The Norm of Reciprocity. How do you get someone to do you a favor?

When someone does a favor for you, what is your most natural reaction? If you are like me, you want to pay back the favor—to reciprocate.

This hidden social rule for behavior is valid across cultures and is called the norm of reciprocity.
A norm is a social expectation that we all unconsciously agree to. It's not usually written down, but we learn it through observation, and it becomes part of what we consider “normal.”

We feel guilty when we violate a critical social norm—as if we are letting people down. This guilt can spur behaviors.

One of the reasons why we want to reciprocate favors is that we want to maintain a feeling of equality in our relationships (equity theory). Another reason is that we hold an unconscious belief that we have a specific responsibility towards others in our community.

This may be why it is so compelling when you offer a cheap or free service to a potential customer. When I was working at a pizza place at the age of fourteen, we gave out free samples of pizza to passers-by...Costco and Sam's still do this every day.

During college, I was offered a free weekend in Breckenridge if I would attend a presentation on time sharing for a condo. After college, a financial adviser offered me a “free” profile (allegedly worth $1000) in exchange for allowing him to do a presentation in my home. The list of free offers is limitless.

Sometimes we even feel this obligation to return the favor if we just see that the other person is making some kind of concession for us.

With this strategy, you make a request of a person that they will likely turn down (you don’t actually want them to accept this initial offer).

When they refuse, you immediately follow up with, “That’s understandable. But would you be willing to do this instead?”

The second offer seems much more comfortable to accommodate because it requires less risk, less investment, or less time to the person that you are trying to solicit help from.

The contrast effect is called a perceptual contrast. There are theories about why this strategy works so well. One theory is that we feel guilty for turning someone down for the initial favor, and when they ask the second favor, they seem to be making a concession first, which deserves our reciprocation in some way.

We all have this odd urge to want to reciprocate a favor. This effect has been shown to increase the amount of volunteer work college students will donate to a soup kitchen for the homeless.

It had also led home-owners to allow researchers to place a huge billboard on their front lawn for two weeks! It is surprising how helpful we all want to be.

There will come a time shortly when you will need to ask someone for a favor...make sure you think about upping your success rate by offering a favor or a concession first.

Classroom Quote:
We secure our friends not by accepting favors but by doing them.
Thucydides c. 460 – c. 400 BC) was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th-century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history". His text is still studied at universities and military colleges worldwide. More generally, Thucydides developed an understanding of human nature to explain behavior in such crises as plagues, massacres, and civil war.

Comment: When was the last time you did someone a favor?