Posted tagged ‘reciprocation’

The Compelling Role of Reciprocation

June 4, 2009

At its core, a “weapon of influence” is a trigger. It stimulates a response that is truly compelling and one that we have difficulty ignoring.

The first “weapon of influence” is one that Cialdini refers to as reciprocation. You can see the concept of reciprocation being put into play every single day. Those address labels that accompany the letter requesting that you donate to a worthy cause… reciprocation, in this case, in the form of an uninvited debt. Gifts to politicians with the intention of receiving support later on…reciprocation. Even the free sample given by manufacturers with the intention of exposing someone to a product is still another form of – you guessed it – reciprocation. And it is core to the way we raise our children (i.e. the golden rule and if you want him to be nice to you, you have to treat him nicely)

The rule of reciprocation states that “we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us.” The need to reciprocate is a self-imposed obligation that we place on ourselves. You can even see it in our language as “much obliged” has become synonymous with “thank you.” In fact, this sense of obligation is pervasive in all human society.

In reading Cialdini’s work, I was frankly ambivalent. On the one hand, I was concerned that I was becoming wise to ways that I was being manipulated (or, dare I say, in fact, manipulating others). However, as I reflected more and more on the book, I realized that these influence factors are truly an engine for advancement and care.

Some sociologists note that this sense of future obligation has made a significant difference in our ability to evolve because it meant that what we shared, gave, or even taught, would not be lost. Reciprocation is the basis of trade, mutual defense and perhaps even friendship. Those who do not live by the rule of reciprocation are ultimately scorned (i.e moocher or ingrate). Reciprocation does indeed create a positive cultural norm.

The rule is also overpowering that it can even overcome dislike for the requester. Cialdini cites the Hare Krishna as truly understanding the rule. When they would solicit passerbys, they would not only offer a flower, but they would insist that the flower be accepted. They referred to it as “gift” and would not accept no for an answer. Fundraising was so successful that two important phenomena should be noted.

The first is that the passerbys often discarded the flower at the first available trash can. The Krishnas were thus able to recycle the gifts. There is also now a common practice in many airports to restrict solicitations to certain discrete areas simply because the power of obligation to accept a gift and to repay it is so overwhelming.

The reciprocation rule can also trigger unfair exchanges. Cialdini cites a woman whose car wouldn’t start. She was helped by a young man. About a month later, the young man asked to borrow the car, and while the woman hesitated, she felt compelled to lend him her car, even though she had misgivings about his age. Needless to say the young man totaled the car. The lesson though is that indebtedness and the need to reciprocate is an itch that we must scratch.

There are exceptions and they typically fall into the category of circumstance or ability. If circumstances or ability prevent us from reciprocating, we allow ourselves that latitude

The area that was particularly enlightening to me was the concept of reciprocal concession. This is a common tactic in negotiations where one party asks for something that would be deemed inappropriate simple so that the offer can be withdrawn and replaced by a less outrageous offer. The other party often feels a need to reciprocate to the concession and agrees to the new request.

To make this point, Cialdini draws on the testimony of Nixon associate Jeb Stuart Magruder, upon hearing that the Watergate burglars had been caught, responded by asking, “How could we have been so stupid?”

As the story goes, it seems that G. Gordon Liddy, who was in charge of the intelligence gathering for the Nixon campaign, had initially asked for $1,000,000 in cash for a wide range of activities. Magruder and Campaign Director John Mitchell kept declining the offer. Liddy kept scaling back the request until finally the rule of reciprocal concession kicked in and his request for $250,000 in cash for the break-in was approved.

As to more mundane examples, think of the salesman who shows you the top of the line product so that he can scale you back to sell you a more “affordable” item in the product line

Is there a way to say no? Cialdini suggests that one can say no if one adopts a mindset that recognizes the tactic for what is. This requires us to cognitively understand that reciprocation is a tactic and be present so that the tactic can be effectively managed.


The Psychology of Persuasion

June 1, 2009

About a week ago, I had dinner with one of my favorite friends. Andy’s mind is always racing. He had served as CEO of a very successful company in Buffalo, NY that was recognized as being a model for one of the most outstanding places to work in that region. Andy is also a serial entrepreneur and his quick and agile mind has enabled him to create, build and overcome almost any challenge.

I enjoy our dinners for so many reasons. It is a chance to catch up with a friend whom I admire and at the same time, I always discover that I have learned something insightful and valuable after we have spent time together. After four hours of dining and conversation with Andy, I found myself mentally exhausted but intellectually stimulated.

A significant portion of our evening’s discussion focused on the work of Dr. Robert Caldini. He’s the Ph.D. referenced in one of my earlier posts. I had bought his seminal work, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, about the same time as I had read the Time Magazine article. It was on my list of must-reads – I just hadn’t created the space to get through it.

Andy had met with Cialdini and was very favorably influenced by his thinking. This was the impetus that I needed to pick up Cialdini’s book.

Cialdini’s book is a mix of theoretical study and empirical research. He cites the works of others but frequently intertwines their research with his own experiences and investigations into how our minds assist others in moving us to certain decisions – often without us even realizing it.

His work is important. While it teaches us how our minds work, it also teaches us how to move people to appropriate directions. I don’t view his book as a study in manipulation. In fact, I believe it to be just the opposite. If you subscribe to the strategy of pre-eminence, that is, that as leaders and business consultants we have an obligation to help people past their fears while addressing their concerns, Caldini gives us methods to consider. Like everything in the world, it can be used appropriately or not.

With that as introduction, let us look at the six factors that he refers to as “weapons of influence.” These six are:

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Effectively employing these six factors allows one to perform a mental ju-jitsu on the other party. In his terms, it allows one to leverage the natural beliefs and inclinations of the buyer to create a preferred outcome for the seller.

To illustrate these weapons of influence / ju-jitsu perspectives, he poses the question about whether a salesperson would be more effective selling a high priced item before selling a low priced item or the other way around. In other words, which approach is more likely to result in both items being sold?

One’s initial thought might be to sell the low priced item and establish a “foot in the door.” However, marketers have discovered, particularly with higher priced items, that the exact opposite is true.

Think about it.

After you have bought the tailored suite or the fashionable dress, it is only then that the salesperson suggests that you might want to look at shirts, ties, socks, or accessories and shoes. There is a simple reason for this approach and it is the concept of “contrast.”

After spending a significant amount of money, the cost of the additional item does not seem all that much. By contrast, buying a sweater to complete a look is an insignificant purchase.

In our next post, we’ll look at the first of these weapons that Cialdini outlines – reciprocation.

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