The Unspoken Rule of Reciprocity

give more than you take

There is an unspoken rule of reciprocity that people either a) respect and participate in b) are oblivious to or c) choose to ignore.

It is arguable that the people in both group “b” and “c” should fall under the same category, but I’ll leave that to another day. What I find interesting is that the people in group “a” all seem to understand this unspoken rule, and therefore do life and their relationships according to this value system. The flow and exchange is effortless, and happens organically.

In contrast, the people who fall in the latter group do life differently. These people constantly ask for, want and take. Seldom do they think “What value can I provide?” let alone, “How can I help?” Or, if help is offered or a favor bestowed, there is a “tit-for-tat” mentality where they feel owed.

There is a blurring of lines of course. I admit that there have been times where I’ve lent a hand or gone out of my way to do a favor and felt disappointed in the lack of reciprocation. I understand that I was probably doing the favor for the wrong reasons in the first place. In order to avoid this situation and future resentment, I try to steer clear of doing things out of sheer obligation. Also, I often will stop and do a gut check – if I’m feeling anxiety or pressure in order to do something for another, that’s likely a red flag that I need to get in tune with why I’m doing it in the first place. When I don’t or go ahead and do it anyway, I only find myself high on expectations and low on disappointment.

The rules of reciprocity are something that can be learned from culture, upbringing, experience and influence. Or maybe it’s just something you’re born knowing. Regardless, it’s possible that someone has good intentions but just lacks the understanding of this value due to their upbringing and environment.

Here are some questions that can help:

Would You Do the Same?

When you give, or make the effort to add value or help when you can, it seems to magically work out in the end. Perhaps it’s karma or the law of the universe, but somehow, sometime, somewhere, it does come back. Ask yourself the next time you are requesting a favor, asking for help, wanting a free service – would you do the same?

Do You Only Call When You Need Something?

If you haven’t spoken to someone for a long time and the only time you contact them is to ask for something, take a second to think if it’s appropriate. Old friends can definitely call each other up out of the blue when the time/need permits, but I’m referring to the type of relationship where you only make contact when you want something.

Do You Give Back?

When someone does something to help you – make note of it in the memory bank.  I’m not saying that you have to return the favor right away, but be aware of the time and opportunity where you could do something nice back. It’s a win-win situation.

Is it My Profession?

If you are someone in my inner circle, meaning we likely communicate on a somewhat regular basis and you know the major happenings of my life, you are invited to ask me for help in the professional realm. However, if you’re not in my inner circle, (and no, saying “Happy Birthday” on my Facebook wall doesn’t make the cut), then do not ask me to do things that is part of my profession – for free. This is especially true when you are making financial gain from my free labor. Payment does not have to be monetary, but if you are asking someone to provide a service that they do as a professional career, please offer some sort of value exchange in return.

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