Business Psychology: Reciprocity

You can’t always get what you want. Those are the words of Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards. They’re true. People struggle to get what they want. Sometimes, you just have to move on and let it go. 

But let’s say you want to sell something to someone, and they don’t know that they can actually benefit a TON from what you’re selling. For example, what if you had a program that taught people to quit smoking? What if a group of smokers wouldn’t listen to your sales pitch? But if they did stop to listen to your pitch, they might live longer after implementing your smoking cessation practice. You could argue that it would be wrong to NOT try to influence their decision. 

It’s generally difficult to influence people. The problem is confounded when you have no authority over the people you’re trying to influence. For example, a schoolteacher arguably has influence over his or her students by the very nature of the relationship. Senior employees have more influence over more junior ones. But what if a junior team member has an idea that will seriously drum up business? What if it’s a millennial pitching a smoking cessation course to baby boomers? How do these people with little authority sell their ideas?

Psychologists Allan Cohen and David Bradford explained exactly how to gain influence over people even if you have no authority over them in their 2005 article. They explained that you can use reciprocity to get what you want.

You probably already know that reciprocity is what happens when someone does something for someone else, and the receiver feels a sense of indebtedness to the giver. So they might be motivated to return the favor somehow. Reciprocity is what you see when you smile and wave at someone, and they smile and wave back at you in return. 

Another way of thinking about reciprocity is the saying “what goes around comes around.” It’s the belief that people should be repaid for what they do. If you do something good, it will come back to you. If you do something bad, you’ll be punished. You already know all this.

But what you might not know is the mechanics of how you can use reciprocity to get what you want in business— whether that’s more traffic to your site, higher sales, or more customers. If that sounds manipulative, I get it. But stay with me. Or better, read my article on how we can use responsible marketing to nudge people in the right direction. 

Cohen and Bradford (2005) designed the Influence Model to help us get more of what we want using reciprocity. As a business owner, it should be of great interest to you because you can spread your products and services further by using the Influence Model (Cohen & Bradford, 2005).

BUT you need to consider whether it’s appropriate to use the Influence Model. Don’t be slimy. Using advanced psychology on people to try to get them to buy your products should be just as beneficial to the customer as it is to you. If you sell them poor quality products or services using the Influence Model, that reflects extremely poorly on you and you won’t be trusted for future business. Use the infographic below to determine whether the Influence Model is right for your business.

View fullsize

Should You Use Influence ModelShould You Use Influence Model

If what you’re selling is worthy of the Influence Model, you may proceed! If not, improve your product — I mean it!

How to implement the Influence Model (Cohen & Bradford (2005)

A. Assume whoever you’re trying to influence is a potential ally.

If you approach the person you’re trying to influence like they’re an adversary, they’ll probably become one. It’s an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy. But if your idea landed on “Influence Away!” in the flowchart above, you truly want to help people. If you want to help them, you probably like them, and they probably like you for wanting to help them. Your offer benefits both you and the potential customer, so consider them a potential friend.

B. Get your priorities straight.

This is often easier said than done. What are your primary vs. secondary aims? Are there certain things that would be nice to have, but aren’t essential? What aspects of the deal are non-negotiable, and where can you afford to bend a little?

Let’s say you’ve landed a meeting with a high-level executive for you to pitch a new idea. In business, relationships are extremely important. You need to think carefully about exactly what you want out of the meeting when proposing a deal with your potential new business partner. Is your primary goal for them to sign a contract saying you can implement your idea? Or are you mainly just trying to maintain/improve your relationship with this person? There’s no right answer. You just need to be clear about what you want.

This step is SUPER important— because if you prioritize personal gains over more important ones, you could get sidetracked and lose the deal and the relationship. For example, if you wanted to sell someone something, but you were focused too much on being seen as more intelligent than the customer, you might lose the sale by appearing arrogant and condescending. Cohen and Bradford (2005) put it nicely: “Would you rather be right or effective?”

C. Determine what drives your ally to care about the things they care about.

Having empathy for the person you’re trying to influence is really going to help you see them more as an ally. Situational factors can influence people’s concerns, needs, and wants even more than their personality, according to Cohen and Bradford (2005). Take into account what drives them. How are they perceived or “measured” by others? For example, a woman might be seen as a good mother if she cooks lots of homemade meals. A boss might “measure” his employees by their productivity and professionalism.

D. Identify relevant currencies for both you and your ally.

Cohen and Bradford (2005) refer to values as “currencies” because they can be exchanged for things people want. For example, if a potential business partner values prestige over likability, assess your own resources. Find out if you can give him something to increase his status. Don’t underestimate yourself. Even if this person already has a great reputation, you may be able to make it even better with your resources. See below for examples.

Common CurrenciesCommon Currencies

Keep in mind that currencies may change depending on the circumstance. What worked once may not work a second time, so you need to reevaluate each time you want to influence your ally. Another thing to keep in mind is that you may be lacking in whatever currency they want. Search hard, but your discrepancy between their values and your available resources may be too great. Thankfully, a frank discussion about it is unlikely to damage your relationship with your ally. 

E. Consider your relationship with your ally.

Do you already know them? If there’s been no previous interactions with them, or even negative interactions with them, you’ll need to establish (or reestablish) trust. For example, if you approach a group of smokers and you have no prior relationship with them, you probably won’t sell your smoking cessation course to them without first demonstrating that you can be trusted. Relate to them in their preferred way, not your preferred way. If you prefer to get right down to business, but they prefer to make small talk first, take things slowly and ease into the sale. 

F. Decide how you are going to approach the deal.

What “currencies” are you going to exchange? Consider the attractiveness of your resources, your ally’s need for those resources, and how badly you want what the ally has. Think about your prior relationship with your ally (and how they want to be approached), and their willingness to take you up on your offer.

G. Don’t sacrifice the relationship just to get the job done.

Whatever task you’re trying to accomplish by using the Influence Model always involves creating or maintaining a relationship with your ally. If you accomplish your short-term goal but you burn bridges with people, your deal was not a 100% success. This can happen easily if people view you as too calculating or manipulative. If you accomplish your task, but leave people feeling duped, don’t expect beneficial long-term relationships with them. At best, they won’t work with you anymore; at worst, they’ll retaliate. Aim to improve (or, at the very least, maintain) your relationship while simultaneously accomplishing the task. 

These guidelines by Cohen and Bradford (2005) are extremely useful for businesses of all kinds. Use them to REALLY benefit the lives of your clients and customers— while also improving your business. 

What do you think? What parts of the Influence Model are valuable for your business? Leave your comments below!

Reference: Cohen, A. R., & Bradford, D. L. (2005). The influence model: Using reciprocity and exchange to get what you need. Journal of Organizational Excellence, 25, 57-80.


Filthy Rich Writer Review

**Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links on which I may earn commission if you choose to purchase certain products or services.

I work a traditional 9–5, and I was looking for a way to earn some extra money to pay off my student debt. I eventually enrolled in a copywriting course through Filthy Rich Writer, and I am oh-so-happy I did.

Hey, Siri: Search ‘how to make money online’

First, I googled “how to make money online.” I thought about thrift shopping, then selling things on eBay. I thought about buying a camera and trying my hand at professional photography. Then I remembered I know how to code. I heard coders make good money. So, I set my sights on software development and signed up for a free online coding bootcamp (again, trying to earn money, not spend it). But despite telling myself that I would finish the course no matter how long it took, I quit after just a few months.

Back to the drawing board. I asked Google again what I should do to make extra money from home. “How to make money online” yielded over 4.5 billion search results; there were just too many options. So I went soul-searching. And by soul-searching, I mean I took all the online personality quizzes I could find. I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Enneagram, the Big Five personality test, value inventories, skill inventories… And I learned that personalities like mine like to write.

And it was true. I do like to write. I always sort of liked writing essays, even on school topics I didn’t really enjoy. And introverts like me don’t have to talk to people to do it.

But when I thought of writers, I didn’t think of particularly wealthy people. I thought of starving artists who drink too much. Hard pass.

I felt stuck. I wanted to close the gap between doing something I liked (writing) and making money.

Back down the internet rabbit hole. Without high expectations, I googled “how to make money writing.” And I stumbled across the word “copywriting.” I found several of accounts of freelance (copy)writers making multiple 6-figure incomes… That totally shattered my idea of a writer’s lifestyle.

Naturally, I googled “how to become a copywriter.” I found an article called “How to Break into Copywriting” on a website called Filthy Rich Writer. Ask and ye shall receive, am I right?

Now, I didn’t need to be filthy rich. I just wanted to pay off my student loans and have a little extra cash. And this company was suggesting that writers could earn 6-figures. I was skeptical. But I kept reading and found another article on why the company is called Filthy Rich Writer. After reading the articles, I took the free video training. And the myths I believed about writers’ incomes were dispelled.

I learned that you can make a great income as a (copy)writer. I learned you can make this great income from home (or Maldives or wherever you want) without a boss. But it still sounded a little too good to be true…

How do you know it’s not a scam?

The program’s main coach is a real-life 6-figure copywriter, so you know it’s possible to make that sort of money. The Comprehensive Copywriting Academy (CCA) is designed by that coach, so you know you’re getting the right training. Both coaches have at least 10 years of copywriting experience.

And it looks like program graduates do pretty well too. In fact, I watched an interview with a graduate of the program, a 6-figure copywriter, living the dream in Cyprus with her family.

The Filthy Rich Writer program is not a get-rich-quick scheme; it’s a legitimate career path toward income that you control. You can make money as a copywriter while you’re learning how to build your business.

Flexible program with money-back guarantee

The CCA was what exactly what I was looking for. So, I signed up. It was an investment, but it was backed with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

I started CCA right around the holidays, so I was pretty busy and didn’t make a ton of progress at first.

But the great thing about CCA is that it’s self-paced. You can go as quickly or as slowly as you want. It’s flexible like that.

How I landed my first copywriting clients

When something is self-paced, I usually take that as an invitation to take my sweet time. I need deadlines. And that’s why it’s great that CCA has frequent challenges (with deadlines) in the students-only Facebook group. For example, in January, we had Pitch-a-Palooza. Pitch-a-Palooza really pushed me to get through the training modules in order to start pitching. I got my first two clients during Pitch-a-Palooza. I probably wouldn’t have even tried to get any clients if it hadn’t been for the Pitch-a-Palooza event. Thank God for deadlines.

CCA has TONS of resources in addition to the frequent challenges, the most basic of which is the Foundations Course. In the Foundations Course, you have Module 0, where you learn about the success mindset and how to deal with inevitable setbacks. Module 0 is incredibly valuable, and you may even want to go back to it as you progress through the course because, well, setbacks…

The rest of Foundation Course consists of:

-Module 1: Copywriting Fundamentals

-Module 2: Copywriting Tactics

-Module 3: Project Lifecycle

-Module 4: Interactive/Digital Copywriting

-Module 5: Print Copywriting

-Module 6: Building your Business

All those modules have action sheets designed to guide your next steps and give you real copywriting practice.

Ongoing support

There are monthly coaching calls, where you can get feedback on copy, your website, or any questions you have about copywriting or building your business. All calls are posted online for you to review in case you miss the call. CCA also has optional paid one-on-one coaching calls, as well as other courses that cover pretty much everything you can think of relating to building a copywriting business.

There are courses on:

  • optimizing your LinkedIn profile

  • how to price your services

  • email marketing funnels

  • content marketing

  • and so much more

Student community

On top of all that, there’s an incredibly supportive students-only Facebook group that allows you to get feedback, encouragement, and inspiration from fellow students and coaches. The coaches are way more engaged than you would think, and I love being able to get feedback from established copywriters when I need it.

CCA has the ongoing support and sense of community that was missing from the courses like the free coding bootcamp. I understand that the coding bootcamp was free and teaches completely different skills… but sometimes, you get what you pay for. And that’s true when it comes to CCA.

And though the course doesn’t come cheap, it’s designed to pay for itself several times over.

I haven’t finished the entire course yet (it is comprehensive), but my overall impression of CCA is that it is well worth the money if you’re interested in copywriting. It’s certainly worth testing out a new career, and CCA is a fantastic introduction to copywriting. Even if you’re already an established copywriter, I think it’s always great to hone your skills and learn how to land better clients.

And the great thing about CCA is that you can try it out and cast it aside if you decide you don’t want to do it. AND you’ll get your money back if you decide that within 30 days of purchase.

And even if you don’t decide to take the course, Filthy Rich Writer has tons of free content about growth and development, building your business, and copywriting. These are a few of my favorites:

If you’re still reading this, there must be a reason. Click the button below to go to the FREE video training.


What a Fly Can Teach Us about Business

We like to think we’re in control of our choices. We like to think we deliberately choose our favorite things based on personal preferences and logic— our favorite cereal brands, which route to take to work, which shirt to buy. We choose which movie to see, how much liquid butter to pour on the popcorn, and which person to bring to that movie.

If someone asked you why bought shirt A versus shirt B, you might say something like, “Shirt A is higher quality and it makes my eyes pop. And it was on sale. Of course I bought shirt A.”

You’d be using reason to explain your shirt choice.

Economists who believe in rational choice theory would agree with you. Rational choice theory attests that people make rational, evidence- based decisions that align with their values.

But an airport manager who wanted less urine on his walls has shown something different.

As the story goes, a Dutch cleaning manager placed fly decals on the bottom of urinal drains in the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The idea was to get men to aim at the flies. People usually don’t really like flies, so they generally feel okay about peeing on them… Well, that’s the idea. If men aim at the flies (in the drains), they’ll be less likely to spill outside of the urinals. There were no “Aim for the fly” signs — just little fly decals, waiting to be peed on.

Now, I’m not a man, so I can’t say this with much authority… But it seems like men already aim in the drain, right? I mean, would a little insect target actually change their pee trajectory?

As it turns out, the flies were astonishingly effective at directing pee into the drain. After placing the flies decals, urine outside the urinal reportedly dropped by a whopping 80%. This translated to an estimated 8% reduction in overall bathroom cleaning costs.

So what were these men aiming at before? Did they know they were spraying 80% more urine onto the floor and walls? Probably not. These men most likely had no idea they were missing the drain by that much.

This experiment demonstrates a key element of behavior economics: that even the slightest nudge, even one as small as a fly, can alter our behavior in huge ways.

You might be saying to yourself, “Okay, but that’s just pee. People aren’t that impressionable when it comes to big decisions like money. This doesn’t bear weight on business decisions.”

You’d be surprised. Behavior economics is a field dedicated to understanding the effects of psychology, culture, and emotion on economic decisions.

Many people assume things like psychology, culture, and emotion are unrelated to economic decisions. We like to think we make decisions about money using cold, hard facts — numbers, statistics, etc. But little experiments like the airport manager’s urinal fly and other studies on behavior economics suggest otherwise. These insights into the human psyche have major implications for consumerism.

If a little tiny fly can alter the trajectory of urine by a whopping 80%, little nudges (like flies) matter a lot more than we think they do.

This brilliant idea is the topic of the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler (winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017). In the book, authors champion nudging people to improve their life through small choices, like wearing seat belts, saving for retirement, and voting. Nudges, they say, make it easier for people to do the right thing. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that?

So what can a fly in a urinal teach us about business? That little fly demonstrates the power of a nudge to direct behavior toward the right thing. Businesses truly have the power to improve lives using nudges— whether that means designing cars to beep at unbuckled passengers or automatically enroll employees in pension plans. And that’s powerful.