The Law Of Reciprocity

Have you ever experienced the feeling of wanting to do something for someone simply because they have at some point done something for you. Even if they haven’t asked?

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”Winston S. Churchill

Social psychologists call this phenomenon The Law of Reciprocity and it is essentially our deep rooted desire to help those who help us. Often you may reciprocate with a gesture far more generous than their original act of kindness.

Conversely, in response to hostile actions people are often much more nasty and in some cases even brutal. This can if unchecked cause a spiral of negativity which is probably the cause when conflicts escalate due to constant need for retribution from each side.

If the above is true (which it is) then it would surely be advantageous to understand this powerful social law.

This is obviously a law which could be abused if used by someone with bad intentions. As I will discuss later, these people rarely endure when it comes to influence and are found out eventually.

Let us first discuss the right and wrong way to use this law.

First the right way. When trying to establish a new relationship we focus our energies on building rapport and ultimately trust. So to demonstrate you are actually one of life’s good guys there is a number of things you can do like listen, be helpful, smile, be honest, generous & transparent.

This is a common technique use by online marketers who share freely something which has genuine value without asking for anything in return (Except maybe your email address 😉

“We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.”Orison Swett Marden

By giving away these materials they are demonstrating expertise, showing they understand the pain and are willing to help, and lastly they are showing that they are not only after your money. 

By doing this they have invoked the law of reciprocity. You now perceive them to be trustworthy and generous and will be more inclined to spend with them when they have something to offer. 

When people use the law the wrong way it feels like manipulation, a coercive exploitative tactic which can usually be spotted a mile away let alone the bad after taste should you fall for it.

I remember once walking around London whilst on the phone when suddenly it started to rain. So I took shelter in a department store whilst I finished my call. As I hung up the phone my hand was taken by a beautiful women and I was led to the cosmetics counter and invited to take a seat. I had some time to kill before my next meeting and was curious what would happen next so I went along with it.

She showed me my eyes in a mirror and as I am the wrong side of 40 there are one or two lines starting to appear. The next thing I know she is rubbing nay massaging a cream into my eyes to reduce the wrinkles. In that moment I forgot all my troubles, relaxed and enjoyed the attention. 

When she finished she showed me my eyes again and there was a visible difference which for all I know could have been just about the massage. She then asked if I would like to buy the cream. Something inside me felt obligated to say yes, I didn’t even ask the price. £56 later and I was walking away with the smallest jar of cream which still to this day sits on a shelf in my bathroom unopened.

I might have been upset by this experience, mad at myself for not saying no and seeing through this deliberate ploy to make me buy. But I don’t. Every time I see the jar I am reminded to avoid this well used sales tactic in future.

In the main, when someone uses the law of reciprocity in this way it is obvious, and in the long term it is not good for your brand. It certainly won’t generate you any good will or repeat business but in todays digital age a pressured prospect can make a lot of noise.

So as long as you apply this law with integrity and for the right reasons, it can be a powerful technique for developing relationships.

Oh and by the way, by delivering a service that goes above and beyond the call of duty you can also achieve similar results and the reciprocation is customer loyalty and referrals!