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The Norm of Reciprocity

November 9, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Ah yes....the norm of reciprocity.

 

If you're nice to someone, they are likely to do the same to you.

Also known as the rule of reciprocity, it a type of social norm and can have a significant impact in both our personal and professional relationships.

 

But how does it work?

 

We tend to feel obligated to do something nice for someone else when they do something nice for us. We start a new job and there is a potted plant there to greet us. A neighbor regularly picks up your newspaper and puts it on your porch during his morning walk. The esthetician gives you a hug after a facial.

 

Make sense? This norm of reciprocity thing has some grounding in science, not that you want to try this experiment (but it sure would be fun). Back in 1974, a sociologist by the name of Phillip Kunz wanted to test the norm that he had been researching, so he sent out 600 Christmas cards.

 

To random strangers.

 

And guess what? He received some 200 in return from said random strangers. Maybe it was the holiday spirit that dances sugarplums and thoughtfulness into our hearts.

 

But I think its more than just the holiday spirit. When I'm at the grocery store and someone says "excuse me" as they move around my cart, even when not in my way, I feel the same sense of gratitude to say the same. Or at least respond. I feel the same way when someone waves me on when driving. I do the same to others.

 

I've tested it a different direction as well. At work, I'd often write positive letters and put them in the files of staff members. I did it because I wanted them to feel appreciated, but it was more than once that I received something in return - a note, a flower, an article...just a little something that spoke to the gratitude I had shared (okay, it happened a little more than once).

 

The research on the norm of reciprocity goes on to say that when we reciprocate, we ensure others feel help when they need it and in return, we receive help when we need it.

 

I like this norm. May we all practice it just a little more....not because we expect anything in return, but imagine our places of work if we gave a little more and that gratitude was passed on and on and on.

 

Nice thought to have heading into a weekend.

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