The Rule of Reciprocation

by Professor Manie Spoelstra

Learn the rule of reciprocation for all your negotiations. Discover when it is best to make a concession, retreat and what obligations are expected of you at the table

The rule of reciprocation, which states that we should attempt to repay in kind what another person has given us, is the most compelling weapon of influence that humanity possess. The exceptionally regarded archaeologist, Richard Leakey credits our holding fast to the reciprocity system as the crux in defining our humanity. Leakey asserts we are human as a consequence of our forebears learning to share food and skills in an honoured network of obligation (indebtedness).

The significance of future obligation within the rule allows the creation of assorted types of ongoing relationships, dealings, and exchanges that are useful to human society. As a result, all members of societies are instructed to abide by the rule or undergo social condemnation.

In negotiations the adoption of this rule is crucial. Reciprocity is at the core of the reject-then-retreat and door-in-the-face techniques, and strongly depends on the pressure to reciprocate concessions. The reasoning is that by beginning with an extreme request that will probably be rejected, the negotiator can then back track to a lesser demand that is preferable. The lesser demand is then more likely to be accepted, as it appears to be a concession. Not only does this method enhance the possibility of a person replying in the affirmative to a request, but it also profoundly raises the possibility that the person will follow through with the agreement, and to later accept such requests once again.

Regrettably we frequently lessen the benefits of the reciprocation rule when we have performed something for another persons. Afterwards, they thank us, and we reply by saying: " Don't mention it!" To access the benefit of the rule, what we should really be saying is: "I know that if I need your support you will be there for me". This registers a future obligation that does not decay over time.

Another error that is often made concerns the manner in how we respond when a person says no to a request we make. As we normally perceive a negative response as a rejection, we are instinctively motivated to walk away from the negotiation. The most practical response is not to retreat from the negotiation, but rather to retreat within the negotiation. Where we not to walk away from the negotiation (retreating from the negotiation), but instead made a concession (retreating within the negotiation), we would not be wasting the law of reciprocation. The result would be to put the onus on the other party to reciprocate our concession.

Reader Comments

Average Rating:

Total Comments: 1

View or Write a comment

Back to Negotiation Articles

We welcome the republication of this page's contents in part or full - we just ask that you include a clean link back to this site, to our page.

Reader Comments

Average Reader Rating:       Comments: 1

share your comment

1 of 1 people found the following comment useful:

A Brief but Informative Article - 2007 Jul 28
Commentator: Anne (United Kingdom)

"A brief but informative article that explains well the powerful influence of the urge to reciprocate & how to maximise the potential this offers. Also useful when explaining some of the potential pitfalls associated with negotiating."

Useful Comment? Vote

Negotiation Newsletter