Want To Succeed At Negotiating? You’ll Need To Fight Your Natural Instinct First
Human beings like to . We love it. It’s part of what makes us human. It makes the world go round – you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours; tit for tat; give and take; quid pro quo – society wouldn’t work without it.
The reciprocity principle is one of the basic laws of social psychology: It says that in many social situations we pay back what we received from others. In other words, if John does you a favor, you’re likely to return it to him.
This cultural norm is instilled in us from an early age and for good reason. But there’s a problem. It goes into effect whenever we receive something – even if it’s something we don’t want. There are lots of studies showing this and it explains a lot of marketing behaviour. For example, in the 1970s the Disabled American Veterans decided to send potential donors personalized labels in the mail, while soliciting donations. They told people to keep the labels even if they didn’t make a donation. After they did this, the number of people who made contributions nearly doubled—jumping from 18% to 35%. Even though these people did not ask for or, presumably, want address labels.
One of the first and most famous studies on the rule of reciprocity was the famous “Coca-Cola” experiment conducted by Professor Dennis Regan at Cornell University in 1971. In this experiment, Regan’s assistant, “Joe, played the part of another research subject taking part in an experiment about art. Joe left the room and in some cases returned with a can of Coke, saying “I asked him [the experimenter] if I could get myself a Coke, and he said it was okay, so I bought one for you, too.” At the end of the experiment, Joe asked the subjects if they would buy a raffle ticket from him to help him win a prize. The tickets were a quarter each. The subjects who received a Coke from Joe bought twice as many raffle tickets as the ones who hadn’t received a Coke from him. And what they paid far exceeded the value of the Coke.
Behavioral scientist David Strohmetz found that including a couple of free mints with diners’ bills . And sociology professor to random strangers from the address book. He received 117 cards back from people who had no idea who he was (some even included long notes and photos of family members and pets).
This can be very dangerous in negotiation as we can find ourselves reciprocating when we shouldn’t e.g. by giving away something of value to the other side even if what we’ve received isn’t of equal value to us. The research suggests that:
The return gesture often outweighs the freebie. “The response is often disproportionate – you get a free chocolate and a bottle of water, you decide to buy the expensive necklace. You get a ten cent mint you increase your tip by a few dollars.
The moment of the gift is when we are most susceptible. We don’t like the feeling of being “in debt” and so we’ll take the first action presented to us to get rid of that uncomfortable feeling of owing someone.
Targeted and personalized gifts, and the element of surprise, are key. Studies have shown the more personal and targeted the gift is, and the more of a surprise and delight it is, the more effective the trigger. So a free lotion sample received anonymously in the mail is not as strong as a personal connection.
Less often considered is the way we can reciprocate in terms of our behaviour. We have a tendency to reciprocate here too and this can be both positive and negative.
For example, we tend to try to match the body language of the person with whom we’re trying to build a relationship, with whom we want rapport.