Collect IOUs for influencing people

Want someone to do you a favour? Well, do him a favour first. Simple! Yes, that is what Robert Cialdini calls ‘the principle of reciprocation.’ Try it — it works!

In a fun experiment, Professor Dennis Regan of Cornell University tested the reciprocity principle in what seemed to be an “art appreciation experiment.”

Walking down a gallery of colourful paintings, people were asked to rate paintings with a partner. This partner was, in fact, the researcher’s confederate.

Halfway through the walk, the Confederate left the room and came back after a while with some soft drinks. In some cases, though, he came back empty-handed.

Collect IOUs for influencing people

At the end of this ‘artful’ exercise, the confederate asked the person they were paired with whether they would be willing to do him a favour by buying raffle tickets from him. Yes — you guessed it right.

People who had received a bottle of soft drink were far more likely to purchase tickets. Now here is the interesting part: the tickets were far more expensive than the drink was!

This experiment shows us a sliver of the human mind — how sensitive we are to a favour done to us. We hold it in high regard.

Reciprocity helps build a relationship. In today’s world, it works in the world of social media too. If I share your post on Facebook, you will also be disposed to sharing yours.

If I re-tweet you, you’ll feel more inclined to re-tweet me.

People remain sincere to what they have pledged. Repeated experiments have shown that when you first make a teeny-weeny commitment to someone, and then that person requests you to make a larger commitment, you will be more or less want to return the favour regardless of the ticket-size of the favour.

It’s all because of cognitive dissonance, people say. On receiving a favour, one incorporates it in his self-image. He feels indebted. He has to balance the equation whenever he gets the opportunity. If, when the opportunity presents itself, he refuses to repay the favour, he’d be plagued with a feeling of dissonance.

Want to build mutually helpful relationships at work? Make sure you collect IOUs. It will help you not just professionally, but also in building strong relationships.