Thursday, January 31, 2013

The power of reciprocation

Reciprocation is what happens when you give someone a Valentine's Day card and they return the favor by giving you one back.  You may not have received a Valentine from this person originally, but after you have given them one, with no expectations of course, they feel compelled to reciprocate.

Reciprocation is a corner stone of society.  If no one ever reciprocated the sharing of a gift of time, money, resources, or knowledge, very few people would be willing to share anything.  Hoarding their possessions and resources for fear that they would be taken advantage of.  When we can trust that our gift doesn't stop at the receiver, either they return the favor or pay it forward, we open up as individuals and become a part of the society.

The interesting thing about the power of reciprocity is that the initial giver, has all the power.  The person who initiates the first gift obviously gets to choose the nature of the first gift, but they also get to choose the nature of the reciprocated gift.  

In the movie Pay it Forward, Haley Joel Osment's character demands that the people he helps can't repay him, they have to "pay it forward."  You could also change the nature of the reciprocated gift by asking for something totally different than the gift you gave.  I.e. you could give someone a soda and then ask if they will cover your shift on Saturday.

In almost all societies, there is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to reciprocate.  

The above illustrates that you won't feel awkward giving an unsolicited gift, the receiver will accept the gift regardless of their interest in said gift or feelings toward you, and the receiver will feel a burden to return the favor.

This can be applied to almost any situation where you want to solicit a positive response from someone by first giving them a gift.  They will see your next request as the quickest way to relieve themselves from the burden of being indebted to you.

If you like social experiments, try this:  Pick 3 people at random around your office, and give them a gift.  It can be as simple as bringing in donuts or doing a nice deed for them.  Then see how they respond to the urge to repay your kindness.  If you want to take it a step further, you can ask for a specific favor in return.  The initial favor you did will increase the likelihood that they will grant your favor.