The Law of Reciprocity – The Basis of All Human Interaction
“We Treat Other People the Way We Think That They Are Treating Us”
One simply cannot speak of communication without noting the power of reciprocity.
It is the basis of all human interaction.
If the score is fine, we are OK
I call this being in “Cruise Control”.
If we do not like the score, we think we are losing, our reptilian brain goes off.
In other words, the way most of us live is, “You scratch my back. I’ll scratch your back. Yes, but you are not scratching where I am itchy.
Well, you should be itchy where I am itchy.
What’s your (blankety blank) problem, anyway?
And even when you do (scratch where I’m itchy) you are doing for you (to get what you want), not for me (to get what I want).”
In a way, the Golden Rule is wrong; rather than treating others as we would like to be treated, it is wiser and better to treat others as they would like to be treated.
Example: The six year old boy who gives his mother a red fire truck or Nintendo War Game to her for her birthday because that is what he would have liked from her.
There are thirty seven first principles or corollaries to the Law of Reciprocity.
The Law of Reciprocity: First Principles
As a matter of course generally and in a distressed relationship specifically, we always think that we are doing (giving) more than the other person.
Everything is interactional and reciprocal.
We are therefore the primary and involuntary contributor, if not the cause of the very thing we most dislike in the target person. In other words, we unwittingly impede and sabotage the relationship, even though our behaviour is well intentioned, that is, we are doing our best! In other words, most of our efforts to make things better actually make them worse but we keep doing them anyway!
A problem is a bad solution.
We suffer with the illusion that meaningful and effective communication is a natural process, a given. In an intricate and ongoing relationship, communication is a phenomenon, an exception. In others words, we are not born knowing how to have a happy marriage, be a great leader etc. It is not part of our DNA. It is something that we learn to do over time. Left to our own devices, we make things up as we go along; sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.
People generally are not trying to do something (bad) “to” you but something (good) “for” themselves.
Most of us live by the credo, treat me “good” and I will treat you better. Treat me “bad” and I will treat you worse.
You can make somebody “do something” in the moment and they will do it; but inwardly they will cringe, become resentful and plot revenge.
As a general rule, human nature is a constant, that is, the way we do “anything” is the way we do “everything.”
It is easier to change other people than it is to change ourselves.
In other words, reciprocity trumps (human) nature.
We cannot change how we feel, but we can change what we do. Because a relationship is an interactional system, the force-field in the relationship is altered and our actions change how the other person feels (their emotions certainly, their mood possibly, their temperament, never).
In other words, they cannot change who they are, but in and for that moment, you can change who they are.
An Editorial Comment on Corollary Number Eight
You are the Agent of Action; they are the Agent of Reaction.
Because “everything” is interactional and reciprocal, when you treat or speak with people the way they wish to be treated, they change (they unwittingly react differently than otherwise would have been the case) but their reaction is so natural, they do not even realize the change within them.
In other words, you are choosing strategically to be “different” or to act facilitatively; whereas they (their reaction in that moment) are being “changed” but in a manner that is natural, comfortable and even motivational for them.
Their positive and reciprocal reaction to you (your mindset and language and the ensuing conversation) in turn means of course that you (your reaction) are now being “changed” by them.
That is to say, you really like their different reaction to you which “changes” or makes your feelings and response to them more positive.
So the best (easiest) way to change yourself is to not change but to be different; to use different, facilitative language to change the other person.
What then Happens?
Their positive response in turn changes you (your reaction to them and the situation).
Another way to look at this is that you are your filter, your talent; the way you naturally think, feel and respond to life.
Talent, your filter is what God (life, nature) gives you, biologically.
Skill is what you give yourself; learning to be to be different or better when you need to be.
So don’t change (your talent, filter) but learn and develop the skills you need to be different (better) when you need to be.
Be Careful: The Medicine or Cure can be Worse Than the Disease
That is very cool and all well and good except for one thing.
The medicine or cure is in some ways worse than the problem because this process which will truly get you the higher and better strategic outcome requires us to react in a way that is likely to be not all that easy or natural for us to do.
But remember, there is no growth in our comfort zone and no comfort in our growth zone.
And “nothing” in life is difficult, just “new”.
To Summarize A Rather Intricate Point
Changing other people is easier to change than yourself means that you’re choosing by your language to change their reaction to you which otherwise would have been negative or difficult for you.
In other words, you are the agent of action and they are the agent of reaction.
They are reacting (a reaction so natural as to be unwitting) to your choice or decision to be different in mindset and language in that moment.
Thus they literally change without realizing it.
Their reaction is more helpful more constructive, more positive more in alignment with what you are seeking.
They (their reaction) in turn then change you.
In other words, the best and easiest way to change your self is to change the other person.
We tend to under-react the positive aspects in our relationship, and over-react to the negative aspects.
When we recall a conflict, the recollection is usually a skewed rendering of the incident in question, which says more about how we feel now and our mutual history than about what actually happened then.
The goal in communication is, “What will advance or benefit the relationship?” So the question isn’t who is “Right or Wrong, But Whose Moment Is It?” By “Moment” I mean:
1) “Who started the sentence?”
2) “Who is the most affected or agitated in that moment?” If we facilitate the other person – “Make the conversation their moment” they will (spontaneously and naturally) “Make it your moment”, that is, they will take you where you want them to go (say what you initially wanted to tell them back to you).
When you want to communicate something you want or need from the other person, say it in terms that infer fairness and reciprocity. For example, “It is so unfair of me to ask this of you (because you are so busy etc.) but what would need to happen (or what could I do) for you to consider doing what I want (…the laundry every other week, spend some time together etc.?)
Generally, the reciprocal exchange is comprised of one person getting the “what” (they want) and the other person getting the “how” (they want it), that is, being asked in the way that facilitates their style.
In other words, it’s often Apples (What) for Oranges (How). In human interaction, you get the “What” when you give the “How”.
The more you invite (encourage) the other person to be who they would like to be, the more they become the person you would like them to be.
I trust that these corollaries are helpful to you in understanding how human interaction tends to work.
In next month’s newsletter, we will look at the remaining 23 corollaries.
For more on this topic, we recommend the following
How to Exercise Influence When