Some of you probably know that I’m not much of a “new age” guy. Yet, as an author and a businessman who started BNI®, which today has 308,000+ members in 77 countries, I believe in the immense power of the Law of Reciprocity. This concept touches upon the deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice for someone who did something nice for you.
There certainly is value in soft skills. For people like me who understand the value of soft skills but would also like to have some evidence as to why those soft skills work, I can tell you there’s a lot out there to support the Law of Reciprocity, starting with the Nash equilibrium theory (the acronym of which is, ironically, NET).
Nash’s Equilibrium Theory
Basically, Nash’s equilibrium theory states that the best result will come when everyone in the group is doing what is best for both themselves and the group. It is a form of reciprocity, and the optimal outcome of the situation is one where no individual has an incentive to deviate from their chosen strategy after considering the other participants’ choices.
Reciprocal altruism is another form of reciprocity. It involves an equitable balance between collective altruism and personal need. Collective altruism looks at the needs of the group but doesn’t give strong consideration to the needs of the individual. Reciprocal altruism attempts to consider both the needs of the group and the needs of the individual.
In early writings by Socrates and Alexis de Tocqueville about ethics and government, the concept of enlightened self-interest was all about reciprocity. Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy which states that people who act to further the interests of others, or interests of the group or groups to which they belong, ultimately serve their own self-interest.
In other words, it is possible to do well, by doing good.
In the early days of BNI, I incorporated the use of the term, Givers Gain® from the very beginning. The underlying foundation of this term is predicated on the age-old concept of “what goes around, comes around”. However, it is more complex than that.
Business networking is about relationship building. I have found that the best way to build a relationship with someone quickly is to help them first. If you can help someone — and I don’t mean talking about selling them your product or service, I mean genuinely help them by giving them an introduction, information, or anything that serves their needs, you will begin to establish a professional relationship with them.
Creating a relationship helps build trust, and trust is the cornerstone of effective networking. When you practice Givers Gain often enough, you will be on the road to building a powerful personal network predicated on trust built through helping to serve someone else.
This concept, whatever term you choose to use – Givers Gain or the Law of Reciprocity, serves as a bridge between individuals and a community of people for collaboration of all kinds. It fuels individual and professional growth, along with increased referrals and business.
Benefits of Cooperation
Research has shown that social cooperation is rewarding to our brains. Cooperation increases the frequency of dopamine release within the brain. Interestingly, dopamine decreases without social cooperation. Each of the strategies mentioned above are about cooperation and collaboration, and each can increase dopamine production.
I once received an email from Amruth, a BNI member in India, with a great metaphor for this philosophy. He said words to the effect of: imagine that you have two spoons, a small spoon and a large serving spoon. Which one are we using the most? The small spoon serves only us, but the large spoon allows us to serve others.
The more that we all use the large spoon, the more we will all have plenty for the small spoon. A business networking group using the large spoon for everyone creates amazing success for all.
In the book, The Go Giver, co-written by my friend, Bob Burg, the authors say, “Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.”
Call it Nash’s equilibrium, reciprocal altruism, enlightened self-interest, or Givers Gain – by giving to, and helping others, you feel great. And oh, by the way, it comes back to you, many times over.
I believe that reciprocity is about taking off your bib and putting on your apron. This kind of networking is where individuals enter, and communities emerge.
THAT is how soft skills make strong networks.