What is the Law of Reciprocity?
When someone does something nice for you, shows you kindness or goes the extra mile, we experience an automatic emotional urge to do something nice in return. This psychological law is universal in all cultures, worldwide, and is quite a powerful social tool that can increase loyalty and cooperation.
We categorize this concept as a “law” as it is part of human nature to be “even” with others. For instance, someone gives you something, you automatically feel compelled to show gratitude and even reciprocate. In some cultures, great offense is taken when reciprocation doesn’t occur, so be mindful of that when dealing with others.
Reciprocal vs. Altruistic Action
Reciprocal action induces a cycle of giving and receiving. The initial giving is often made with the intent of creating a reaction or receiving. For instance, I give you support during a challenge, and you do the same for me when it’s my turn to go through a challenge. Altruistic giving is when you give without the intent of receiving anything in return. An example would be when a parent cares for their child. It is important to determine your intent prior to giving to expect the correct result.
How can the Law of Reciprocity be applied in different situations?
Reciprocity + Happiness
Happiness is highly contagious and expands using reciprocity. The more you are creating happiness for yourself and others, the more you’ll experience happiness, as it will come back to you. You can think of happiness as an accrual of smaller events that contribute to your happiness…and the more you cause these events to happen, the happier you (and the people around you) become.
Reciprocity + Relationships
Do you want better relationships? Reciprocity plays a critical role in relationships with others. It helps build feelings of trust, appreciation and loyalty. This is a repeated pattern where an endless cycle of giving and receiving exists and relationships thrive.
You’ll notice that lasting relationships have a strong cycle of reciprocity. Both sides keep giving and receiving. There are cycles of support, encouragement and in some cases love. When one party stops giving, you’ll notice the other party may stop as well. And that is when relationships potentially fail.
You can use reciprocity to breathe life back into relationships that have become stagnant or are on the path to their end by starting the reciprocity cycle back up again. It will increase feelings of kindness and trust while solidifying the relationship.
Know when to walk away from or minimize non-reciprocal relationships. Surround yourself with people who support you and care about you in the same manner you care about them. You are worthy of wonderful people in your life friends, never sell yourself short.
Reciprocity + Business
Reciprocity is influential in business as it persuades others to take action. When you plan your marketing and client experience using reciprocity, you’ll attract and develop a loyal following. Businesses take on the role of the giver to the client, enticing them to keep buying (and in many cases tell their friends.)
The behavior pattern of giving and receiving applies to many scenarios in business. The negotiation process is one of the most effective situations to use reciprocity. If the client wants to negotiate with you, this is your opportunity to negotiate in return. The result shifts from a win-lose to a win-win.
Reciprocity also applies in online and live communities. If you give others reasons to stay, they will, once those actions end, they’ll disengage or leave. Keep your community tight by continuously giving and you’ll see higher retention rates.
How to Trigger Reciprocity
- Decide to be the trigger to start the cycle of reciprocity.
- Give. Do something nice for someone.
- If they don’t respond with similar behavior, try it again.
- Eventually, the psychological response of reciprocity will kick in.
- Continue the cycle.*
*Be mindful of cues when others are not open to receive your efforts. If this is the case, move on to someone else so that feelings remain neutral in the relationship and don’t shift into becoming negative from unwanted attention.
A Warning On The Law of Reciprocity
The human desire for being “even” can also apply to negativity. If you do something that is hurtful to others, they may be compelled to hurt you back. Be sure that when you’re applying reciprocity that you keep it positive so positive comes back to you.