The Manipulative Power of Reciprocity Reply

By Chris Simmons

One of the many tools of persuasion is reciprocity. This simple technique works because when someone does a favor for us, it triggers a psychological need to “return the favor.”

It is why organizations send gifts in their fundraising appeals. Even though you didn’t ask for the item, you now own it and feel indebted to the other party. And remember, the favor received need not be a physical object. Anything provided by another, such as their time, information, or service, is enough to create a sense of obligation. To not reciprocate actually makes many people feel uncomfortable.

The psychological pressure of reciprocity is real. For example, I regularly take road trips with family members. When we stop for gas, many of my relatives that go into the Mini-Mart to use the rest room will buy something on their way out of the convenience store. In their experience, the fact that I just bought gas from the vendor is irrelevant. They made eye contact and/or spoke to the clerk on the way to the rest room and in doing so, became personally obligated to him/her because that’s the person who has to clean the bathroom. Their small purchase – an act of reciprocity – cancels their debt.

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