Quality stuff has staying power. (Just queue up nearly any Beatles song.) Despite the reams and reams of paper offering advice and research on how to get someone to do something, it’s the material that surfaces again and again that warrants the attention. So it could be said about Dr. Robert B. Cialdini’s 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In it, Cialdini offers six principles of persuasion: reciprocity, consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. As you read it, you may discover a lot about how getting people on your side shares similarities with developing a friendship: getting someone to like you, getting them to trust you and generally getting them believing that having a relationship with you is far preferable to not having one. In this post, we’ll explore reciprocity. We’ll take up the other five principles in subsequent posts.
Cialdini says people will help you if they feel they owe you for something you did that helped them achieve a goal or helped bolster their position on a particular issue. He also adds two important components to this idea of reciprocity or “giving to get”: Be sure to get credit for your effort, and use it as an example of the partnership you’re trying to cultivate.
Interesting things happen when people think you’re trying to help them. Research by Stanford University’s Frank Flynn found that helpful employees were perceived as extremely valuable. His research even found people had lower productivity on their own projects, because they were more interested in helping the colleague who’d helped them! Sounds a bit like a bond similar to friend-to-friend. That’s where you want to be headed!
So, how to translate “giving to get” to a public works project and how to make sure it moves your audience toward a more powerful, reciprocal relationship with you?
One way – and perhaps the easiest – is through communication. Be pro-active: Take ownership of the communications process and be the go-to source that everyone trusts. This could be in the form of emails, mailings, public information meetings, social media or whatever your budget allows. Your effort should also include finding out what matters to your publics and doing something to move things in what your audience sees as a positive direction. Examples are companies that help with a cause that matters to the community (illiteracy, youth obesity – whatever it might be). Even the watering hole that sponsors the local baseball team is building relationships. (BTW, Velocity can help you with all of this.)
A final important point about communication: As with any relationship, if you violate someone’s trust, the road back is a long one. Above all, tell the truth: If it’s not exactly what they want to hear, you’ll fare far better if you’ve established a reciprocal relationship where they’re supportive of you because you’re provided something of value to them.