Quick, what’s the most important lesson you learned in college? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
No, it wasn’t the differences between a parenthetical or appositive phrase in English. And it wasn’t the law of small numbers, nor the accounting differences between a balance sheet and an income statement.
The most important lesson you learned, whether you realize it or not, is how to navigate a human system.
We do business with people, not organizations. You don’t work with Nationwide; you work Sanjay Banik at Nationwide. You don’t work with Harley-Davidson; you work with Ken St. Thomas at Harley-Davidson. You don’t work with Calgon … ok, you get it.
Often, it’s the reciprocal nature of these relationships that can dramatically increase your ability to get what you want — and help others get what they want, too. If you want to build a solid foundation for persuasion success you must understand the give and take.
Your Give-and-Take Mindset
Do you “give” a lot? Do you provide favors, information and insight to others? Or do you keep to yourself and rarely do things for others? Do you willingly accept favors, information and insight? Or do you insist on going it alone, like a solo climb up Mount Everest?
You May Be a Martyr If…
If you give a lot but accept very little in return, you’re creating a martyr-like professional condition. In the purest form, a martyr either suffers greatly or is willing to die for a cause. Sometimes, professionals give without receiving, but they don’t for long — because it’s simply not a sustainable position. One reason people find themselves playing the role of martyr is because they refuse to accept reciprocated behavior. How many times have you heard yourself saying this to a colleague trying to return a favor: “No, that’s alright; no need to repay me.” Granted, you might say that to be magnanimous. But don’t. In situations in which the other person’s perceived obligation to repay you is so strong, he actually may like you less if you don’t allow him to reciprocate. Drop the martyr act.
You May Be Modest If…
By failing to help others — and likewise failing to accept others’ help — you’re allowing no one to benefit from your presence. That greatly diminishes your contribution to others and your organization. This type of behavior may very well have provoked Oliver Wendell Holmes to write: “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!” If you don’t give or take, you’ll always be stuck in neutral.
You May Be Machiavellian If…
Niccolo Machiavelli’s portrait in world history has been painted with a black brush, largely because of the Italian politician’s views on winning, losing and manipulation. Similarly, you might be casting a shadow over yourself if you operate in a manner that others perceive as selfish. Success thrives when creating allies, not adversaries. Is someone in your organization constantly asking for favors but not even attempting to repay them? Does one employee always seem to take credit for the work of others? Does that person, or maybe another individual, promise the world but never deliver even a small corner of it? You bet. Pause now and take note of the negative feelings you’re experiencing by merely thinking about people like that and their actions. That’s because they offend your sense of justice. Make sure you’re not acting in a Machiavellian manner; otherwise, people will be thinking of you with that same outrage.
You May Be Masterful If…
When you give generously and accept repayment in kind, you both contribute greatly and benefit greatly. Best of all, people will think highly of you. The “Masterful” quadrant is where you want to spend most of your time. One of the main reasons people don’t find themselves in this quadrant nearly enough is that they fear their contributions will not be reciprocated. Don’t get caught thinking that way. Helping someone by reviewing his presentation, or obtaining a piece of information she needs, or serving as a sounding board while a colleague from another department vents all rank as valuable behaviors you can provide for others. When you do these — or implement any other positive reciprocity examples — your actions likely will be reciprocated. This is the necessary give-and-take nature of the persuasively masterful.
Do not misinterpret the give-and-take mindset as tit for tat. This is a general guiding notion, not an accounting ledger. You want to help others and accept their reciprocal actions, not track how many minutes you’ve given and then expect the same in return. Do that, and there may be other names people call you.
Understanding the ebb and flow of relationships is the lynchpin of your success.