The Hidden Use of Reciprocity as a Powerful Persuasion Technique


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How would you like a quick and easy Persuasion Technique to get just about anyone to feel they “owe" you? Imagine what a persuasion technique this would mean for a sales call, a sales letter (yes you can do in it writing too), a negotiation, business discussions, or a situation where you are trying to get someone to do something.

There is a simple way you can create this sense of obligation in someone. You do it by using the principle of reciprocity. That is, when you give something to someone, that person will almost always feel obligated to give you something back. The sense of reciprocity is so strong that in research studies where one person treated people nicely and the other person treated the same people poorly but gave them something (lets say offered them a soda), these people were more likely to do something for the person who treated them poorly. Reciprocity is one of the most powerful persuasion techniques that you can employ.

Now if you are familiar with reciprocity don't stop reading yet, because I have a little different twist on this whole concept to share with you in few moments.

It's very likely that when you think of reciprocity, you think of giving someone a “thing" . . . it could be a gift, food, something to drink, or some other physical object. The problem with this is that in business situations current ethics guidelines may prohibit gifts (this is certainly the case in government contracts). In personal and business situations, giving a physical object creates a sense of obligation to provide something in return which can at times be awkward. Have you ever gotten a present from someone at Christmas, but didn't have anything to give in return. Next thing you know you’re sneaking out of the house to run down to the store or looking in the closet for left over gifts. Reciprocity is not always an effective persuasion technique if used the wrong way at the wrong time.

Another way to create a desire to reciprocate is to expend some of your effort for someone. While my wife and I were on a trip recently our neighbors were kind enough to pick up our newspapers every day and hold them for us (we forgot to stop the delivery). That was a very nice thing to do. Shortly after we returned home, they saw the car in the driveway and brought the newspapers over. After our neighbors left, my wife looked at me, I looked at her and we both said at just about the same time “we need to do something to thank them. " Five minutes later, I was standing at the neighbor’s door with a bottle of wine to repay them for the effort.

The problem with doing something for someone is that this persuasion technique won't work in situations where you don't have the opportunity to use it due to time constraints or other factors or where you may not have the desire to put out the effort.

Another way to induce reciprocity persuasion technique is to share information. The most common way to do this is for you to share information that the other person doesn't have (and would find valuable). As a marketer when making sales calls to prospective clients, I would almost always try and have some information that the client would find valuable. For example, I would often offer some upfront recommendations on how to fix current advertising to make it perform better. Another tactic I found very effective would be to tell the prospect something they didn't know about their competitors or their customer buying preferences.

By the way, a comment on ethics is important here. Do not share information that is inappropriate to give away. That is information given to you in confidence, company sensitive or proprietary information, or information which if divulged would hurt someone else.

There is one other very cool way to create the reciprocity persuasion technique. It doesn't require giving a physical object, it doesn't require expending any real effort and it puts a different slant on sharing information. If done properly, it creates a desire to “return the favor" without the person it was directed to even realizing what has happened.

This hidden use of the reciprocity persuasion technique is to SHARE A SECRET. This little twist can really build the value of information that would otherwise seem very trivial. It gives you the ability to offer something very simple to another person and quickly induce a desire to reciprocate (often at the unconscious level - it just kind of slips through).

A great example happens every day in just about any restaurant. It goes like this. The waitress walks up to your table to take your order, she bends down, looks around conspiratorially, lowers her voice and says “I shouldn't be telling you this . . . normally I would recommend the Salmon, it's one of our specialties, but today, the fish just isn't fresh, I'd recommend the Swordfish or the Ahi instead. Most people don't know this, but the Swordfish and Ahi actually cost less and you get more to eat. " Guess what happens at the end of the meal? Research studies have shown that the waitress gets a bigger tip.

A second type of secret you can share is something about yourself. This is a form of giving and can create a strong desire on the part of the other person to share information, open up, or give back in some other way. You might say something like “let me share something with you about myself that I've only told a few other people . . . " Think of all the ways you could use secrets as a reciprocity persuasion technique in sales, negotiations, or other types of persuasion situations.

A third class of secrets you could share would be little known, exclusive, insider information. People are curious and people love to be on the inside, to feel exclusive. If you have information that is exclusive, that you can ethically share, and that is relevant to the person you are trying to persuade you can offer this and quickly induce the desire to reciprocate. The neat thing is, it doesn't have to necessarily be monumental, just the fact that few people know about it can create value. Make sure you let the other person know the information being offered is exclusive. You might say something like “I want to share something with you I just found out, only a few people know about this, and it will only be shared with a handful of people . . . (offer the information). "

Before we wrap up, let me offer a couple of quick guidelines on using reciprocity persuasion technique. First, you typically want to induce it up front early if you are in a conversation. Reciprocity lowers resistance which is something you want to do early in just about any dialogue.

Second, don't offer something too large. If you are giving some sort of an object or even some information with very large value, it could be looked upon more as a bribe and might actually create resistance.

If you want to learn more about the reciprocity persuasion technique and other persuasion and influence principles, I highly recommend Kevin Hogan's “Science of Influence" Course.

That's it for today! I'm about to spend several hours on the phone (oh boy). Use the reciprocity persuasion technique, and particularly add secrets to your reciprocity arsenal. You'll be amazed that the results are even better than you expected.

Preston Campbell has been a professional in marketing, sales and persuasion for over 20 years and is an expert in applied persuasion. He is a clinical hypnotherapist and PhD candidate. He has created one of the leading web sites on persuasion and influence resources at

Copyright 2005 Profit Zone Marketing. This article may be reproduced as long as the content is not altered, this author summary is included and all web links remain intact.


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