The principle of reciprocity: Concept, examples and how to avoid it

Reciprocity principle

From a young age, they teach us to be grateful and to return the favors they have done us. We have this rule so internalized that it works automatically in many cases. The problem is that there are people, companies and associations that use this rule against us, without our realizing it. In this article I will explain what the principle of reciprocity consists of, examples of it and we will see how we can avoid its negative effects.

What is the principle of reciprocity?

The principle of reciprocity is one of the principles of influence that makes us obliged to reciprocate the favors that have been done us, even in cases in which we have not asked for them.

The principle of reciprocity is one of the 6 principles of influence enunciated by book Influence: Science and Practice.

One of the basic norms of human society is based on the reciprocity of favors. We all know the saying:

"It is well born, to be grateful"

In fact, having a reputation for being ungrateful or “free” is one of the worst stigmas that can be given in a society. We could say that the principle of reciprocity helps make society more "just".

The problem comes when some individuals or groups take advantage of the principle of reciprocity to submit the will of another person without their decision benefiting them at all. Below we will see examples of how some take advantage of this fact.

Examples of the reciprocity principle

The Hare Krishna method of obtaining alms is one of the best examples of the way in which the principle of reciprocity influences our decisions. Rather than simply asking passersby for donations to fund their cause, they devised a much more effective system. What they did was give a flower to each person and refuse to have it returned. Once they received the "gift", they were asked for a donation to their organization. In this way, the organization's income soared.

The principle of reciprocity is also effective through a concession, such as making a request less than an initial one. In other words, someone else is more likely to accept your request if you first make a much bigger request than he or she rejects, since the principle of reciprocity will make them feel “indebted” to you even though you haven't actually done them any favors.

How to avoid the principle of reciprocity

To avoid making wrong decisions due to the principle of reciprocity, the essential thing is to know how to say no. For example, when someone offers you something that you are not really interested in, it is best that you refuse, since possibly that person wants to obtain some favorable treatment from you in the future, even if it is unconsciously. In other words, we should only accept favors that are useful to us and that are done in "good faith."

In the event that they do us a favor that we have not asked for the purpose of influencing our behavior, we must be aware that if they ask us for something that we would not do if it were not for the prior favor, we must refuse to do so. That is, we must act as if they have done us no favors, as it has only been a ruse to influence our future decisions.

Robert Cialdini's Influence Summary on video

Here you have the summary of the book Influencia de Robert Cialdini, made by Adrián Godás de

  • Commitment and consistency
  • Sanción social
  • Simpatía
  • Authority
  • Shortage