Understanding the Law of Reciprocity
article by: Tim T Dingle BSc (Hons) MIBiol PGCE MBA
CDO Academy of Vocational and Professional Training
Have you ever wondered why some people seem luckier than others? Have you ever been (mildly) annoyed that others attract more referrals than you? There has got to be a reason, hasn’t there? Well a good definition of ‘luck’ is when action meets opportunity. People that help other people every chance (they get) almost always come out on top. I am amazed by the simple gestures of holding a door for someone, returning a lost wallet and giving someone a referral produces 2 things: First, the feeling that the person on the receiving end of your kindness is compelled to reciprocate; and second, you create a positive thoughts/feelings about your self-image. There’s something very powerful at play that causes this phenomenon.
Psychologists call it The Law of Reciprocity and it says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return. It is buried deep inside our DNA and is an evolutionary survival mechanism. As a matter of fact, you may even reciprocate with a gesture far more generous than their original good deed. You can try and resist this law, but your DNA will intervene and you will more than likely still feel that you need to respond in kind to a good deed. If that’s true (and it is) then it would be to your advantage to understand the right way – and the wrong way to take advantage of this powerful law.
Do you think that the Law of Reciprocity can make or break your business?
Diane Shawe the CEO of the Academy of Vocational and Professional Training states “the law of reciprocity is like a karmic “piggy bank”. What you broadcast into the universe, whether it is positive or negative, is a deposit due to be returned to you. Your deposits may be returned quickly, without the effects of past and future deposits added” but then she goes on to say “How then do we define the purpose of Business Etiquette?” interesting combination.
For this reason, it is wise to bank positive deposits often.
As someone who is running (or is aspiring to run) their own business, there are a couple of ways you can invest in the use of reciprocity: the Constructive Way and the Destructive Way.
The Constructive Way
One of the hardest parts of a new business relationship is building trust and rapport. To do that, there are some things you have to establish up front with a potential client to show them you’re one of the good guys. These fall in the area of intent, empathy and credibility. So, if you really are one of the good guys, you can show people what you’re made of simply by being friendly, honest, and helpful. That’s the idea behind a lot of the freebies that bloggers give away all the time. By giving something that’s of legitimate value away with no expectation of compensation, you’re achieving several things.
- If the material or help you’re giving away is of high quality, you’re establishing yourself as a person of credibility – someone who knows what they’re talking about.
- You’re demonstrating empathy by showing the recipient that you understand they’re looking for answers. You understand that they need help – and you’re someone who’s willing to give it to them.
- You’re showing that your intent is not just to get into their wallets – but to sincerely help.
In the process, you stimulate the DNA program of The Law of Reciprocity. When you establish yourself as an honest, sincere, and giving person – you make it much easier for people to buy from you when you have something to offer. It is at that point they already like you, they have seen that you know your stuff, and they trust you. All that makes it much easier for them to choose you.
The Destructive Way
While responding to The Law of Reciprocity is hard-wired into us, most people aren’t stupid, but can often be inexperienced or too trusting. If the Law is exploited as a tactic, they often experience a lot of discomfort and dis-ease about the situation. Even though I use the word ‘exploiting’ ( I don’t believe that most people conspire to use this law) you might best understand it as someone being false’ pretense, a front; you are pretending to be sincere and helpful, therefore only to trick people into feeling a sense of obligation. Poor salespeople are easy to find – and when someone is using reciprocity as a pressure tactic, it’s obvious. You’ve been there as a consumer.
I’ll bet you don’t have to go back very far in your memory bank to remember a time when someone seemed a little too nice. Even though they were doing something positive for you, you still instinctively didn’t trust them. That’s because their intentions weren’t sincere and you sensed it. Using the Law that way may trick someone from time to time, but it likely won’t lead to repeat sales, good will, or referrals. Pressured prospects tend to disappear quietly.
So the right way to gain maximum benefit from the Law of Reciprocity is to use it sincerely and for the right reasons: to help others and to grow your relationships. There are a lot of aggressive sales and marketing people out there, but listen to them with caution. Consumers are smarter than ever before. Being aggressive tends to offend and alienate. Instead, aim for active and inclusivity. What’s the difference? Aggressive is relentless and pushy. Active and exclusivity is, well, active listening and keeping them involved.
If what you’re selling is truly of value, you don’t have to be a bully to get people to buy. You just have to work hard to get your name out there and develop your brand. Since you are one of the good guys, ask yourself; What small thing can I provide today that my customers can really use?
When you come up with an answer – give it to them. It’s the right thing to do – and because of The Law of Reciprocity, your customers will gladly return that generosity when you do have something to sell.