The Reciprocity in Genuine Feedback

Learn how to use reciprocity bias to develop your organization's culture with truthful, honest, and genuine feedback, without fear of judgment or retaliation.
Source: Lison Mage Youtube Channel

We All Have a Reciprocity Bias

In my last video, I discussed the importance of establishing trust at two different levels (also called communication channels) with employees to ensure honest and genuine feedback.

Getting truthful returns is mandatory to have a successful organization and it requires effort and clarity. We must ban fear from judgment or retaliation. We must encourage initiative and accept that sometimes there will be failures. Only then, we can trigger the upper feedback loop.

In order to implement this process, like any process in a company, it starts with its leaders. They are the ones that must ignite the change, that have to lead the way, show the path to others.

The reason being that it creates inspiration and also reciprocity. All Humans have a bias for reciprocity, meaning that if we feel indebted to someone, we viscerally feel the urge to even things out.

We think of it as a social obligation, where if someone is nice to us, we want to be nice to him or her.

We can leverage this reciprocity by giving genuine feedback. If we are honest and authentic when addressing our colleagues, we are creating this bond, this debt to reciprocate.

We re also showing this is OK. If we are in a position of leadership, where we can be looked up as an example, we are displaying a behavior to be copied. That there is no fear to have when providing feedback.

Consequently, leaders create ripples. They start a chain of reactions.

Anyone touched will either reciprocate with the leader or at least pass it on someone else.

When sharing positive feedback, we must take care of being specific. If we are too generic, we might, unfortunately, be seen as insincere or worse fake. So it is of the utmost importance to make this additional effort when sharing feedback to underline specific, so the feedback seems crafted, dedicated to his or her recipient.

Instead of saying a flat “great job”, we want to explicitly tell why this is a great job. What were the constraints, what were the difficulties, the employee was facing?

Did something stand out of the ordinary? What makes it so noticeable?

Being specific, taking this extra time to really think through the reasons for positive feedback, creates authenticity and foster the reciprocity bias.

More about Reciprocity and The Art of Persuasion

An interesting book to read if you want to know more about human psychology, including the reciprocity bias, is: “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini.

Book: InfluenceAuthor: Robert B. Cialdini

In his book, Cialdini identified seven key elements of persuasion.

One of them, that I quite like is called: “Commitment and Consistency”. This is explained as our tendency to remain consistent with our commitments. Once we made a choice, we behave consistently with it due to personal or interpersonal pressures.

If we did something, that goes in one direction, we are likely to remain in this direction, to stay congruent with ourselves. We feel compelled to behave consistently with our earlier commitment and to justify our own decisions.

This is also closely tied to our notion of identity.

Consciously or unconsciously, we will label ourselves, we will categorize ourselves and it will build up our identity. We will want to remain consistent with our identity and the commitment we made to stick with these identity traits.

One well-known “trick” of consistency comes with writing. It has been proven that you are more likely to stick with your goals if you have written them. A similar study showed a reduced number of missed appointments at health centers when the patients were asked to write down the appointment details on their future appointment card, instead of having it down by the health center’s staff.

If you want to know more about the art of persuasion with this book: “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini, use this link

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Lison Mage

I help clever individuals and teams conquer overthinking and perform at their full potential. Together, we can go from a place of uncertainty and being paralyzed by doubt to gaining clarity on your current situation, where you want to go, and how to get you there!


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