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How To Return A Favor Without Being Taken For Granted

Read on for a surefire tip on how to avoid getting swindled.
by Clare Wieck | Jan 27 2017

How did you feel the last time someone treated you to dinner? Chances are you immediately started thinking about how you could pay them back.

No-one likes a moocher

The Rule of Reciprocation compels us to return favors

No one likes a moocher. We’re wired in such a way that any time we receive a favor, we feel compelled to return it. This sense of duty has evolutionary roots: it allowed our ancestors to share resources with one another, confident that all favors would be returned in kind.

Indeed, the pressure to reciprocate sometimes weighs so heavily that we give back more than we’ve received. In one famous study, the researcher, “Joe,” first bought participants a ten-cent Coke as a favor and later asked them to buy raffle tickets from him. On average, participants reciprocated the Coke by purchasing 50 cents’ worth of tickets. This was twice the amount participants spent when Joe didn’t give them a Coke – so Joe’s favor netted him a tidy 15 cents in profit.

Essentially, Joe “burdened” the participants with the Coke, and then dictated how they should give back. As you can see, the rule of reciprocation may be used as a cunning tactic to get what you want.

“When someone does you a favor, always return in kind.”

So the next time someone does you a favor, the best approach is to always return in kind: Coke for Coke, cash for cash and so forth. This way, whether the giver’s intentions are good or not, you’ll not only do the right thing but also prevent yourself from being manipulated.

To find out more about how to avoid manipulation – and why in an emergency it’s better to ask one person for help than a whole crowd – check out the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini.

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