In General

I live in the city of Bangalore,India. Every month I buy medicines for a tidy sum. A neighbourhood medical store owner noticed the volume and made an offer. If I bought medicines for ten months from his store, my 11th month purchase would be free! I said I’d think it over!

Next month a new store sprang up near home enticing me with attractive pamphlets,posters and banners. When I walked in, without even glancing at my list he said, “ we offer a 10% discount upfront, no questions asked and no membership cards. And if you buy for ₹1000 onwards,the discount is 20%! Each time you only need to identify yourself with your mobile phone number and that’s it! This was clearly a GIFT for walking into his store! No commitments were expected!

In this case, I found the second offer of a gift to be more attractive than the first which was a reward for loyalty. Anything can happen in the next ten months, either the store may wind up or I may cease to exist!

When I was in Mexico on a business trip, as soon as I checked into the hotel, I gave a hefty tip to the bellboy and for the next four days I was there, I was treated like a royal with him anticipating every need mine, lavishing personal attention on me and giving me plenty of insider tips like never hail a running cab in Mexico City, always walk down to cab stand, some off- beat locations to visit to click rare photographs and so on. Here again, it was the gift that did the trick!

Both gifts and rewards are means of influence that form a larger part of a principle of influence ‘reciprocity’ coined by the world-renowned authority on influence, Dr Robert Cialdini. I was privileged to attend his ‘Principles of Persuasion’ in Phoenix,Arizona.

Reciprocity or give and take is one of the earliest known methods of influence. In most cultures, you feel obligated to return a favour. But you can’t expect it as a birthright in some.

I’ve observed two types of reciprocity or ‘give and take’. I return a favour because I have to! Simply a TRANSACTION. In many weddings in Tamilnadu, for instance, there exists a practice of ‘moi’ by which your gifts in cash are recorded in a notebook with your name and contact details. So when they attend weddings or other functions in your homes they replace the exact amount that you had gifted as ‘moi’. Not much of sentiments here. Purely a transaction of balancing books of accounts.

The next type is PAY FORWARD. Typically, in many South Indian communities, consanguineous weddings are practised. So if you were well off and you had a sister who was not as wealthy as you or way below your status, you offer to pay for her son’s higher education with an unwritten understanding that he would marry your daughter in return. While this practise works often, there are times, when your nephew, after graduating with distinction and perhaps landing a lucrative job offer gets enticed by tempting baits from much more affluent parents to hitch their daughter on to his bandwagon, offering ‘attractive terms’. 😎😜

And one day, your nephew will simply ask you for a statement of account- amount spent so far and return it fully thus treating it as a transaction while you thought of it as a pay forward for getting returns at a later date. A case of reciprocity gone wrong!

In the corporate world, however, reward is institutionalised and with attractive incentives,they spur associates to achieve more. Over the years, predictability of the result-reward model sets in and it becomes a mere ritual.

One team leader, Abhay decided to break the routine and threw a surprise ‘coffee with Abhay’ party for his team by picking up the tab himself. Nothing extravagant but they gathered in a plush coffee house and the conversation was purely personal with not a word of workplace affairs being mentioned. This surprise ‘gift’ was a welcome relief for the team and Abhay noticed a significant improvement in performance and camaraderie after three more such gifts. Bowling, amusement parks, treks and dinners were the gifts that made them bond stronger than ever.

One needs to ethically mix gifts and rewards as crucial tools of influence. The operative word here is ethical as it can sink to manipulation if done with ulterior motives.

I welcome your thoughts on gifts and rewards.

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  • Surya Narayanan

    Thought-provoking post CK. Just last week, in our daily Table Topics challenge, the topic was “The best gift you can give someone”. Many of the participants used gift and donation/charity synonymously and we had a post-contest discussion about this. Several views on the difference between gift and charity were shared. What is your opinion?

    • Chendil Kumar

      Thanks for reading my blog,Surya. Yes, many people confuse gift and charity. The second medical store gave me a ‘gift’ of 10% just for walking into his store. Gifts are also used to express appreciation. However,the basis of charity or donation is altruism.

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