The Principle of Reciprocity Can Work for You

Quid pro quo is a noun that means something given or received for something else, which is very close to its original Latin meaning of something for something. Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster repeatedly used the term in conversation as Foster's character, FBI agent Clarice Starling, interviewed Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) in 1991's Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs. This famous film relationship, which also garnered each of them an Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively, was based on the principle of reciprocity. Obviously, reciprocity paid off for these two stars and their on-screen personas, and it can pay dividends for you, too, if handled in the proper manner.

Why Reciprocity Works

There exists a natural human tendency to repay someone in kind for something received, to return a favor. This is the psychological principle of reciprocity. We see it on display almost every day. Whether it takes the form of strangers alternately opening doors for one another or friends exchanging gifts, reciprocity can be shown in any number of ways in countless situations. In fact, it is so commonplace to see people acting reciprocally with others that it is often overlooked and taken for granted. However, effectively using this principle not only can be a powerful marketing and sales tool but also an equally important management technique.  

How Reciprocity Works

Have you ever gone out to dinner and been pleasantly surprised by the server leaving a few chocolates or candies with the check? Did this gesture positively impact your impression of the server? Did you leave a little more money in the tip as a result? It is probable that you did. 

This same technique or principle can work with a host of other products or services: calendars, pens, free consultations, etc. While it may cost more time and/or money up front, the returns can more than make up for it down the road as you foster loyalty and goodwill among your customers or clients. Furthermore, you will likely experience similar benefits if you use this same strategy with your employees and associates. By graciously offering different and more personalized gifts, services, or recognition beyond what is expected for their contributions, you will in turn increase job satisfaction and morale among your staff.

When Reciprocity Fails

While using the principle of reciprocity can have wide ranging benefits, there is also an inherent risk of being off-putting if the gestures offered are perceived as disingenuous or insincere. Although it is important to make the first move in a reciprocal act with your customers or personnel to foster a favorable perception, generating such a reaction will be impossible if there seems to be an expectation of repayment attached to your initial action. Genuinely perform your acts of kindness without expecting anything in return. Doing so will increase the chances of people seeing that your benevolence is authentic while additionally negating any sense of disappointment you may feel if people do not respond in a like manner, even though it is highly likely you will get a positive response if your effort is well received.

Reciprocity is a powerful natural law of social psychology. People ubiquitously act on this principle in every culture and society. Learning how to use reciprocity to influence others can give you great advantages in many avenues of life, including business and leadership.

Do you want to learn more about finding success with customers or clients? Contact Greg L. Thomas, our professional Cleveland business consultant, today! We offer a number of programs to help individuals and organizations reach their highest potential.