Posted by Beetle B. on Sun 23 April 2017

We try to repay, in kind, what someone else has given us - even we didn’t want it or take it! We feel obligated.

Society provides a very low status for people who do not reciprocate.

The Rule Is Overpowering

People will do nice things for you if they like you. However, reciprocity is much more powerful. It totally dwarfs the effect of liking.

So give gifts - lots of them - regularly. Or do favors - even unsolicited ones!

Free samples are another example.

The Rule Enforces Uninvited Debts

There is an obligation to give, obligation to receive, and obligation to repay.

It is the obligation to receive that opens up the door. It makes the giver powerful by forcing the other to be in his debt. The giver chooses the gift, and then chooses the favor.

The Rule Can Trigger Unfair Exchanges

People often end up asking for large favors. And not reciprocating is universally considered bad socially (unless the person is not in a position to repay).

This is also why we often don’t ask for help - we fear it will cost us too much.

Reciprocal Concessions

Cialdini was walking on the street when a Boy Scout stopped him and asked him if he wanted to buy tickets for $5 to a circus organized by the Boy Scouts. Cialdini was not at all interested and declined. The Scout then said “Well, OK. If you won’t buy the tickets, how about these two chocolate bars for $2 instead?” Cialdini bought them.

Why is this example interesting?

  1. Cialdini did not care for the Boy Scouts.
  2. $2 was not an insignificant amount for him. This was in the 70’s or early 80’s.
  3. He does not like chocolate.

So why did he buy them? It was an automatic response. The Scout appeared to make a concession, and Cialdini suddenly felt obligated.

We feel obligated to make concessions to those who make concessions for us - even if their concession was useless for us.


A common technique is to ask for too much. When refused, ask for much less.

Asking for too much initially backfires, though, and the technique fails.

Keep in mind the contrast principle also plays a role here. The combination of contrast and reciprocity is powerful.

People who fall for the reject-then-retreat strategy are also more likely to follow through with their commitments than those who were offered the retreat strategy first and accepted (85% vs 50%).

In general, people who fall for it are more satisfied than those who were directly offered the lower offer. They feel they played a role in getting the agreement. And worked to ensure the deal went through. Such people are more likely to make deals the person in the future! They don’t feel duped. [1]

In negotiations, reject-then-retreat succeeds more than just a retreat option.

So there really isn’t a downside to reject-then-retreat, as long as you don’t ask for too much initially.

[1]Maybe this is the power of getting to no?