This is part of the JABBED 5-Minute Book club where we breakdown the most powerful concepts from history’s greatest books in a post that takes 5 minutes or less to read. Not part of the 5-Minute Book Club yet? Read more about it or join here.


Robert Cialdini’s masterpiece, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has been cited as “the book that appears most often on the reading list of elite performers like  CEOs and world leaders”. The book not only teaches the principles of persuasion, but, perhaps more importantly, teaches you to protect yourself from those who would persuade you to do things you would not otherwise do.

In this post, we are going to take a look into one of the most powerful and basic principles in Influence: the Rule of Reciprocation.

The Power of Reciprocation

As humans, we have a deeply seeded need to return the favor to others when a good deed is done for us.

This need is embedded into human society. This is true to the point that those who don’t reciprocate get negative labels – moocher, ingrate, bum. These labels exist because of the inherent understanding among humans that a person who has had something done for them has to return the favor.

For most humans, this need to return the favor is so powerful that our desire to reciprocate is often in no proportion to the original favor. In other words, even a small initial favor can often lead to a much bigger returned favor.

This is a very important concept to understand. This concept frequently leveraged by salespeople, politicians, and persuaders of all stripes.

Returned Favors Much Larger Than the Original

Cialdini covers the details of a well-known experiment in which the power of “out of balance” reciprocation was shown. In this experiment, a researcher offered a test subject a Coke. Later, the subject was asked to buy 25 cent raffle tickets by the same researcher. The subjects that accepted a Coke later purchased twice as many raffle tickets as those who did not accept a Coke.

This doubling of average sales amounted to big returns for the Coke giver.  The value of a Coke at the time was 50 cents. But, raffle ticket sales went up $2.50 if the test subject accepted the Coke.

This “out of balance” reciprocation is the reason a car salesperson offers you a Coke before you start negotiating over your car purchase. It’s also the reason a jewelry salesperson offers you a drink while you browse engagement rings. It’s the reason that salespeople of all kinds offer to take a client to lunch.

In all the above cases, the cost of a beverage or lunch is often miniscule. So, adding slightly to the chances of making a large sale more than makes up the difference. Going from a 15% chance to sell a car to a 30% chance to sell a car by giving up a soft drink is a very good deal for the seller.

The Takeaway

  1. Most people feel a strong need to reciprocate when something nice is done for them.
  2. The “returned favor” can often be much larger than the original favor. Even in cases where a large transaction is at stake, the purchaser is more likely to comply if they accepted a small favor.
  3. When you have extra time, money, or expertise you can give away, it’s often worthwhile to do so. The value of future favors you can make available by doing this will often far exceed your short term cost.
  4. If you don’t want to be unduly influenced by a person, you should not accept their favors. No matter how small. If you accept a favor from a person, you give that person some amount of power over you.

Want to read more about the power of persuasion? Check out Cialdini’s full book at Amazon by clicking here.

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