It pays to act thoughtfully and generously if you want to persuade, because the beneficiaries of your kindness are likely to reciprocate, even if you are not aware of it.
The principle of reciprocity, a key to being persuasive, says that when someone performs a kind gesture toward us, we feel obligated to reciprocate. It is a widely accepted cultural norm. Most people will gladly help a neighbor who helped them in the past, and they will buy a beer for someone who bought last time. So it pays to kind to people, because by doing so, you increase the likelihood that you will persuade the person do something for you in return in the future.
But what if you won’t be present to witness and appreciate their reciprocation? Will that make a difference in their decision to return the gesture? Apparently not, which is why managers who have team members scattered nationally should still acting accordingly in their daily interactions with employees.
Jerry Burger, a psychologist at Santa Clara University, asked two groups of participants to fill out a survey about their hobbies, likes, and dislikes. Group A received a bottle of water (a favor), but Group B did not. All participants were told to return the survey to the psychology department office later, but Group A (reciprocating for the water) was told the person who provided the water would not be in the office. Group B was told she would be there. The results showed that Group A was just as likely to return the survey as Group B.
Burger says a major reason people feel strongly about repaying favors is self-image. They are concerned about the other person’s impression of them. Given that repaying gestures is a cultural norm, they might be embarrassed if the person thinks they are unappreciative, selfish, or cheap. People also find it satisfying when they return a favor in person; they like to experience the other person’s gratitude. And even if the person won’t be there, the recipient of the original favor is likely to reciprocate anyway.