Today’s post will offer a free excerpt from Saving The World At Work.
The Law of Reciprocity states that people will give back when they’ve been given to.
For the most part, every time you do the right thing for your customers, employees, partners, and/or greater community, these people will find a way to repay you, through loyalty, by giving thoughtfulfeedback to improve your business, by telling their friends to buy from you or to work at your company.
As Adam Smith, the grandfather of Western economic philosophy, wrote in The Theory of Moral Sentiments: “No benevolent man ever lost altogether the fruits of his benevolence. If he doesn’t always gather them from the persons from whom he ought to have gathered them, he seldom fails to gather them from other people, and with a tenfold increase. Kindness is the parent of kindness.”
Since Smith, thousands of equally intelligent people have made similar claims. Yet we often find the Law of Reciprocity difficult to believe. This doubt is due in part to the fact that we grossly exaggerate the number of times people don’t repay our thoughtfulness. We hate to be wrong about making bets on people, so when it happens, we remember those incidents much more vividly than those in which people pay our kindness back with kindness.
But adherence to this law actually expands our ability to trust people and make investments in them. We develop informed faith and a purposeful sense of trust in people’s nature; we make a leap and put our money on people doing the right thing in the long run; we believe goodwill eventually produces profits and revenue.
Several years ago Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute, asked me to speak at a leadership event for his company in Las Vegas. One night Jim took my wife, Jacqueline, and me to a casino, and although Goodnight is a billionaire, he searched high and low for a five-dollar blackjack table. When he found one, he gambled one chip at a time, despite the fact that he had developed a winning mathematical formula. Given his wealth, I asked Jim why he bet so conservatively. “I make all my big bets on my people,” he replied.
Make an informed bet on a person at work and note his or her inclination to give back. If you’re a manager, make a bet on one of your direct reports. If you’re a clerk, take a gamble on a coworker. If you’re a purchasing agent, make an investment in a supplier. I believe you will find, more often than not, that the other person will recognize and appreciate your investment and make an attempt to reciprocate.
You may even find that they outgive you. For example, when you invest time in mentoring an employee, you may well discover that he or she gives back multiples of your investment in time, effort, and effectiveness.