Weapon of Influence: Reciprocity

There is a parable…

…about a naive falcon who had an obsession for observing. The falcon soared above the graze lands where she watched herders and their sheep. On one particular day there was one particular rich herder who seized the falcon’s attention, as this herder was giving 100 of his sheep to a relatively close neighbor who was new to the area.

The falcon thought to herself,

“Why does this herder give away his sheep? What did this new neighbor do to deserve the herder’s gift?”

The falcon decided to keep a watchful eye on the herder and neighbor.

A year went by and the falcon saw the new neighbor diligently breed his new sheep. He used them for milk, wool, and only one for a feast that he prepared for the generous herder.

The falcon was also surprised to observe the herder receiving gifts from other neighbors. The falcon wasn’t so much surprised to see the herder receiving gifts, as much as the abundance of gifts received by the herder. So much that he was able to live off the gifts and still managed to regift some of the bounty.

One of the gifts was 500 sheep. The herder kept 300 sheep, and immediately re-gifted 200 sheep to a new neighbor.

The falcon wondered, “What did this new neighbor do to deserve the herder’s sheep?”

Another year had past, and the falcon was watching the neighbor who received the 100. The neighbor now had 300 sheep which he divided into two separate herds.

One herd of 200, and another of 100 sheep. The falcon observed inquisitively while the neighbor left home with the herd of 200.

“Surely this neighbor is not going to the rich herder,” the falcon thought, “for the neighbor has not seen the herder since he received the 100.”

But surely, the neighbor walked right over to the rich herder’s home, and gifted the rich man with 200 sheep.

Rich herders

It wouldn’t surprise me if the herder gave away 1000 sheep to 10 of his closest neighbors.

It’s not that the herder was necessarily giving out of the generosity of his heart. His gifts were investments, with expected returns. That is the nature of giving. It compels other to feel a responsibility to give back.

There are sales-people out there who methodically use reciprocity to prime our-automatic-selves to give them what they want. They give us little sweets, beautiful faces to talk to, buttons, stickers, christmas cards, you name it!

And this isn’t just a personal interaction. It permeates all areas of human relationships and communication, enough to have statistics published about international behavior—electronic reciprocity:

The network statistics per country above reveals that Japan, Canada, Indonesia and South Korea have highest percentage of reciprocity on Twitter. This is important because…


Giving spawns receiving.

Recently I had a friend share something of correlational value. He talked about being of service to others in his network to become valuable in a business [consulting] market.

This coincides with what my brother has reiterated to me over the past two years, ‘when I help others get what they want, I end up getting what I want.’ If you know my brother, he wants love, time-freedom, money, and a diverse learning experience.

Take away


But bee smart in the way you give, for its stewardship begets more to have and give.

Be conscious of the moments when reciprocation is happening. It is happening in life-long relationships, and it is happening on the street corner now. Most people conform to the psycho-social reality of reciprocity. But some have become aware and take advantage of it, selling you on shit you don’t really want!

A great book that talks about reciprocity—and five other unconscious-auto-selfs-that-react-instead-of-think—is called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition. This book was my introduction to reciprocity as a “weapon of influence” as Dr. Robert Cialdini calls it. This is a great read with true stories that characterize the nature of ourselves:

Apparently feeling that they owed him something, these subjects bought
twice as many tickets as the subjects who had not been given the prior

—Chapter 2: Reciprocation

Follow the affiliate link for a fun and insightful read: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition

Let me know if this was helpful. I hope it provided enough value for a share. 😉

  • Bethany Johnson

    This may be my most favorite topic ever.
    I especially love how you don’t touch on the questionable “right-or-wrong” moral aspect of reciprocity, you just explain what it is.

    For example, I felt myself bristle when I read, “His gifts were investments, with expected returns. That is the nature of giving.” I inwardly began to defend all the times I had given without expecting a return. But then I read your next sentence, “It compels the other to feel a responsibility to give back.” IT compels. Not YOU compel.
    You weren’t accusing me of anything. In fact, the concept had nothing to do with me. It was about giving.

    On another note, there’s an exception to this giving rule: kids.

    I have a house full of children these days and no, I’ve never comforted one hoping for a return. And never, I’m sure, have any of them ever thought, “I’ve got to show my mom how much this means to me.” Never. Developmentally, kids just can’t invest. And by the time they become old enough to consider what their parents have done, it would take them a lifetime to return the favor – and even then they’ll know it’s not enough.

    And as you know, there’s a certain freedom in giving yourself to someone who cannot pay back – ever. If I were honest, I prefer reciprocity, though.

    Great post, as usual. Keep writing.

    • http://www.benprindle.com/ Ben Prindle

      Yes! Though I believe there may be some degree of reciprocity between a child and an adult, it would seem the role of teacher would superseded the expectation of reciprocity, and rather teach it—”sharing is caring.” But, I have no idea what it is like to be a parent. The closest way I can imagine is putting myself in my own parents shoes. And they have given relentlessly; while I, am still learning to give back. 🙂

  • http://Www.Beautifullystrategic.com Bijou Schmidt

    Thanks for sharing. This reminds me of a video I watched on whether you should work for free.
    The advice by the video maker was that you should only work for free if you know it is a guarantee that you will make money by doing that thing for free.
    If you’d like more advice on how to help people and really channel reciprocity to work for you follow my blog Beautifullystrategic.com
    For free advice for how to help others, and in turn help yourself get ahead.

    • http://www.benprindle.com/ Ben Prindle

      Bijou is a dear friend who is mentioned above.