by James "Alex" Alexander, Ed.D.
If you want to advance your persuasion virtuosity, enhance your use of reciprocity.
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“You gotta give to get.” Chances are, this life principle was engrained into your being from an early age. Societies are created and communities held together by this universal code of humanity. Psychologists call this principle reciprocity—people feel obliged to give back to others who have given to them.

Let me share a personal example: My wife and I were invited to dinner at the home of a couple we had recently met. The couple was nice, but not the type of people we wanted to invest time into cultivating as friends. (I hope this doesn’t sound snobby; it isn’t meant that way.) However, on the ride home, not 10 minutes after saying we didn’t want to expand this relationship, my wife was talking about having them over to dinner, to reciprocate. When I said I wasn’t crazy about it, I felt her anxiety; she (we) had been inculcated from an early age to return favors in kind. It was a hard decision not to reciprocate. Have you had a similar situation?

Here is another personal example I bet you can relate to: Let’s say it is the holiday season and you have sent out all the cards on your list of family and friends. Three days before the holiday you get a card from someone you barely know or a relative you don’t particularly like.* If you are like us, you drop everything, search for another card, fill it out, and rush it to the mail. Think about how strong this reciprocity principle is: you drop everything to perform a task that, by logical definition, has no value. If you don’t, it will bother you. This is one strong principle!

The reciprocity principle transcends into the business world as well. Most people first think, “Who can help me here?” Top influencers ask, “Whom can I genuinely help here?” When the other person receives something from you, without asking, that has personal value, it triggers the need to respond in-kind. That person will actively look for a way to return your kindness. This is a powerful builder of relationships and a great way to influence with integrity.

If you want to become better at persuasion, embrace this powerful principle and make it a part of your modus operandi. Before every important conversation, think about what you can provide that the other person will value, and do so without being asked and without any strings attached. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

First you then me is how it’s supposed to be.

Must-Have Resource
The principle of reciprocity along with other research-based influencing concepts is explained extremely well in a book by Robert Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice (5th Edition). If ethically persuading others is important to you, then this is a must read.

*Cialdini research shows that because of the reciprocity principle, people will return holiday cards from people they don’t even know!
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or