In this episode, I introduced the role that reciprocity norms should serve in your negotiations. If you bargain or try to make deals without paying attention to reciprocity, you may not get the outcome you have worked for – and you may lose your bearings on what is shaping the direction of a negotiation. Paying attention to reciprocity in a negotiation requires having an understanding and awareness of what reciprocity is all about.
In this episode, I introduced the role that reciprocity norms should serve in your negotiations. If you bargain or try to make deals without paying attention to reciprocity, you may not get the outcome you have worked for - and you may lose your bearings on what is shaping the direction of a negotiation. Paying attention to reciprocity in a negotiation requires having an understanding and awareness of what reciprocity is all about.
Reciprocity comes from the word reciprocal which might be more familiar to you:
Reciprocal means: used to describe a relationship in which two people or groups agree to do something similar for each other - for example to allow each other to have the same rights.
Reciprocity builds on that - and can be defined as a social norm that means you should repay - now or later - what someone has provided for you. Simply said, “you scratch my back, and I will scratch yours”.
If someone receives a birthday card, this action will likely cause them to do the same for that person’s birthday. If someone takes care of your dog while you are on vacation, then you would be expected to do the same for them.
It is also true, that if you violate this norm by accepting actions and things without reciprocating - you can expect that others will not like you for it. If you accept benefits and goods from others, but do nothing in return - you will be labeled - as an ingrate, free loader, or worse.
To reciprocate means that you are acting in response to someone or some entity who has done something for you - or has given you something. Your response to what they have done or given is often - at least in part - driven by a sense of indebtedness. You feel compelled to give them something. Someone is kind to you, and so you are inclined to be kind to them. Someone remembers your birthday - you want to remember theirs.
It reflects the Golden Rule from the Bible - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. An act of kindness towards another, typically generates thanks - and a desire to be kind in return. On the negative side, someone who punches someone in the nose - can reasonably expect that the the one on the receiving end will return the same.
It is so ingrained in us - that it is almost automatic - that we reciprocate when others do things to us or for us - or give to us. In a negotiation we need to monitor our actions and behavior so that what we think, say, and do - is in our best interests - and not just a reaction - or robotic response to what the other party is doing. Why? Because the other party may not be fair - and might even be exploitive - in how they interact in a negotiation. It may appear that they are following the norms of reciprocity - but in fact they are not.
Norms in reciprocity between negotiating parties means that in the give and take of the negotiating and bargaining process - after establishing defensible opening offerings or positions - that the concession phase would reflect some level of similar investment and offerings to build a yesable solution or deal. This could include reciprocity in the level of information sharing, being more creative in building an agreement, honesty, and effort to make the deal sustainable.
Because our inclination to reciprocate is so strong, many marketers - as well as others - exploit this by giving you something small - and making you feel indebted to them. A relational example that is unfortunately so prevalent would be a man buying his date a meal & a night out - then expecting something more than a handshake from her in return - irrespective of her wishes. Another way to say it is that the gift has strings attached. It is not really a gift then, it is an exchange of goods - and the clear implication is that to not comply means you are not paying for what was given.
Often times it is poor people - or those with fewer options who are exploited with reciprocity. For example, take the guy with poor credit who walks in a car dealer needing a car. The sales person realizes he has poor credit - and says - look I will take care of you and get the credit you need. Then when this is arranged - the sales person finds a car for the buyer who is now indebted to the sales person for having gone above and beyond to get him credit - and sells the over-priced car to him. Why would someone buy an over-priced car? Because the car buyer reciprocates for the so-called favor of getting buying credit from the seller - and as a result avoids bargaining for a fair car price.
In this car buy example, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see these things happen - because there is a strategic move by the professional to control the buyer - by getting them to reciprocate - and consequently overspend. What happened is that buyer originally wanted to buy a car - but now they find themselves paying off a reciprocity “debt” to the sales person for getting them the credit to buy the car.
Research on negotiation and influence would say that the waitress’s approach to service I described in the podcast - included three key things:
1- She was the first to give something. She gave the Coke.
2- The service was very personalized - it was just for Bob - and what he had asked for.
3 - It was unexpected. Bob did not anticipate nor could he have expected that the waitress could come up with a Coke. But she did.
So the give and take in both little and big negotiation situations is best supported when actions take place the build and nurture a level of trust that permits discussing and developing mutually agreeable solutions. The norm of reciprocity explains why we are inclined to do things when interacting with others. For example, what good someone might have done for us generates a certain level of appreciation and potentially trust.
In practicing reciprocity, there are some things to remember -
Have a reputation and practice for being trustworthy - and integrity to fulfill commitments.
Do unto others - Be fair. Some would say be fair to those who are fair to you - but if that is the case, I would defer to the next point. .
But if a party is unfair to you, you need to reposture and confront the behavior or action - signaling you know about it - and that it has and will continue to affect the negotiation until addressed.
And then - be prepared to make an exception to the norm of reciprocity. Of course as we have discussed already, if the other party is using a reciprocity ploy to indebt you to them - for exploitation - then the right norm is to not reciprocate in the usual way. The other time to make an exception to reciprocity - is when you have given something - and you give without expecting to receive - because the other party cannot - or you choose not to expect anything in return - because it is best for your relationship - or another cause.
On the podcast, you heard President Lyndon Baines Johnson speaking to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965 calling for Congress to move on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is one of the top ten speeches in the Twentieth Century - and some would argue one of the finest times of his Presidency. As noted by Roger Wilkins and others, President Johnson is considered by many to have provided the most beneficial Presidential leadership for blacks up to that point in time. President Johnson had worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to enact critical and essential civil rights legislation.
But by 1968 when President Johnson had become engulfed in the ramp up of the Vietnam War, President Johnson’s relationship with Dr. King Jr. was breached. How did this happen? Putting it simply, because of all President Johnson had done for Dr. King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, the President expected Dr. King Jr. to help him out with supporting him in the war effort. Instead, Dr. King Jr. was vocally anti-war on the matter. Consequently, due to President Johnson’s view of the norms of reciprocity - he then treated Dr. King Jr. as an ingrate. Someone who took his support, but did not help in return.
President Johnson failed to see that at times you make an exception to reciprocity. Sometimes being generous is the better course. President Johnson lost sight of balance in the norm of reciprocity. If someone doesn’t reciprocate, don’t just assume it is a lack of integrity or good sportsmanship - step back to see if you are reacting as a robot to norms - without applying judgement. In the end, Johnson’s legacy with respect to civil rights was diminished because of how he later treated some of the leaders due to this issue.
So in the end, when you negotiate keep track of the value and price tags on things given to you, or done for you. And keep those things you do - or give in return - to be on a par with them. Not everything received needs to be kept, and don’t be shy about addressing ploys, and unfairness - that may just be what is needed to keep a potential deal alive - that you want to make happen.
A little reciprocity goes a long ways. Malcolm Forbes
It is more blessed to give than to receive. Acts 20:35