From Bottled Water to Better Grades

Have you ever felt obliged to do something for someone to repay her for her efforts? Maybe you sent a thank-you card to a great aunt for that fruitcake. That time when you tipped at a restaurant when grabbing takeout. Someone held a door for you and you hurried through, trying to not waste his time.

Obligation goes beyond wanting to do something. You feel like you have to do something. This is reciprocity. You might call it tit-for-tat.

We recently covered anchoring, setting a large opening bid to help sway a negotiation towards that anchor. Reciprocity is almost the opposite.

Bottled Water is a cheap gift to give someone, yet the returns are great. Photo "Bottled Water Macros December 02, 20105" by Steven Depolo, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
Bottled Water is a cheap gift to give someone, yet the returns are great. Photo “Bottled Water Macros December 02, 20105” by Steven Depolo, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

My father-in-law recently gave me a great example of reciprocity that he uses in his college classroom. About halfway through the semester, he explained to me, the students have an idea where their grades are going. The students are starting to focus on the classes that they feel are the most important. Less important classes start to slide.

At this time, my father-in-law brings in a case or two of bottled water for the students. He hands them out, free, and puts the remainder aside for anyone to take as needed.

The students think he’s the best professor they’ve ever had. This single, inexpensive item raises his profile in their minds and invokes the obligation to repay his efforts.

The case of bottled water costs him under $4. But every student in the classroom remembers the gift. They feel obliged to put in extra effort for this class. And the payoff, from the professor’s point of view, is worth far more than those 15¢ bottles of water.

Have you experienced reciprocity? From which end of the transaction? Share your story below!

 

 

 

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