“To accept a favor is to sell one’s freedom.” -Publilius Syrus

If you received a Christmas card from someone you didn’t know would you write them one back? In a study conducted in 1974 Phillip Kunz actually tested this by selecting 600 names at random from the phone book and mailing them cards during the holidays. He received over 200 cards in return. Some contained 4-page handwritten letters.

15 years later Kunz was still receiving cards from complete strangers.

Professor Robert Cialdini has spent his career studying persuasion and has identified 6 key principles that are often used to influence us. The first principle is the same one identified over 2000 years ago by Publilius Syrus in today’s quote: reciprocity.

When a charity sends you address labels with your name on them the chances that you will donate go from 18% to 35%. If a waiter brings you a mint with your bill you will tip 3.3% more. If the waiter adds a second mint tips go up over 20%.

The Hare Krishnas raised millions of dollars in donations by passing out flowers, like in this classic clip from the movie Airplane.

How can you resist this manipulative technique? Cialdini suggests reappraising these small gifts for what they really are: an effort to exploit you. Thus, you should feel justified in keeping the gift. Reciprocity works both ways.


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