Click for coaching and mentoring. The Law of Reciprocity

Relationships between people or institutions are based on exchange in which all parties have a mutual understanding of their rights and obligations. Relations between members of an immediate family or between spouses are based on obligations such as obedience or respect. Relations can be forged through gifts or personal favors and bring with them obligations and expectations. For every action, something is expected in return.

Those who do favors are highly esteemed; they are recognized as people who have respect for those around them. Every previous or current situation produces expectations for future behavior on the part of the giver and gift recipient.

Are you putting the Law of Reciprocity to work for you?

Reciprocation flows from Divine Law that can neither be ignored or put aside. Perhaps, the most important of these laws is the 'law of love.' Put simply, "Love is Law, Law is Love. God is Love, Love is God." This amounts to the same thing as "the gift of giving" without the "hope of reward or pay," or serving others. This 'law of love' is identified in many different ways--for example, in Wayne Baker's new bestseller, "Achieving Success Through Social Capital" (Jossey-Bass), this law of love in the workplace is described as the "law of reciprocity."

The law of reciprocity is not what can best be described as "transactional reciprocity." Baker says that, "Many people conceive of their business dealings as spot market exchanges--value given for value received, period. Nothing more, nothing less. This tit-for-tat mode of operation can produce success, but it doesn't invoke the power of reciprocity and so fails to yield extraordinary success."

Rule for Reciprocation: 

"One of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us is the rule for reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us."

Robert B. Cialdini, author of The Psychology of Persuasion (William Morrow, 1993)

Click for daily tips on practicing the law of reciprocity.

Baker explains, "The lesson is that we cannot pursue the power of reciprocity. When we try to invoke reciprocity directly, we lose sight of the reason for it: helping others. Paradoxically, it is in helping others without expecting reciprocity in return that we invoke the power of reciprocity. The path to reciprocity is indirect: reciprocity ensues from the social capital built by making contributions to others.

The deliberate pursuit of reciprocity fails, just like the pursuit of happiness. Acts of contribution, big and small, build your fund of social capital, creating a vast network of reciprocity. And so those who help you may not be those you help. The help you receive may come from distant corners of your network."

Click to listen to an interview of Coach Agno on the law of reciproctiy. Coaching Tip

Listen to an interview of how Coach John Agno uses the Law of Reciprocity in his professional coaching practice.



"To the extent to which one makes happiness the objective of his motivation, he necessarily makes it the object of his attention. But precisely by so doing he loses sight of the reason for happiness, and happiness itself must fade away."

Viktor E. Frankl, The Will to Meaning (Meridian, 1988)


A quote from Mark Twain illustrates the need for civility and charity between those who differ in their religious and political perspectives:

"Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to each other, it will unriddle many riddles, it will make clear and simple many things which are involved in haunting and harassing difficulties and obscurities now.

That is a simple rule, and easy to remember. When I, a thoughtful and unbiased Presbyterian, examine the Koran, I know that beyond any question every Mohammedan is insane; not in all things, but in religious matters. When a thoughtful and unbiased Mohammedan examines the Westminster Catechism, he knows that beyond any question I am spiritually insane. I cannot prove to him that he is insane, because you never can prove anything to a lunatic--for that is a part of his insanity and the evidence of it. He cannot prove to me that I am insane, for my mind has the same defect that afflicts his. All democrats are insane, but not one of them knows it; none but the republicans and mugwumps know it. All the republicans are insane, but only the democrats and mugwumps can perceive it. The rule is perfect; in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane. When I look around me I am often troubled to see how many people are mad.

This should move us to be charitable toward one another's lunacies."


Success and Happiness Paradox

"All that is best for us comes of itself into our hands--but if we strive to overtake it, it perpetually eludes us."

Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva


"Success and happiness must happen, the less one cares for them, the more they can."

Viktor E. Frankl, The Will of Meaning

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Neuroeconomics Experiment Illustrates the Law of Reciprocity

Neuroeconomics, the marriage of brain science and economics, answers the question, "Why does anyone trust anyone?" in the following experiment.

Researchers ran an experiment in which they created a two-person game. To start, player 1 got $10. If that player kept the money, player 2 also got $10 and the game ended. But if player 1 chose to let player 2 take a turn, then player 2 faced a choice: take home $40 and leave nothing for player 1, or take $25 and leave $15 for player 1.

About half the time, finds economist Kevin McCabe and colleagues at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, player 1 chooses to let player 2 into the game, forgoing a sure $10. In response, nearly three-quarters of the player 2s give up the $40, rewarding player 1's trust by splitting the money $25 to $15.

The functional magnetic resonance imaging ("fMRI") of the volunteers' brain shows that trust is marked by high activity in two brain regions, the researchers reported. Area 10 seems to be involved in delaying gratification, which tends to increase one's final reward. Area 8 figures out what other minds are thinking, in this case registering that the other player is trying to maximize gain through reciprocity. Some people, as the experiment shows, seem wired to delay gratification and act in a mutually beneficial way.

Robert B. Cialdini, author of "The Psychology of Persuasion" (William Morrow), says, "One of the most potent of the weapons of influence around us is the rule of reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us."

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"Just as a fence needs three stakes to make it firm, a good man needs three others to help him." Chinese proverb

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