Running a successful organization requires lots of moving pieces running smoothly in tandem. At the heart of every organization are people just like you and me, whose performance can be influenced in a positive direction. Recently, companies like Google and Facebook have been redefining the standards of workplace culture, and in turn seeing improvements in employee satisfaction and company performance. Now, your company might not be large enough to have a dedicated HR (or “People Ops”) department, but there are some exciting takeaways from social psychology that you can apply to benefit your business.
Reciprocity is one of the famous “Six Principles of Persuasion” defined in Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The idea is that we feel pressure to repay others for what they have given us or done for us. We often even give back more than we were initially given to minimize any guilt associated with the initial favor.
Founders and CEOs can use this to their advantage. Internally, this can help improve or repair work relationships, win over co-workers and build consensus. As Dr. Cialdini writes, reciprocity is so powerful that it can overcome feelings of suspicion or dislike toward the person who gives the gift or favor. As a small business owner, how about giving gifts or bonuses on holidays or birthdays? You could also offer to bring back coffee for the office or surprise your colleagues with breakfast or lunch. A kind gesture can go a long way.
Outside the office, the reciprocity principle can help you succeed in negotiations, build valuable business partnerships and win over investors — or even customers! When we launched our product and were at our first trade show full of retail managers and buyers, we realized that people only stopped at our booth if we handed them a free sample. So we handed samples to everyone who walked by! In turn, they stopped, listened to our pitch, and 99% of the time they placed an order for their store. In those first few hours, we sold over 100 cases into 100 new stores.