Understand How to Use Reciprocity

21.12.2016 |

Episode #7 of the course Psychological tools and traps in negotiation by George Siedel


Welcome to the seventh lesson of the course. The key message in this lesson: reciprocity is a fundamental human need that is useful in negotiations.

In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini devotes an entire chapter to “Reciprocation,” the fundamental need that we humans have to repay someone who has done something for us. He quotes anthropologist Richard Leakey, who notes that reciprocity makes us human: “We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation.”

We can all think of examples of reciprocity. Let me share one that involved my negotiation with a young girl. One of my students invited me to participate in his wedding in Mumbai, India. One afternoon I had some free time and decided to go for a walk in the beautiful terraced gardens known as the Hanging Gardens at the top of Malabar Hill.

As I approached the gardens, a young street girl, probably eleven or twelve years old, approached me and wanted to sell me a fan made out of peacock feathers. After I told her I wasn’t interested, she followed me into the gardens and explained the vegetation and structures in the gardens. What did I buy at the end of the tour? A peacock feather fan. The girl may have been young, but she had an intuitive understanding of the power of reciprocity.

Often overlooked in discussions of reciprocity is what has been called the “Ben Franklin effect,” or what I call reverse reciprocity. Instead of doing something for someone else in the hopes that they will reciprocate, ask them to do something for you.

As Franklin put it, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” For example, in trying to secure the friendship of a rival, Franklin asked to borrow one of the rival’s rare books. The rival obliged and in returning the book, Franklin thanked him profusely. They became good friends after that.

The next lesson explains the contrast principle, which you can use to encourage your negotiation counterpart to select an option you prefer. The lesson includes a humorous example in the form of a letter from a woman to her parents in which she explains her challenging experiences at college.

Best, George


Recommended book

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Cialdini


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