Helping others makes us feel good. It releases endorphins in the brain which make us happy, and it creates a sense of connection which the social animal in us craves.
But it can be tough to make time for someone else when your to-do list is three pages long and your inbox is overflowing. You might want to help your teammate with their spreadsheet, but you feel you should focus on your own priorities.
How about if I told you that helping someone out is time invested, not time wasted?
If you want to build the influence you have at work, you need to understand reciprocity.
Imagine this. You have two neighbours. The one to your right takes in your deliveries, feeds your cat while you go away and says hello every morning. The one to your left doesn’t.
Now imagine you win a prize in a local raffle and you have to choose a neighbour to share it with? Who will it be?
Imagine you have a colleague who is always too busy to provide feedback, or to give you the information you need for your report. Maybe they always contradict you in meetings, or just don’t praise others when they’ve done well.
What if that colleague then needed you to reprioritise your day to help them with a crisis in their team? What if they wanted you to support their business case for additional resource when you speak to the CEO? What are you likely to do?
Reciprocity was a term coined by Robert Caldini, probably the best-known researcher into influencing. His focus was on sales and he recognised that people are more likely to ‘buy’ from someone they’ve already received something from. It’s why a lot of companies will offer free advice before they try to sell you something.
But it’s a concept we all recognise in our social and work relationships too. We are all inclined to support and help out the people who would do the same for us.
So when you support someone, you’re building your ability to influence and collaborate with them in the future.
It’s also just a nice thing to do.
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