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The norm of reciprocity is firmly ingrained in our culture and is a very useful tool in negotiation situations.  If I do something for you, you feel an obligation to do something for me.  However, if the favor that we do for someone is not immediately reciprocated, the value of that favor begins to diminish in the other person’s mind. Conversely, in our mind the value tends to increase with the passing of time.  As our respective perceptions of the value diverge, the possibility increases that the favor could actually damage our relationship, because the party who has done the favor will feel that he or she has been taken advantage of, or that the other party is ungrateful.    Here are a few tips on how you can prevent this from happening.

1.  At the time you do something special for someone, mention that you know they’d do the same for you.

2.  When the time comes that you need something in return, mention how happy you were to help them out a while back when …

3.  After you’ve done them the favor, ask them if it helped them.  In other words, before too much time has passed, get them to tell you how much it meant to them.  Verbalizing their gratitude while it’s still fresh in their mind will help them remember it later.

4.  If you are the party who needs to reciprocate, try to do it sooner rather than later. When you do, mention how happy you are to be able to help the other party out in light of the recent favor they did for you.  That lets them know that you think the score has been settled.

Statements like, “paybacks are h__ll” are usually too crass.  C’mon, we can do better than that.

Reciprocity is a valuable tool in negotiation, but it’s important to manage it properly.

Enjoy the weekend, and negotiate well.