How to create a virtually OBSESSIVE Feeling of Obligation in someone, even if they CAN’T STAND you!

How to create a virtually OBSESSIVE Feeling of Obligation in someone, even if they CAN’T STAND you!

What would it be like if you could instill an automatic feeling of obligation in the people you deal with on a daily basis? How many more sales do you think you would close if the people you sold to actually felt guilty if they didn’t buy from you? How much easier would it be to get your spouse or kids to complete a chore around the house if they felt they ‘owed’ it to you?

The amazing thing is that we actually have a hard-wired response in our brain that gives us a feeling of indebtedness to another person when they do one very simple thing…give us something.

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It doesn’t even necessarily have to be something of value! The very act of giving somebody a gift will trigger that hard-wired response in our brains that says that we NEED to return the favor. Think about the last time somebody gave you an unexpected gift. You most likely felt a strong urge to give a gift back. It might not be right away, but that feeling will stay with you, oftentimes for years later, until you return the favor. I remember a long time ago (about 13 years ago), a family sent me a box of Chocolates when I moved away to another country. I was so thankful and planned to send a card of appreciation to them. But as life happens, things get in the way, and I lost their contact information. TO THIS DAY, everytime I think about them, I remember the box of chocolates and want to do something really nice for them in return.

Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the book “Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion” calls this automatic compulsion to return the favor “The Law of Reciprocity.” This law is cross cultural…it doesn’t matter if you are giving something to an American, or to a Swahili tribal member. When you give somebody something, our automatic trigger kicks in and we get that sense of obligation.

The Hare Krishnas became famous and raised a ton of money back in the 70′s by taking advantage of this simple principle. They would stand in the airports, and give people an individual flower. After the person took the flower, they would then ask for a donation. Their donations skyrocketed when they began this practice. The funny thing is that people didn’t even WANT the flowers to begin with. Many people don’t even LIKE the Hare Krishnas!! Every 30 minutes or so, one of the members would begin making rounds to all of the trashcans in the airport, and collect the flowers that were thrown away so that they could re-give them away! People would still donate, regardless of whether they kept the flower or not, and regardless of their personal feelings towards them.

In many Asian cultures, prior to making a big purchase or going in for a negotiation, it is a common practice for them to ‘wine & dine’ you first. It is very difficult to take an opposing position to someone after they were so nice to you earlier! Even on smaller purchases, they might take you out for a drink first “just to get to know each other.”

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Dennis Regan of Cornell University did an interesting study of this phenomenon when he setup two people in a waiting room (under the guise of something completely unrelated). One person would get up to leave and state he was going to get something to drink. When the person came back, they brought an extra soda for the other person. Later on, the person who bought the soda would ask the other if they would purchase some raffle tickets for his daughter’s school fundraiser. Regan found that they were significantly more likely to purchase raffle tickets (and for considerably more money than the price of the soda) than the control group who did not receive a soda.

Many people confuse this concept with Karma, but there is a difference. With Karma, what goes around comes around. If you give somebody a gift, then somewhere, sometime, it will be returned to you. The difference is about ‘who’ will return the favor. The Law of Reciprocity is specifically about getting a specific person to return the favor. In BNI (Business Networking International), a business networking group I am a part of, they have a concept called “Givers Gain.” This too is similar in that the more business referrals you give, the more referrals you will begin receiving, although it might not be from the specific person who gave you the referral. You can apply the Law of Reciprocity in BNI by giving a good referral to someone. Especially someone that you know is great at giving other people referrals. If you don’t have a referral to give, take them to lunch on your dime. Or do something special for them so they will want to return the favor.

You see this in the business world all of the time. In fact, this principle is being used on YOU all of the time. Think about the last time you went to Costco and tasted the samples they hand out. I’m willing to bet that many of you feel at least a twinge of guilt when you walk away without buying something. In fact, I remember the first few times I saw samples, I would actually take the box of whatever they were selling (or at least study it for a while), and then put it back later. Of course I no longer do that, Which brings me to the last point…

There is a diminishing return on the Law of Reciprocity. It must be used sparingly. The first few Costco samples gave me a sense of guilt when I didn’t buy the product, but now I freely take and think nothing of buying the actual product. The same thing with the Hare Krishnas (when was the last time you’ve seen them at the airport). If you always buy a coffee for a friend, then the effect will eventually wear off.


Imagine what it would be like if you could MASTER this principle in your life, along with dozens of other principles that are just as powerful? How would your life be different?

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