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CPR Level UP series: Networking and the Art of Reciprocity

Updated: Jan 30

In Monday's post on Leveling up your personal and professional social field for 2024, CPR noted the power of an effective networker. The post identified ten traits, including reciprocity. If you have not read Monday's post, you are missing out. Please do. Today's post explores reciprocity in the most fundamental sense and offers two main types, and CPR recommends creating a win-win.

What is reciprocity? Reciprocity is a crucial aspect of how people interact and live in society. As a fundamental principle, reciprocity is how we engage with each other. Reciprocity is a vital determining factor of human behavior and a powerful method for gaining compliance with a request. According to the Social Psychology (2023) article, reciprocity is exchanging things for mutual benefit. The norm of reciprocity (sometimes called the rule of reciprocity) is a social norm where you feel obligated to return the favor if someone does something for you. Whether you consider reciprocity a skill, an art form, or a way to level up, understanding it and knowing your role as a professional or business leader will make a difference. The rule of thumb: reciprocity may trigger feelings of indebtedness from the party benefitting from one's generosity.

According to research, there is positive and negative reciprocity. Positive reciprocity occurs when an action is committed by one individual that has a positive effect on someone else. That person will reciprocate in kind with a positive or equal-value gesture. CPR likens positive reciprocity to collaborating for a win-win. Both parties have goals, and the concept of coming together is a win-win for each party without saying it. The goal and expectation are to reciprocate by actions that are approximately equal in value. This is critical when building relationships, whether personal or professional. One example of positive reciprocity is that servers who smile broadly receive more tips than servers with minimal smiles. A business example of reciprocity is free samples. The goal behind the promotion of free samples is to encourage the potential customer to consider the value of the product or service, which eventually leads to a purchase of that product or service.

Negative reciprocity occurs when an action that hurts someone is returned with an action that has an approximately equal negative effect. An example of this is the concept of retaliation. Retaliatory aspects of responding in kind are known as negative reciprocity. In cultural anthropology, negative reciprocity is an attempt to get something for nothing, such as bartering or haggling. In the world of business, bartering or haggling is both appropriate as long as the value that is on the table is mutually agreed upon; if you make it a business strategy to barter and haggle your way out of every business agreement, that may be referred to as effective negotiation, but there is a time and place when you are attempting to level up. Your reputation will follow you if you are a constant haggler and taker. So, use it strategically at the right time and place.

When doing business, the term social reciprocity can be applied. It is essential in the workplace as it contributes to the foundation for effective collaboration, teamwork, and a positive work environment. According to Wikipedia,

"reciprocity fosters a sense of trust and interdependence among employees, enhancing overall workplace dynamics. When employees reciprocate positive actions, such as providing support, sharing information, or acknowledging achievements, it contributes to a culture of mutual respect and cooperation. Moreover, practicing social reciprocity in the workplace can strengthen interpersonal relationships, recognized as a social norm among employees of the same status."

According to reciprocity, harmful behavior tends to be reciprocated with harmful behavior. A meta-analysis analyzed negative workplace behaviors. The research suggests negative reciprocity might exist to restore or build a cooperative relationship. It is a strategy with balance as a goal, mainly because it involves a proportional response to harm. When considering business and reciprocity, there are more subtle ways of initiating the reciprocity rule than merely doing something nice for someone so you may expect something in return. One form of this promoting win-win is mutual concession. Mutual concession is a procedure that can promote compromise in a group so that individuals can refocus their efforts toward achieving a common goal or establishing a win-win. Reciprocal concessions promote compromise in a group so that individuals' initial and incompatible desires can be set aside to benefit social cooperation.

Doing business within communities should create a win-win that can be classified as positive reciprocity. Conversely, a leader who acts solely for self-gain without regard for others creates negative reciprocity.  What actions as a leader can you do to perform positive reciprocity? Be sure to leave it in the comment section and take advantage of CPR's discount for individuals commenting on its blog post.

Warm Regards,


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