For the summer we have an overseas adult student staying with us. She has come to Ireland to learn English and we are acting as a host family. In those first tentative days, inevitably we are checking each other out; wondering how the next few weeks will go and hoping we will get along well. It’s a typical phase in any new relationship.
We were showing our guest around the sights of Dublin and as part of that tour, we popped in to a lovely café. As host, I fully expected to buy the coffees and cakes but our visitor immediately insisted on paying, as a ‘thank you’ for showing her the best of the city.
In this small gesture, she changed the relationship from being a parent-child type relationship to a more adult-to-adult dynamic. Not only that, but she was partaking in one of the oldest forms of ethical persuasion in society: reciprocation, or put simply, what goes around comes around.
The point here is that there is great and positive power in giving. Whether in business, within families or among friends, giving creates a positive cycle where the receiver feels like returning the compliment and so both parties are looking for ways to help each other. In Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: Science & Practice, he talks about the law of reciprocation as being universal. We can find it in any culture as it is a basic human law built on our interdependence.
The whole reciprocity thing can get out of whack, however. For example, if one party continues to press gifts on the other and never accepts a gift in return, then the receiver moves from a feeling of gratitude to a feeling of powerlessness. Or if someone uses the law of reciprocation in a manipulative way, so that the receiver feels obligated. You can fill in the blanks yourself when it comes to the fancy dinner on a date!
But to come back to our summer in Ireland. Give a free copy of Cialdini’s book to the next person who tries to skip his or her round at the bar. You never know, they might even get the point!
It’s your Round!