Influence 2: Reciprocation

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reciprocationThe first of Cialdini’s principles of influence is the idea that people are more likely to agree to something if they feel it is in return for something they have already received. This makes intuitive sense, of course. But an interesting twist to this is that people will feel indebted even if the thing they have been given was unsolicited, and even if it is something they’re not particularly interested in. This is why Hari Krishna people give flowers before soliciting donations. You may not want a flower, but once you’re holding it you don’t feel so comfortable about not giving anything in return.

So, what is the conductor’s version of giving someone a flower?

Well, there is the tactic of literally giving people things. Clearly, buying gifts for your choir could become an unrealistically expensive occupation, especially if your recruitment policies are working well. Besides, you’d probably find yourself the recipient of large quantities of token tat in return – not exactly the plan. But gifts can be symbolic as much as real – and arguably these are the more valuable ones. Possibly the most valuable gift we can give a singer in a choir is recognition of their individuality, their personal values, and their distinctive contribution to the ensemble.

So, if you see a flyer for an event one of your singers might be interested in, pick it up and give it to them. If you hear a poem on the radio that made you think of something they care about, mention it when you see them. If you meet someone who could be a potential customer for their spouse’s small business, put them in touch.

The offering doesn’t need to be relevant to the choir, it just needs to be experienced as a personal transaction, from you to another. According to Cialdini it doesn’t even need to be valuable to them, though my hunch is that the more you honour the things your singers care about, the more likely they are to honour your values in return.

It’s also possible to articulate moments in the rehearsal process in transactional terms. If you want your singers to do something specific, frame the request as their return offering for something you are going to offer them first. ‘Tell you what, if I give you a really clearly upbeat to show the tempo, will you give me a nice clean entry?’ Or even: ‘If I gave you £200 each every time you keep the tonal centre steady, would you do that? (Oh, it turns out that I can’t afford to do that, but if you could do it for £200, you can probably manage it for a part-share in a packet of sweets…)’

(Don’t underestimate the power of kindergarten-level treats even with adults, by the way. Esteem needs are driven by the child within us all crying out ‘look at me Mum!’)

Benjamin Zander writes about the practice of ‘giving someone an A’ not in arrears, as a reward for jumping through hoops, but beforehand, as an act of faith in the good work they’re going to do. The principle of reciprocation helps us understand why this might work. This practice also relates to Cialdini’s next principle, self-consistency, which I’ll write about next week.

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