Posted tagged ‘Triggers’

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.

Managing by Priority

October 29, 2008

A little more than ten years ago, when I began to actively study business process redesign, I came across a book titled Managing by Priority: Thinking Strategically, Acting Effectively. The book’s author, Giorgio Merli, introduced me to a concept called time “horizons” and its role in decision making.

There are a number of ways to understand this concept. On a personnel level, think of it in terms of a typical departmental organization. A customer facing employee (sales reps, customer support staff) operate in an immediate time horizon. There job is to address whatever issue the client or prospect puts in front of them. A departmental manager typically has a longer time horizon. Their thoughts are more focused on a year or two down the road. A general corporate manger is focused typically on a three to five year plan.

From an initiative perspective, to be successful, a company has to effectively pursue objectives with three different time horizons (short, medium, and long) and at the same time manage emergency situations. If they are effective at doing so, the results of their efforts will be seen at different times.

Emergencies are typically problems to be solved or opportunities to be capitalized upon. A work stoppage or the ability to deliver a product or service caused by a “trigger” in the environment is a common example. Success rests on quick reaction times, improvisation and rapid deployment.

Short-term objectives are usually aimed at operational performance. Examples include issues related to quality, cost, processes, and financial results. Corporate leadership will typically frame these as annual objectives.

Medium-term objectives are those that concentrate on assuring that the business will still be competitive two to three years down the road. Leaders would focus on organizational capabilities after assessing where they think the competition will put the company at risk and market trends. Think new product development, retooling and significant technology improvements at this level.

The long-term objectives are more closely aligned with a five to ten year horizon. This point of view looks at where the company must be in terms of its organizational and cultural shape. It is for this reason that the word “vision” is commonly associated with long-term thinking.

If you look for it, you’ll find this pattern of time horizons appearing a lot and in places such as business process redesign, portfolio analysis and – you guessed it – strategy.

Does your mix of initiatives address all of these time horizons? More important, is your leadership team evaluating all of these time horizons when building your strategic plan?


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