“It’s your turn,” he said. “I conceded on the close date and it’s time for you to move and extend the royalty term.” This “reciprocity” standard – it is “fair and reasonable” for you to do this for me because I did something like this for you in the past – can be powerful in many negotiations.
It’s especially applicable in family-related negotiations during the holiday season, both in conjunction with parties and gift giving. Have you ever heard that a friend or family member “never reciprocates” even though you’ve had them over for dinner several times or sent them nice gifts – and got nothing in return. Fair is fair, right?
This reciprocity principle – based on research by social psychologist Robert Cialdini, author of the bestseller Influence: Science and Practice – is a fundamental human feeling. And it affects our business and personal relationships in many contexts. So here are some good rules of thumb to follow.
1. Look for opportunities to “give things away”
Have you ever taken a potential customer or client out to lunch or a sporting event or sent a particularly good client a holiday gift? Of course you pay. Why? They often reciprocate in ways more beneficial to you then your cost.
A business owner once told me he regularly sent his best clients on trips to the Caribbean every holiday season. They were very good mutually beneficial business relationships and these trips communicated that he valued their business. Sending this message helped him keep the seven figure contracts he had with their companies.
Also consider keeping a mental note of those for whom you do favors, but be careful if and how you ask for return favors. Subtlety and silence can be effective tactics in this context. Individuals will likely be offended if they believe an explicit quid pro quo exists, especially between friends. Yet if what’s going back-and-forth gets too far out of whack in the long run, relationships suffer.
2. Pay for free gifts offered now
If you’re on the receiving end of a gift and don’t want to feel like you owe a future favor, pay for it now. Alternatively, do not accept gifts or favors from those to whom you do not want to feel a reciprocal obligation.
Labor union negotiators are extremely sensitive to the perceptions involved in accepting favors from management. They don’t want to appear to their fellow union members to be unfairly influenced by management. As a result, they will often either refuse “favors” or insist on paying for any benefit received
And if the gift is being offered by a stranger solely to manipulate your purchasing behavior, don’t feel obligated at all. We all get “free offers” online or in the mail, so treat these differently from those that come into play when you have an ongoing relationship with the giver.
3. Don’t be driven purely by reciprocation
Finally, note that some individuals and businesses offer gifts unconditionally with no expectation of reciprocation. Anonymous contributions to non-profits fall in this category, as do particularly magnanimous individuals who get a great deal of internal satisfaction from giving.
If this is the case, however, there is some reciprocation that is socially required – a very big thank you.
Published December 1, 2011 The Arizona Republic