So is the “Principle of Reciprocity” manipulative?

reciprocity-in-providing-in-home-servicesAs a kid you hated it when your parents argued. And even though I am far from being a “kid” anymore I still feel the same way when my favorite authors disagree with each other. For example…

In a recent blog post on LinkedIn, Adam Grant author of the excellent Give and Take, was taking issue with Robert Cialdini. Mr. Cialdini wrote what I feel is the most important book ever published on psychology, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini stated that when someone says thank you we normally say “You’re welcome”. But instead he suggests you reply: I know you would do the same for me.” The problem for Adam Grant (and for a lot of other people) is this is not how we were brought up.

Look at it this way. You have just finished cleaning Mrs. Johnson’s carpet. Now she is thanking you like you just saved her life. (Actually you may have just saved the dog’s life.) Now according to Cialdini’s you should reply: “I know you would do the same for me.” So now Mrs. Johnson is trying to figure out how she is going to clean YOUR carpet!

This exchange is based on one of Cialdini’s most important concepts: the principle of “Reciprocity”. As humans, we generally aim to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they have treated us. Now you know why. These impulses are motivated by our feelings of “reciprocal giving”.

“Reciprocity” is why we feel obliged to offer gifts, favors, concessions or discounts to others if they have offered them to us. This is because we’re uncomfortable with subconsciously feeling “indebted” to them.

So here is the problem. No one (including Mrs. Johnson above) likes to feel indebted long term. And you most certainly want Mrs Johnson to feel great (not “indebted”) about you and her cleaning experience. Why? Because we learn from Steve Toburen in our SFS seminar that 80% of how the customer decides if it was a “good job” or a “bad job” is based on how they FEEL about the person providing the service!

So how can you reply to Mrs. Johnson’s “gushing gratitude” so she does not feel indebted to you long term? Of course basic good manners state you can reply with a sincere “thank you”. But then follow that up with “I love helping people just as much as I’m sure you do.”  This is a subtle way of saying, “Yes, you probably would like to help me too!”

Now you can build on this subconscious thought by subtly showing Mrs. Johnson how she can “repay” you! Simply mention a little later in the conversation, “I’ve enjoyed working with you, Mrs. Johnson. And I would really appreciate you referring me to your friends and neighbors. (Pause) Or if you really want to thank me you could share your feelings about my work online in…”  (Now you just mention locally popular social review sites.)

I find it interesting that it isn’t just learned authors that can disagree on Reciprocity. This topic even pops up on our industry internet discussion forums. The sticking point is always Cialdini’s principle of Reciprocity in action…

Some cleaners and restorers say putting Reciprocity to work is just good business. But others view it as a very manipulative technique. I personally believe if you are in business because you truly like being of service to people then Reciprocity can be a force for good. After all, think about it…

Technicians who are proficient at “up-selling” Scotchgard or pet odor deodorization usually are looking out for the best interests of ALL concerned. If the tech is selling a service ONLY because it makes them money it quickly becomes apparent in their body language and voice tone. This inevitably will soon lead to a lack of trust from their customers and the gradual erosion of sales.

So let me make peace between Mr. Cialdini and Mr. Grant and all you cleaners out there bickering about “Reciprocity Manipulation”. Whether you choose to say “You’re welcome” or “I love helping people just as much as I’m sure you do” just please… be SINCERE!

After all, “I’m sincere in my dealings and I know you and my other readers are too!”

Bill Yeadon

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