Added On: Sunday, November 04, 2007

Do a lot of small favors

One of the most powerful unspoken rules in human behavior is that of reciprocation. In other words, if I do you a favor, I expect you to do one for me in return. The need for reciprocation is so strong that it can lead to violence if it's broken. And you can use it to your advantage.

What I've found, in my interactions with other people, is that if you're the sort of person who does lots of small favors then people will tend to want to help you. This works particularly well if you give the impression that you don't really care if the favor's returned. You simply do nice things for people because you're a nice person.

For example, let's say you're out with a colleague from work. That person's running a little short on money and has to go home early. Why not offer to buy them a couple of drinks? It will only cost you a little bit of money, and that person will likely be thankful to you and feel obliged to you for a long time afterwards.

Or let's say you come home to find a neighbor is locked out of their apartment. They're waiting for a locksmith and they have a few bags of shopping. Why not invite them in to wait in comfort? This tiny inconvenience to you will mean a great deal to them. They'll like you immensely for it and you'll probably make a new friend.

So many people are so stingy with their time and money that someone who isn't stands out as exceptional. And most of what we're talking about here is petty - a few dollars here, a few minutes there. Giving out these small amounts to the world will almost certainly get returned to you tenfold.

But what about those who'll take advantage of such generosity?

This is always a big worry for generous people. Let's face it, if you're going to give things out to people, some of them will take advantage of you. It's guaranteed and something you should accept.

However, there are a few measures you can take to protect yourself against such cheats. The first is to judge people by their track records. If someone has a history of taking advantage of others, then you can assume that they'll continue doing so.

The second this is to develop a sensitivity to cheats. They tend to reveal themselves pretty easily. Generally, they're over-confident in asking others for favors. They're pushy and demand gifts rather than waiting for them to be given. If someone behaves in this way, it's usually a reasonable assumption that they're trying to cheat you.

But even if you do get occasionally cheated, don't work yourself up too much about it. In the long run, you're still likely to receive much more back from the world than you give out. This is especially true if you give lots of small favors that haven't been asked for.

This is one of the best techniques in human relationship building. The need to reciprocate is so powerful in most people, that they'll feel grateful to you long after the actual event.

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