Reciprocity, Relationships, and Power

Reciprocity, Relationships, and Power

I’ve been thinking more about respect, relationships, and reciprocity. Mainly, as I mentioned, because we’ve started looking at updating the house.

And I keep coming back to means and ends, tools and people, because the difference between salesman can be stark.

There was the first salesman who wouldn’t offer us anything aside from a vague colour recommendation without acccess to our credit card.

And there was the second salesman who had a good long chat, measured up a bit, talked about what we’d need to do, climbed into the ceiling and crawled under the house to take a look at what was required.

Can you guess which one we’re leaning towards?

It’s all about reciprocity.

behaviour in which two people or groups of people give each other help and advantages

Cambridge Dictionary

Influence v Control

According to Linda and Charlie Bloom, there’s a substantial difference between influence and control.

The second salesman (who crawled under the house), was attempting to influence us, while the first was attempting to control us.

The Blooms quote Robert Cialdini’s “rule of reciprocation,” which at it’s bluntest, is a person’s internal compulsion to repay a gift, favour, or act of generosity.

Which is where it gets difficult.

Exploiting Reciprocity

The Blooms tell us, reciprocity is so deeply embedded in us, we risk isolation and exclusion if we don’t reciprocate. Which means the unscrupulous will use reciprocity against us, pressuring us to take free samples, and pretending to offer great deals.

Clearly we have to weigh up the benefits we received from each salesman, both of whom are clearly looking for a sale. (Why else bother to come?)

First Salesman

The first salesman offered us a discount if we signed up that day. Not just before the price was settled, but before any service had commenced. A faux discount if you will.

We felt disrespected. We didn’t see any evidence he was interested in us or our needs, just the money he’d get – we were tools toward his ends.

That’s not to say there weren’t other factors to the conversation. It was hot, so perhaps the aircon in his car was broken, or he’d had an unwelcome health diagnosis or was perhaps in the process of breaking up with his partner. We’ll never know.

And we’ll never know whether a different salesman from the company might be a better fit for us, because we’re not inclined to give them another chance.

Not when the second guy was crawling under the house.

Second Salesman

The second salesman gave us information. Not only that, but the information will be useful whether we engage his services or not.


As a side note, isn’t it always nicer when the guy that comes to your house smells of deoderant and fresh laundry?

Second side note, don’t you think it’s fascinating that safety boots come with zips and laces?


Reciprocity is a Two Way Street

It’s fairly obvious to see what we got out of the exchange, but what did the second salesman get?

He got to limit the scope of works, “of course you can do that,” he said, “but…”

From our point of view, the but was mostly cost, and from his point of view, the time and resources he’d have to commit to the job.

Reciprocation and Relationships

When we go ahead and sign up with someone, we’ll enter into a new relationship, and reciprocity will move to a new phase.

We’ll offer the trades cups of tea and coffee in the hope they’ll be fully awake and on board when they start working. And hopefullly, they’ll reciprocate by doing their best.

We’ll give them them space and not nitpick their work, and they’ll reciprocate by getting it done smoothly.

And with any luck, we’ll all part ways at the end of it, all of us feeling satisfied with our end of the exchange.


Photo by Callum Blacoe on Unsplash

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