Reciprocity: The Psychology Of Networking Series - Tip #2

You scratch my back, I scratch your back.

You scratch my back, I scratch your back.


I'll give you 10 seconds, try to decode what this means: "IOY1".   

If you didn't get it, here's a clue: Imagine your friend helped you in a significant way,  but you can't help him or her back right away, what would you say?

"I Owe You One."

It's a promise that you'll return the favor one day whenever you can. 

One of my favorite non-fiction books is called Give and Take by Adam Grant.  In his book, Grant examines the impact of reciprocity on professional advancement and career success.  He categorized people into 3 types: Givers, Takers, and Matchers:

  • Takers -- people who consistently place their own needs before others and take more than they receive

  • Givers -- people who focus on what others need from them and strive to be as generous as they can to share their time, knowledge, skills, ideas and resources with others 

  • Matchers -- people who would reciprocate good deeds but keep score of the favors to strike an even balance 

Guess which type is the most common in the real world?  Matchers. Well, that's understandable because we all have limited amount of time, energy, and resources, so it'd be tough to help everyone who approaches us. Most people are selective in choosing whom to help. 

"I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" is a phrase that applies to both human and primates. Scientists found that primates were more likely to groom others that had groomed them, regardless of their relatedness.

As social animals, we human beings subconsciously know an interpersonal code of conduct: reciprocity or the act of returning a favor.  In fact, reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges.

So how does this social norm apply to the art of networking?

Knowing that people often feel obligated to return the favor, I urge you to give first before you take. Or at the very least, show or assure the person that you're asking a favor from that you greatly appreciate their help and want to return the favor in the future.

If you're a student, you can still help a working professional in some ways that matter to them.

  • For example, if they like to keep up-to-date with industry news and attend interesting events, then share news and events that are relevant and appealing to them.

  • If they care about fame, then help them gain publicity by inviting them to speak at your school or interviewing them for an article for the school newspaper.

  • If they're into certain hobbies like reading, traveling, or going to the gym, share travel or workout tips and recommend some books. That thoughtfulness goes a long way. 

When I try to build relationships with people, I always listen deeply and pay attention to their needs so I can help them achieve their goals.  I make it clear at the beginning of our interaction that I have something to bring to the table and make them more successful or their lives easier.  Our relationships have grown because they want to reciprocate as well. 

Reciprocity doesn't always happen, let alone right away. But when it does happen, sometimes it can change your life in a drastic way. 

When I was still in college, I helped a classmate who wanted to break into marketing field by giving him some internship hunting tips.  Years later, when I was searching for a new job, he did me a huge favor by referring me to his company. 

I started freelancing as a career coach by accident. Three years ago, I gave career advice to a friend when she had a tough time at her job. She thought that I would make a good career coach, so she connected with her friend who's the founder of a career coaching company. That introduction opened a whole new world of opportunities for me ever since then. 

I probably wouldn't be sharing advice with you now have I not gone through these amazing experiences. So strive to be a matcher or giver, instead of a taker. That's how you can go further in career and life. 

Foot In the Door: The Psychology Of Networking Series - Tip #3

Positive Reinforcement: The Psychology of Networking Series - Tip #1

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