Why are conferences and trade shows filled with people giving away cheap plastic crap?
The answer is the power of reciprocity.
In “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Robert Cialdini shows how receiving a “gift” makes a person want to give back and complete the cycle of reciprocity.
This desire to balance give and take is an essential part of human survival. It makes complex society possible. And it can be used, and sometimes misused, as a tool of persuasion.
First, let’s give an example of how it can be misused. Amway has this con they play where they tell their sellers to create a sample tray of products: furniture polish, shampoo, detergent, etc., and to leave it with friends and neighbors saying “I just want you to try these products for free, no obligation, to see if you like them. I’ll be back in a few days to pick them up and see if you want them.”
The response? People bought lots more product than they would otherwise. Not because the products were better or cheaper or cooler than the store products. Instead, after they got the “gift” of the free use of products, they felt the need to reciprocate by buying some.
Okay, I’m a liberal so it’s automatic that Amway (and the DeVos family that runs it) is considered unscrupulous. But the same thing has happened to me with wine tastings. If I go to a free wine tasting, it’s awfully hard for me not to buy a bottle. Reciprocity strikes again!
Here’s the take-home message for me: be generous. Freely share contacts, give support, make donations, and volunteer time and information. Help a lot of people without keeping score or evaluating how they can help you. Give freely. There will come a time when many of these gifts will come back to you.
I know, that sounds like some sort of soft-minded goodness-of-the-universe-and-karmic-love bunk, but it’s not without backing. Reciprocity is why Lyndon Johnson was able to get so much controversial legislation like the Civil Rights Act through Congress. In his years in the House and Senate, he did lots of favors for people. As president, that favor debt helped him get his bills passed.
Malvina Reynolds sang, “Love is something when you give it away, you end up having more.” Malvina was right, and the power of reciprocity is why.