As I finish up my holiday cards, I’m reminded of a story from Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: Science and Practice, about a university professor who sent holiday cards to a group of strangers to see what, if any, response he would get. Amazingly, cards “came pouring back” from the recipients, many of whom didn’t even inquire about who he was.
While I don’t suggest you start sending holiday cards to strangers, this story is a useful reminder of the power of reciprocity, which Cialdini describes as the tendency most of us feel to “repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us.” This obviously often plays a powerful role in our negotiations, both personal and professional.
One example is that parties tend to go back and forth in the offer-concession stage of the process and try not to make consecutive moves, or “bet against themselves.” The main reason we don’t like to make consecutive moves – even though we might sometimes be forced to do so if we have really weak leverage – is this principle of reciprocity. After we make an offer or a move, it’s the other side’s turn, right?