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  • Writer's pictureRonald van Aggelen

Reciprocity: Why giving always leads to receiving

Once upon a time there was a department store, a large multi-storey store selling all kinds of items. From clothing to kitchen utensils and from furniture to toys. The name of that store was Vroom en Dreesman (V&D). The names of two families who had their department stores in different cities in the Netherlands for decades. Until they had to close their doors due to bankruptcy on December 31, 2015. Apart from my own memories of the school campus, the annual Christmas market in the store and the beautiful building in the city centre of Leiden, their marketing slogan will stay with me forever: “Give and receive”. While the Dutch saying is “give and take”. Quite the opposite to V&D's slogan.

Reciprocity is an incredibly powerful psychological phenomenon based on balance in the relationship between people

Because we feel calm and comfortable when there is balance between ourselves and others. No obligations, no differences, no hierarchy, and no dependency. If the balance is missing, we are constantly and diligently looking to restore it. The interesting thing is that we often do not do this consciously. And, as I have described before, consciously using unconscious processes is a super strong influencing technique.

The intrinsic need to always restore balance can be used to influence others. It already works on a subtle level: you pour water for someone and at some point, the other person will compensate that gesture with a gift. Or you receive a gimmick from a company, and you unconsciously look for what you can do in return. However, this mechanism does not always work immediately. It can have an effect over a longer period, but it always works. Keep in mind that it is essentially different from a “quid pro quo” approach. The latter has been made visible and enforceable and is a conscious experience.

With reciprocity however, it is an unconscious process for the other person. Of course, like all influencing techniques, there is always reluctance due to the fear of manipulation and abuse. That is why in reciprocity you see that it works best when you do it naturally, because you love to give. Do something for someone else, give away knowledge, or share your experience. When that is the case “getting” will come your way. I would say: try it in the workplace this week. “Give or share” and let me know what the effect was on others (

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