Are we being manipulated?

Reciprocity is a social norm that helps shape relationships.  Reciprocity happens where a recipient responds to a positive or negative action with another positive or negative action (we peel back the covers on negative reciprocity soon). Reciprocity is a tool agile coaches, just like salespeople, use to generate agreements amongst teams and stakeholders. The word “use” screams control and negative types of manipulation, so coaches need to be able to recognize when they are generating a scenario of reciprocity due to generosity or a scenario where they are trying to manipulate others for their own gratification.  Every coach needs to pause to reflect before they take an action that they believe is part of the flow of reciprocity.  Here is a simple checklist comprised of seven questions to help a coach consider their actions:

  1. Am I acting with an expectation gaining a reciprocal benefit from your action?
    If you are taking action to generate another action you need to consider your motivation.
  2. Will I become angry or hurt if my action is not reciprocated?
    Reciprocity is a tool that needs best deployed with little to no emotional baggage; begin with generosity.
  3. Do I feel like I have the right to control how a recipient uses my gift or advice? Attaching strings is a tool for manipulating the recipient.  I once read an article in a local paper about a benefactor to a school that donated a gym with the agreement that school would accept his children as students.  The act may have been a contract perhaps, but not reciprocity.
  4. Am I acting out of generosity or out of a sense of obligation?
    Passing the check around the team every day is not reciprocity but rather an obligation.
  5. Am I providing this gift (remember advice or knowledge can be a gift) because I want to provide something of value?
    This is call trading, not reciprocity.
  6. Am I providing this gift to reduce my sense of obligation?
    Giving gifts to reduce an obligation is not about reciprocity and can be an indication that you are being manipulated.
  7. If I don’t give this person some piece of value will there be an undesirable outcome?
    Earlier this year I was volunteering at a celebration. One of my jobs was to wander through crowd randomly giving out glow necklaces.  In general, most people were very excited to get a free glow necklace the generosity reflected well on the city throwing the party. There were, however, a few people that demanded a necklace with the sense that they might just take them from me forcefully, no reciprocity there. In the business world, there is often an expectation of quid pro quo payment, this is not reciprocity but rather transactional payment.

Remember just like dealing with nefarious telephone salesmen (thanks to the salesman that called my cell phone from 1 (440) 630-1003 for calling me while I was writing this essay promising a free gift), no one wants to feel manipulated.  Coaches need to learn to evaluate and trust their judgment so they can distinguish acts of true generosity from actions designed to manipulate those they are coaching.  Going out of your way to activate obligatory giving to get people to act the way you want them to act will generate mistrust.

Essays on reciprocity:

Reciprocity and Reciprocal Agreements In Action

Five Reciprocal Agreements In Agile

Reciprocity or Manipulation? Seven Simple Questions

Negative and Unhealthy Reciprocity