Monday, April 11, 2011

Creating Relationships That Improve Organizations

The central theme in business relationship is credibility; if your competence, motives, and interest are suspect then it is unlikely that you will be a “first pick” when the names are tossed around for the next plum project. And it takes even a bit more to develop the “trust” in relationships that is required to move the organization (and ourselves) into the “consistent success” zone. The two elements that build that trust are Reciprocity and Liking. I will talk about reciprocity in this context today.

Reciprocity networks are not new; they are just not widely spoken of in our American. Interestingly, Asian cultures recognize openly the network of people to whom they owe (or are owed) favors. The effects of the reciprocity network are the same whether you talk about it or not. I will take this opportunity then to talk about with you.

The persuasive and relationship power of reciprocity is attributable to the desirability of being able to call on others for help, and to help others when you can. Each time we do this, we change the balance in the relationship such that one party is indebted to the other party to some degree. As our relationship carries on over time, we find that we can count on this person for things that we need, and we can repay them in such a way that we both feel we are getting more than we are giving, making this very valuable to both parties. This allows us to develop trust in the other owing to their demonstrated willingness to trade their help for ours. Trying to short change this action by either party will attack the trust and kill the value of the relationship.

It is important to note that westerners, in their bias against acknowledging their reciprocity network, often weaken the effects of it unnecessarily. We will tell someone “not to worry about” repaying a favor, or to just “forget about it”. If you have ever been told this, you know that there is a natural desire to repay the favor and sometimes it can cause some bad feelings. It is perfectly acceptable to say something along the lines of “Your welcome. I know you’ll do the same for me if I ever need it”.

We should also note that the feeling of reciprocity has a shelf life. As time goes on, favors seem less valuable to those that received them and more valuable to those that gave them. Based on this, it is wise to anchor the value of the favor soon after it is done – preferably when the maximum benefit has just been realized. So, when you spend a few extra hours working out a new format for a report for your boss that they asked for, find out what they are using it for and when they will know how well received it was. If they are going to be showing it on Wednesday at their staff meeting, for instance, ask Thursday morning “Was that format helpful for you?” Let them speak fully about it, and let them know that you are “glad it was such a success and that you were able to contribute to it.” This action will anchor the value in the boss’ mind when it is at its perceived highest point. If it isn’t a success, you might ask them what criticism was made and how to incorporate the improvements; then DO it.

There is a great deal of wisdom in doing what you can for others, delivering value in doing so and building a reciprocity network. These actions we take for one another build trust and are what we recall when we are justifying why a certain person should be considered for something special. It is the right kind of currency to have in your relationship “bank”.

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