The Law of Obligation, also known as pre-giving or reciprocity, states that when others do something for us, we feel a strong need, or urge, to return the favor. Returning the favor rids us of the obligation created by the first good deed. The adage “one good turn deserves another” is a part of social conditioning in every culture. And, even beyond that, the maxim serves as an ethical code that does not necessarily need to be taught, but nevertheless is understood. For example, when someone smiles or gives us a compliment, we feel a great need to return the smile or compliment. Even when these gestures are unsolicited, we feel a sense of urgency to repay the person who has created the mental or psychological debt. In some cases, our need to subconsciously repay this debt is so overwhelming that we end up dramatically exceeding the original favor. The reciprocity trigger created by the car salesman’s water is a classic example of this principle. Most of us keep a mental scorecard of these favors.
The drive to alleviate feelings of obligation is so powerful that it can make us bend toward people we don’t even know. Accepting gifts or favors without attempting to return them is universally viewed as selfish, greedy, and heartless. It is often strictly due to this internal and external pressure that people conform to the rule of reciprocity. One university professor chose names at random from a telephone directory, and then sent these complete strangers his Christmas cards. Holiday cards addressed to him came pouring back, all from people who did not know him and, for that matter, who had never even heard of him. I had a student raise his hand at a seminar and said, I know him and he is still getting Christmas cards from strangers over 20 years later. Can you believe people have sent out Christmas cards all these years to someone they didn’t even know?
Being an extrovert, having the gift of gab, or being able to make small talk with anyone you meet can definitely be used to your advantage, but watch yourself. How can you persuade if you are always talking? It will be very annoying to your audience if they sense that you like hearing yourself talk more than listening to their concerns. Remember, it’s about them, not you. Great persuaders listen more than they talk. In fact, great persuaders use their listening and questioning skills to get their audience to persuade themselves.
Often when someone comes to you, she already knows what she wants. She already has something in mind. She just needs to talk through it with someone. Which approach do you think will have better, longer-term results: you persuading your audience, or you helping them persuade themselves? It’s much better if your audience feels as if they have made the decision themselves, without perceived external influences. When you do have to talk, be succinct and to the point. A good rule of thumb is not to talk more than 30 percent of the time.
Now, with these general guidelines in place, it is worth pointing out that you must always be prepared to adapt and adjust to the personality type of your audience. For some people, talking 30 percent of the time will still be too much. Discussing only what is relevant to the matter at hand and keeping chit-chat to a minimum is best for these no-nonsense types. Your attempts at being their buddy will likely annoy and maybe even offend them. Some people feel that being overly warm and personable is not appropriate when you have just met someone for the very first time. Polite and professional, yes, but warm and fuzzy, no. The bottom line is, don’t get too friendly too fast