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Reciprocity can feel a bit like tit-for-tat or an act of generosity.  I favor the later. When practiced as an act of generosity, the immediate expectation for mutual exchange is gone.  There is more of a sense of paying it forward versus keeping score.

Coutesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, I got to know Dr. Wayne Baker from Michigan’s Ross School of Business and his wife, Cheryl from Humax.  Together they developed an exercise called the Reciprocity Ring.  The process is simple.  Each person in the “circle” makes a request and the rest of the members in the circle try to use their knowledge, resources and connections to fulfill the request.  The request can be anything … personal or professional ranging from help with a work project to home DYI advice.  The requests are shared and the help starts.  Although they began using the ring with students, they now use it within major corporations with amazing results.  It seems to unleash the giver in each of us.

Adam Grant in his book, Give and Take, mentions the Reciprocity Ring and also something he calls the “Five-Minute Favor”.  This is simply asking people what they need and then looking for ways to help at a minimal personal cost.  This can be a simple as forwarding a link to an article you know the individual would value, making an introduction (live or via email), giving honest feedback, or just reaching out to touch base.  I use this technique as a way to fend off the fear we sometimes have when it appears that helping will be a huge commitment or involve hours of labor.  It works.  I’ve found a five-minute favor is something I enjoy doing and is often appreciated as more genuine and authentic than the evasive “I’ll see what I can do.”

What form does reciprocity take in your life?

  • When you’ve been at the receiving end, when did it feel best?  When it was tit-for-tat or when an act of generosity?
  • How, if at all, do you practice reciprocity as an act of generosity?  When did you do it last?
  • What systems or practices do you use like the Reciprocity Ring or the Five-Minute Favor to bring others into employing more reciprocity in your personal or professional life?

Dame Iris Murdoch, the Irish-born British author and philosopher, may have said it best, “Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”  See if you can launch a few ships this week.  I am.

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