Ever heard of the saying: ‘there is no free lunch’? Well, it took an extraordinary scene at the hospital to understand how influence tactics work. It was another ordinary hectic day at the hospital and I was about closing my shift when an obstetric emergency came through. ‘Stay let’s help save a life’, I thought. Little did I know I was about to learn a brutal lesson.

After stabilizing the client, her husband slipped a brown envelop under my clerking sheet. I was baffled. I insisted I was only doing my job as a medic, but this client’s husband wouldn’t budge. In all fairness, most of my colleagues told tales of how generous people could be in Obstetrics and maybe this was my turn to have a piece of the cake. Merci Monsieur! Only I hadn’t figured out the whole plot.

Right after accepting this gift, came the request for my number. I had vowed never to give my personal contact to clients or their relatives. But I couldn’t refuse this man. Usually, in the event I give out my contact, it would come with a strict rule: don’t call at odd hours. And this boundary, this guy violated at an annoying rate.

He would call at odd times, asking questions I had answered a thousand times. I felt trapped. There was an overwhelming feeling I owed this man something- a responsibility to be at his service. Why was I feeling this way? On deep reflection, I realized it all started after accepting his gift. I had subscribed to one of the most powerful laws of influence- reciprocity.


In the early hours of September 19, 1985, a violent magnitude 8.0 earthquake hit Mexico City which led to the death of at least 5000 people and left much of the city’s infrastructure in rubbles. Back in Africa, in that same year, Ethiopia could lay claim to being the worst country to live in.

Between 1983 and 1985, widespread famine hit the country. Political crises during the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam exacerbated the already disastrous famine making it the worst to have hit the country in a century. The famine left the economy of Ethiopia in ruins, an estimated 1.2 million people dead and almost 200,000 children orphaned.

Starving children photographed in Ethiopia in November 1984 Photo Credit: Digital Journal

In the most bizarre of decisions, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society donated a whopping $5000 to the victims of the Mexican City earthquake. Holy shitballs! Why would a country with over a million people suffering from starvation due to years of drought make such a donation? The answer:

The agency said it was sending the money despite ″the enormous needs prevailing in Ethiopia″ because Mexico supported Ethiopia when Italy invaded the African nation in 1935, the same year the Ethiopian Red Cross was founded.

Source: AP NEWS(Ethiopian Red Cross donates aid to Mexican quake victims)

This right here demonstrates the full-blown effect of the law of reciprocity. What is the Law Of Reciprocity and how can you use it in your favour?


In simple terms, the most powerful law of human nature states:

If you do something good for me, I will do something good in return. I feel obligated to reciprocate.

We have all been trained to live up to this law. Social psychologists say we all have a deeply ingrained motivation to be even when people do us good. Thus, the only way we can be even is to do something good in return. People who do not subscribe to this law are described as selfish, ingrate and are very much disliked.

Because of the sanctions that come with making no efforts to reciprocate, we often can go to greater lengths much to our discomfort to be even. And that was the perfect explanation of what happened to me with regards to the client’s husband.


In 2006, Mengistu who had fled his country to Zimbabwe was charged by the Ethiopian government for the killing of over 2 million people during his regime. The Zimbabwean government refused the extradition of Mengistu saying: “Mengistu and his government played a key and commendable role during our struggle for independence. Not many countries have shown such commitment to us”.

If a war criminal like Mengistu could harness the law of reciprocity to escape prosecution by helping Robert Mugabe in the past, then you too can. This is how you can use this tool of influence in your favour and avoid manipulation by it.


Emotional Reciprocity

You have got to learn how to be there for people. Be it, when they are emotionally down or simply make them feel good about themselves. Do you have a phone? Call people who mean a lot to you and check on them. Tell people how beautiful they look. Commend their little effort or progress they are making in life. This can have a powerful rippling effect not only on their psyche.

There is so much influence you can have on people by being nice to them.
There is so much influence you can have on people by being nice to them. Image by Siloé Amazzi from Pixabay

Whenever you make people feel good about themselves, you increase the likelihood of them reciprocating. When your life goes to shit, they are almost always going to be there. Try it.

Material Reciprocity

Maybe you are in the capacity to be of help to someone- say helping someone financially, paying for a hangout, helping someone secure a job or lending your service to someone. My thoughts? Take a chance and do it. It’s true a lot of people are ingrates, but here is the thing: life isn’t always going to be fair to you. Tides could change and you definitely are going to enjoy the benefits of reciprocity if you take a chance.


There is an attached psychological burden that comes from receiving favours/gifts as evidenced in my story. The law can trigger unfair exchanges. Let’s take an all too familiar instance.

For women, receiving a gift from a man can bring up an uncomfortable sense of obligation to return a favour especially when the demand for reciprocation becomes sexual. Does the alleged case of sexual assault levelled against the NHIA manager in the Savannah Region ring a bell?


In certain situations like the one I found myself in, always ask if there is a responsibility attached to the gift. If the manipulator denies, bingo! He or she is forced to obey the law of consistency. You stand a greater chance of disarming the ‘gifter’ when the demand for an unfair exchange arises.


There you have it. The most powerful law of influence. Harness the power of reciprocity and you can scale a lot of hurdles in life. Provide value to others-be it emotional or material and the rewards could be bountiful. Using this law to influence others for unfair exchanges is evil.

Have you benefitted from this law or been manipulated by it? Share your story in the comment section below. Don’t forget like, subscribe and share. Cheers, Dr C.

Feature image credit: Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

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