Favors: The Law of Reciprocity

I had the good fortune to be in the audience when Dr. Tom Hill, noted author, speaker and coach,  told a group of high school entrepreneurs in the Parkway Spark! Entrepreneurship program how to build long-term relationships with successful people.  His message?

Give consistently and do NOT ask for a favor.

As I reflected on that wisdom I realized that I, and most of my close friends, haven’t asked for a favor in decades.  Instead, we’re blessed to have others quickly offer their assistance in helping us achieve whatever it is that we want to accomplish.

Understanding the law

What Dr. Hill was telling these students, and what my friends and I have experienced, is that when you regularly do things to help others, they return the favor without you having to ask.

Social psychologists call this the law of reciprocity.  If you do something nice for me, I want to return the favor…to do something nice for you.  That’s how we human beings are wired.

The late Zig Ziglar, successful salesperson, motivational speaker and author, put it this way “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Harvey Mackay, in his book Dig Your Well Before Your Thirsty, credits his success to the fact that he is continuously looking for ways to help others enjoy greater success.

Daunting task?

I’m sure some of you are thinking “That sounds easier than it is.”  Not true.  Every person you meet, if you ask them, will tell you what they’re trying to achieve…what their dreams are as well as some of the obstacles they face.  You have knowledge, insights or connections to accelerate the achievement or their goals.  Share them…without any expectation of reciprocation.

The mere fact that you care enough to offer ideas that may help them, whether they embrace those ideas or not, will endear you to them.  As a result, they’ll want to return the favor.  The only thing that stands in the way of that being true is when you ‘give’ with an expectation of getting something in return.  That’s not a gift, it’s a transaction.

Long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships are built on gifts given without expectation.  The late Jim Rohn, motivational speaker and successful businessman, put it this way.  None of us give magnanimously; we human beings aren’t wired that way.  But the enlightened among us give without expectation, knowing that the universe will repay our kindness.


My experience has been that I cannot outgive the universe.  I’m always behind the giving curve.  No matter how much I give to others to help them, I receive multiples back from the universe.

Follow Dr. Hill’s sage advice.  Don’t ask for favors, earn them by consistently helping others.

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