The Law of Reciprocity


When we seek to gain the cooperation of others, we generally use words and actions to try to persuade them to do what we want. Using logic and reason is clearly an effective approach for motivating others to think and act in a manner that helps us achieve our goals and aspirations, but others’ attitudes and mindsets toward us also can be important factors in gaining their cooperation. We can have a powerful argument for why someone should work with us in a particular situation, but if they have little genuine desire to do so, our request could be in vain. Similarly, in situations where our reasons may not be the greatest, we may be able to get the support and cooperation of others simply because they sincerely want to help us.

One of the ways we can get others to become more willing to help us achieve our objectives in life is to make a conscious effort to help others achieve their objectives. This principle is often referred to as the law of reciprocity, which maintains that when you do something positive for someone else, he or she will feel a compelling emotional urge to reciprocate, that is, do something positive for you. With reciprocity, a small, voluntary favor can produce a sense of obligation to do a much larger return favor, and, because the law of reciprocity generates a sense of ongoing cooperation, it can help us create and grow relationships with other people.

This is not the same as a contractual obligation, where by agreement someone does something for you in exchange for your doing something for them, such as in a traditional business transaction. Neither does it involve pretending to be sincere and helpful in order to trick others into feeling a sense of obligation. If used as a manipulative tactic, people will quickly see through it, and not only will it not likely work, it could even backfire. When we try to generate reciprocity in an obvious manner, we lose sight of the essential reason for it; namely helping others without asking for anything in return.

The benefit of the law of reciprocity is that, by voluntarily giving something of perceived value away without any obligation whatsoever attached, we generate a feeling in others of wanting to return the favor, and this puts them in a frame of mind to want to help us should a future opportunity arise. Paradoxically, it is in helping others without expecting anything in return that we derive the maximum benefit of the power of reciprocity. Since we never know who may be the one to provide us assistance and cooperation at any given moment, we should be continually on the lookout for ways in which we may be able to help others without regard to what they can do for us at that moment.

By getting others to realize that we are genuinely interested in helping them achieve their needs in life, they will be much more receptive to cooperating with us when an opportunity for them to be of assistance in helping us achieve our needs presents itself. Being mindful of the law of reciprocity can provide us with an important tool for increasing our persuasive ability as well as our interpersonal effectiveness overall.

Pat Iannuzzi of Symbiont Performance Group, Inc. is a performance consultant, trainer and coach focusing on selling, presentation and interpersonal skills. He lives in Litchfield and can be reached at 860-283-9963 or


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