Reciprocation – Psychology of Persuasion

Christmas was just over, did you receive some Christmas gifts? Not from your loved ones, but some friends, unexpectedly. Out of the blue, they took out a nicely wrapped Christmas present, be it just a simple chocolate bar inside. However, you looked around and you had NO present to give back! Oh no! Well, you could only receive and got nothing to “repay”. (In your mind: “S***, I should have prepared something, now I feel so embarrassed to take it! I must return a gift somehow!”). Do you have such encounter? OR…

One day you urgently need your colleague’s help to cover your duty due to some emergency family issues (e.g. kid’s fallen sick). The colleague’s lending hands have allowed you to take care of the issue. Naturally, you feel the need to pay the debt of kindness by treating him/her a feast or returning the favor in the future.

Those feelings of repaying and psychology are because of reciprocity!

New year new resolutions! One of mine is to study at least 20 books! (Not ambitious enough right? lol). The key word here is STUDY, not scan through but really understand and pick up the essence of the books. To kick-start my nerdy yet rewarding habit, I have chosen INFLUENCE: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PERSUASION by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini.

There are 6 weapons of influence to persuade people effectively; Reciprocation, Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity. These are powerful weapons that can be fully utilized by salespeople who need to be persuasive and convincing. Today I am going to focus on Reciprocation.



We subscribe to the rules of reciprocity because we are naturally social being. From Dr. Robert, there are two main takeaways under reciprocation;

  1. Reciprocal obligations
  2. Rejection-then-retreat

Reciprocal obligations, in simple term, will be being obliged due to indebtedness. Helping hands from colleagues, repaying one’s kindness, and compensating one’s efforts are examples of reciprocal obligations. How can this tool be used for business or sales? One common example is giving out free gift or samples. The receiver will feel indebted to the giver so the chances of repaying by purchasing the products are high. (BUT! nowadays, people just take these for granted, FREE what? No harm to take it, no string attached, bro!). From my experience as a sales engineer, the commitment to help out the customers can really create the reciprocal obligations in customers’ mind. There is one case where our company is not the service provider, however, when the customer faces some issues, we provide our services and advice to them to really solve the problem free of charge. At the end, due to the contract with the existing vendor, we can’t just take over the job. Instead, for the future jobs, we are the first comes to the customer’s mind.
Putting in the other words, “You help me, I help you” is the essence of reciprocal obligations.

Rejection-then-retreat is another powerful technique. Suppose you want me to agree to the certain request. One way to increase your chances would be first to make a LARGER request of me, one that I will most likely turn down. Then, after I have rejected, you would make the SMALLER request that you were really interested in all along. Provided that you have structured your requests skillfully, I should view your second request as a concession to me and should feel inclined to respond with a concession of my own (retreat), which is to comply your second request. Sound familiar? It is so common in the sales field. For example in retail, stuff will show you an expensive jacket first, then take out a cheaper and nice jacket later, you will retreat to buy the second one. For engineered solution providers, they can offer two technology alternatives, strategically present the first. In neuro-linguistic programming, we call this “double bind”, it is also known as “alternative close”.

Perhaps think of how to apply these two techniques in your daily life, work, and business. Just imagine, girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s request for some gifts (a big diamond ring vs Chanel’s earrings / New Nintendo’s Switch vs a PS4 game). LOL. Have a great week ahead ;D

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