“Rather go to bed supperless than to rise in debt.”
~ Benjamin Franklin
When I was growing up, a favorite fundraiser for our church group was to sponsor a “Free Car Wash” at the local Arby’s. Arby’s would donate the water, and we would all stand in the parking lot, armed with buckets, sponges, soap and towels to attack any car that cared to take advantage of our service.
How did we raise money, you ask? After a group of teenagers hand soaped, scrubbed, rinsed and dried the car, we would ask for a donation. Not only did the drivers usually donate money for the free carwash, they donated MORE than they would have had to pay at a regular carwash!
So, why do even the savviest and brightest of us sometimes comply to another’s request even when it might not make sense? We’ll be exploring some of the 6 key Weapons of Influence based on the research of Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.*
“Reciprocation” is the second weapon of influence mentioned in his book. Simply put, people of all cultures follow the basic rule that says we should “try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided for us.”
“And, forgive us our debts….”
What makes the effect of this principle so strong? We hate to be in someone else’s debt. We learn very early that people who take and make no effort to give are “moochers”, “users”, and “free-loaders”… that it’s shameful not to return a favor. And, we’ll go to great lengths to relieve our sense of indebtedness!
In His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion the author tells the story of a university professor who tried an experiment around Christmas. He sent Christmas cards to total strangers. The result? Most people returned the favor and sent cards back to him, without ever asking who he was!
This principle works in marketing all the time! Research shows when we receive a small favor from someone, we are more likely to do what they wish.
See if you can identify what is expected of you in return for the following favors:
- Bell Hops carrying your bags to your room “complimentary”
- “Free” valet parking
- “Free” makeovers at cosmetics counters
- Free gift for listening to a Time Share pitch
- An expensive dinner on a first date
The law of reciprocity works in negotiation tactics as well. Let’s say a student approaches a professor and asks her to extend a deadline for his research paper. The professor agrees on the condition that the student adds 5 more sources to the paper. To relieve a sense of indebtedness, the student will likely agree.
- A word about motive
Frequently, people will do us a favor and it really is a favor, not a sales device. To be sure, the law of reciprocity can be used to take advantage of us, but there are certainly times when it is employed to bring about a greater good: fundraising, expressions of friendship and love, and as a fair exchange in business. The key is to sort out which is which!
The bottom line? Reciprocity makes our society work! It assures us that when we offer a service, favor or good, that we will most likely be repaid.
written by Cynthia Oelkers
* Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.