gets you to do things without you even realizing it! Take a moment to consider your response to each of the following questions:

  • Have you invited someone to a social gathering (summer cookout, wedding, graduation party, etc.) because they invited you to a similar event first?
  • Have you added someone to your Christmas card list after getting a card from them first?
  • Have you donated money to an organization because you received a free gift, like mailing labels?
  • If you’ve been to a home party like Pampered Chef or Tupperware, did you buy something because you would have felt bad not doing so, especially after you were served food and given a free gift?
  • During the holidays, have you ever bought Christmas wrapping paper, cards or some other items from neighborhood kids because their parents bought similar items from your kids?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then reciprocity was influencing you! Society ingrains something in all of us from the time we are young: it’s right to repay the favor. When you do something for me, I feel obligated to do something for you in return.

In shows when someone saves another’s life, the one snatched from death expresses profound gratitude. The saved person may ask: “How can I ever repay you?” Of course Good Samaritans don’t help people to accrue favors, yet those who are helped feel a huge burden anyway and want to repay the Good Samaritan.

Let’s focus on understanding how the ball gets rolling when it comes to this principle. It happens when you take initiative and act first. In a sense you give a gift, whether tangible or intangible. This is the point: your action is usually met in kind by the person you gifted or helped.

Let’s go further with the principle of reciprocity and consider  concessions. When someone says “no” to you, if you immediately come back with another request, often the person will meet you part way because compromise is met with compromise. Concessions are the basis for negotiating as people barter their way to some sort of agreement.

When it comes to reciprocity, think of this word – Giving. When you give most of the time people will give in return.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence. Brian’s LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by more than 65,000 people! Have you watched them yet? Click a course title to see what you’ve been missing.


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