Week 5 — Examining The Law Of Reciprocity

Adriel Fong
3 min readOct 16, 2020
Hare Krishna devotees chanting

When I first heard a mentor speak about the law of reciprocity, I thought it was a bunch of crap.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but it’s true. I had the mindset that reciprocity was just a Western concept that would not hold water in an Asian context.

“That can’t be true, Asians are so stingy! They would never reciprocate favours!”, I would think to myself.

How wrong I was …

So, what is the law of reciprocity?

Simply put, the law of reciprocity refers to the urge to do something nice in return when someone first does something nice for you. You might even reciprocate the gesture further than the original good deed.

As I went through our first lesson about persuasion this week, Dr. Alex Lin made it very clear that the law of reciprocity is not some airy-fairy tale when applied to business.

It works, and it is a weapon to be wielded in every aspect of life.

In the 1980s, disciples of the Hare Krishna group dressed in saffron robes would plant themselves at airports and give out free flowers to unsuspecting travelers cheerfully. Most people would then take the flower because it would seem rude to reject the nice gesture. If you dare refuse the flower, you would be countered with a gentle, “take it, this is our gift to you.”

Now armed with your new unwanted gift, you’re trying to find a way to dispose of your flower. But just as you’re approaching the nearest trashcan already filled to the brim with similar colourful orange flowers, another member of the Hare Krishna sect approaches you. This time however, instead of giving you more flowers to throw away, the shrewd member asks for a donation.

This strategy was so pervasive and so effective that many airports banned the sect from their premises.

Many people from a psychological point of view struggle with being in someone’s debt. When you go to a dinner party as guests and your friends painstakingly planned and prepared a whole feast, it becomes hard not to bring a gift, despite being told not to do so.

In the Chinese culture, reciprocity is prevalent in the form of “Guan Xi” or networking where reciprocal favours are it’s main commodity.

You’ve seen how far-reaching reciprocity is, and how deep-rooted it is in many cultures, the question remains: How then can you harness the law of reciprocity for your business or career?

Well, it’s really down to 1 thing as mentioned by Dr. Alex.

That is, giving your prospect something that he/she wants!

A financial consultant buys you a cup of coffee and you feel obligated to give at least 10–15 minutes of your time to hear the he/she out. Before you know it, you’ve come out of the meeting as the proud owner of 2 brand new investment policies.

Buying coffee or tea is just one way to invoke the law of reciprocity. These small gifts can come in the form of information sharing, carpooling, little fridge magnets from your overseas trips. The possibilities are endless.

The key is to keep a look out for it, understand what is truly at stake and finally learn to use it more on other people!

Just remember, as long as there are principles in this world that you don’t know are at work, it is highly likely that someone is using it on you.

Don’t be that fool. Ignorance is not bliss.