Reciprocity is one of Robert Cialdini’s Six Principle’s of Influence. The principle of reciprocity is probably the most well known of the six.
Reciprocity is the feeling – or emotional need – to return a favor when someone does something for you. If you buy me dinner, I feel obligated to do the same, or more, for you.
It’s thought to be one of those principles that works every time. However, like all psychological strategies it deals with humans. So it doesn’t.
Have you ever struggled to figure out why reciprocity didn’t work?
Here are three ways to know when and why your attempt to use reciprocity doesn’t work.
Time heals all wounds. At least that’s how the saying goes.
Time also reduces the effectiveness of reciprocity. Why?
People forget things over time. Duh.
That’s not a big surprise.
The longer you wait to ask for the return of your favor, the less likely it will have impact.
2. Emotional Distance
The less emotional attachment you have, the less likely you’ll feel obligated to return the favor.
A close friend helps you out. You feel obligated to help him when he asks.
A stranger helps you out. You briefly feel obligated to reciprocate.
If it’s not acted on right away, the feeling quickly fades.
This is why business people talk about building relationships instead of making sales. You want to build the emotional bond.
If you don’t you’ll hear, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” when they stop ordering from you.
3. Physical Distance
The further away you are, the less likely you’ll feel the need to reciprocate.
I think of the difference between a friend of mine who lived across town and a neighbor friend who both asked for help moving. Both had helped me in the past. One is very close, the other far away.
The one further away is more easy to not return the favor because of the physical distance.
Distance: The key factor to reciprocity failing
The further away you are in time, emotional, or physical distance the less likely reciprocity will have any effect.
And, when you combine the three – more time, less emotional attachment, and more physical distance – the greater the chance you’ll lose impact. In fact, it will create an expectation of free from the person you’re hoping to influence.
I see this with a lot of people who market online. They don’t understand how they’re building an expectation of free. They’ve been tricked to believe their visitors will feel the need to reciprocate.
Reciprocity is a fantastic strategy when used properly. Now beware. And keep these in mind before attempting to use the principle of reciprocity.