In Psychology, Reciprocity is a universally accepted social rule. Reciprocity is ‘the practice of exchanging things for mutual benefit’. It involves treating others the way that they treat us. We use it continually within our social lives without even thinking, so how is reciprocity of benefit in business?

Reciprocity is an important part of the persuasion and influencing process in our business lives. It has to be used with care because there is a fine line between reciprocal behaviour and ingratiating behaviour. Sometimes ingratiation can be used to ‘prime’ individuals and make them more amenable to being influenced. It is potentially dangerous as it can be seen as ‘under-hand’ behaviour. Reciprocity uses the similar principle of giving to get and again there is a potential problem that our ‘giving’ may be seen as strategic and can produce compliance when influencing rather than commitment.

Hand ShakeReciprocity when used in an honest, meaningful way with integrity can be incredibly powerful. At OnTrack one of our core values that underpins how we work is our commitment to doing the best for the client, helping the client make the right solutions and ensuring that we deliver the solution that will really add value. We have found that reciprocity when used to help us do this can be incredibly valuable. However, it is important that our mind set is not about ‘giving to get’ but more about adding tangible value to our client.
An additional benefit of reciprocity is that it makes you feel good – how did you feel when you last gave someone your unexpired parking ticket or a still valid travel card for the tube? Being on the receiving end of reciprocity is also a great feeling – I still remember the man in Hong Kong who gave me money to put into a machine for a train ticket when I only had a credit card….and that was over 10 years ago. Consider how we will tend to give a waiter or waitress a bigger tip if they smile at us and clearly demonstrate warmth and interest.

Consider how we can build and strengthen relationships with our clients by applying unselfish reciprocity in our dealings with them. Offering to do a coaching session for no fee, giving them a book which you feel has value for them, inviting them to an event which would be of interest – these are all examples of how we can apply reciprocity in our business lives. This is not about being uncommercial but more about being interested and caring for our clients.

The big difference between reciprocity in business and in our social lives is that in a social setting those on the receiving end of reciprocal behaviour or actions will usually reward with behaviour or actions of an equal ‘value’……in a business environment the rewards may be far greater in that for those simple acts of kindness, our prize will be a client who regards us not just as a vendor but as a trusted advisor who is not a cost but an asset.