The Debt You Don't Mind Paying

Last Updated Apr 9, 2009 2:02 PM EDT

I played my first ever gig on Friday night. A lifetime's ambition was fulfilled when I slung on my guitar and played a six-song set with a group of relative strangers.

Colin, the owner of Guitar Base, a Nottingham guitar shop, had brought us together. Together with his team, Colin had attracted 25 or so mainly men who were mainly in their 40s and most of whom were playing in front of a crowd for the first time.

Colin also marketed the event and attracted a crowd of 150-200 people, provided the drums, amps and PA system, organised the practice sessions and a sound check and provided a stand-in drummer when ours had to go away for the weekend.

I am so energised by the experience that I now want to buy a new guitar and amp. So where do you think I will go to make these purchases? Of course, there is only one person I will seek out and that is Colin.

Your ability to get anything worthwhile done in any organisation is directly linked to the size and quality of the relationships you have with colleagues, stakeholders and, if you are in sales, your customers.

The secret of strong relationships is this: the goodwill and trust you have built up by your previous and sincere efforts to help the other person.

Psychologists call this behaviour "reciprocation", and in his book, "Influence", Robert Cialdini identifies it as one of six critical sources of persuasion.

The idea that we feel a sense of obligation to repay previous favours and gifts is found across all human societies.

I call it "giving to get" and even though I am aware of the psychological forces at play I also feel extremely positive about repaying my "debt" to Colin.

Too often we go into business meetings with a list of what we want. But the concept of giving to get turns this completely on its head. Counterintuitively, the best way of getting what you want in the longer term is to focus first on helping your colleague or customer get what they want.

What works in business also works in politics. During last week's round of G20, Nato and other bilateral meetings, US president Barack Obama told reporters that a strategy of building bridges with other nations would make it easier to gain their support in future crises.

Colin from Guitar Base and Barack Obama understand the power of giving to get. Where can you create stronger and more influential relationships by helping others achieve their aims?

(Photo: tibchris, CC2.0)

  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.