When I first got into the networking game and tried to define what I was doing and why–I was drawn to the research on reciprocity. That reciprocity and mutual obligation are the most powerful sources of influence in the world. I was very influenced by Robert Cialdini's body of work, his lectures and my conversations with him.
The idea that networking and later mentoring revolved around creating mutual obligation. In fact I used to tell a long and very popular story about how we do favors for others–favors we don't want to do, but we don't know how to say "no". When you are thanked for a favor you did not want to do, I counseled people to say, "I know you would do the same for me." And like you did the favor against your better instincts, the person who received your generosity will unwittingly say how they "owe" you. This gimmick "proved" our inner desire to help one another. That's what I thought and that's what I taught.
Expectations are the ruination of the individual. Tomi D. Kobara
What I have learned since is that auto-reciprocity syndrome (I made this up), the robotic, sub-conscious process of responding to one another and owing one another is not a reflection of our true selves.
The idea of expecting a return for our generosity is the darkside of reciprocity. That giving that is conditional, is really not giving. Once you plant the seed of obligation, the main growth comes through your selfishness.
This conclusion generates all sorts of questions:
- Giving for the tax deduction?
- Giving for recognition?
- Giving for personal gain?
- Giving to create obligation?
Not saying that these forms of gifts are not good or needed. I think we would all admit that unconditional giving is different. Is any giving unconditional?
Yes! I have seen it. People who give freely and quickly. You have witnessed it too. Now do these people give to feel good and to feel good about themselves–isn't that a selfish need?
I am not counting this as reciprocity.
I love Steven Levine's distinctions about three types of giving.
- Beggarly Giving: When we give with only one hand, still holding onto what we give. In this kind of giving we give the least of what we have and afterward wonder whether we should have given at all.
- Friendly Giving: When we give openhandedly. We take what we have and share it, because it seems appropriate. It's a clear giving.
- Kingly Giving: That's when we give the best of what we have, even if none remains for ourself. We give the best we have instinctively with graciousness. We think of ourselves only as temporary caretakers of whatever has been provided, as owning nothing.
Are you a beggarly, friendly or kingly networker?
I mentally and intellectually made this shift from reciprocity in my giving awhile ago. I truly try to give unconditionally especially in my networking and mentoring. I have found it is so much less complicated when you don't keep score. Give first, give often, give without expectation. That is my goal.
Like everything in life the more often you do it the easier it becomes.
Some people say give first and then get. I am going much further here. Just Give. Give because it reflects who we are and what we want to be. Give because it makes us feel good. Give anonymously. Give because we care.
So in networking and mentoring, you give time, connections, and knowledge unconditionally.
I know I am not the only one who is thinking this way. I know that each of you is giving a lot of yourselves. And I truly appreciate how generous you are with your time and your resources. I am writing this as a confession about what I have learned about networking and mentoring over these decades. I am writing to remind me and anyone else that the greatest ROI is to the preservation of your authentic self. Becoming a "kingly" giver and networker is our goal.
People who view life as a zero sum game, they believe that every gift must be replaced. That every commitment generates a commitment. This is pure reciprocity.
Generosity is unlimited. You always have something to give. You have more to give.
I have had the great pleasure to hear Muhammad Yunus speak and he reminds me of this goal. He speaks in absolutes and I think purely about what we need to do as fellow human beings. His mission in life is "When poverty is in the museum". I love the vision of visiting a museum in the future with a comprehensive display on poverty! But he also talks about social business. Business that has no profit and gives its returns to the community and the customers. He was asked why a business that limits its profits would not qualify as a social business. He said, "When you get 1% in profits, it is human nature to try and make it 2%. Not having profits you focus 100% on the business of helping people."
Likewise, when you think about what you get first or what you are owed, you put yourself before the gift. It compromises your generosity, your networking and your mentoring.
How can we all give more freely because we are merely temporary custodians of possessions, connections and knowledge?
Life is not about trades and transactions. Not about IOUs. I have traded reciprocity for generosity.
Life is about being the best you can be and helping others be the same.
Thanks for reading. John
2 thoughts on “The darkside of reciprocity”
Most times, I need to work for money to pay for other services and Things…and this feels good
Sometimes, I can trade my services and Things for others…. and this feels great
Rarely, I can give me services out from the kindness of my heart….and this does feel amazing.
I don’t need to be reciprocated but it is nice to be appreciated for random acts of kindness. Is that selfish to even care?
Thanks John….. you always inspire my first coffee induced thoughts.
Thanks Mike for making me your coffee companion. Have a great one.