The psychology of using reciprocity in the workplace

Reciprocity – not exactly a word which rolls off the tongue, but one which is crucial in curating and delivering outstanding customer experience.

Put simply, reciprocity is an exchange between ourselves and another for a mutual benefit – a win/win for both sides. Reciprocity is different to negotiating in the sense that it doesn’t have to be tied to anyone gaining variables, traded against each other. I think to most, it has more in common with a ‘gesture of goodwill’ rather than a negotiation.

As an example, take reciprocity in the context of a supermarket. You see the delicious samples on a stand at the end of an aisle, with a warm and welcoming assistant inviting you to try. You take one, enjoy it, and the assistant is able to take the opportunity to build a reciprocal relationship with you.

It’s in our human nature to feel obliged to cooperate with others if they have shown willingness to support us.

One thing which is crucial to remember when trying to build reciprocity into your customer experience, is that it fundamentally only works if two factors are met:

  • The gesture you are offering is unexpected and taken as a genuine gesture of goodwill
  • The benefit given is meaningful, personalised in a way which meets your client’s needs

If a person doesn’t drink coffee, and you offer them a gift card to a coffee shop, this is unlikely to end in a reciprocal relationship. In the same way – if your client knows that you give out coffee shop gift cards to everyone, your ability to influence them or make a reciprocal relationship is limited.


Measuring results from simple gestures

In a psychological study considering the culture around tipping in America, it was observed that if the server signed the bottom of the bill, with a smiley face, tips largely remained as expected. If that same server gave a ‘gift’, by way of a sweet to the customer, the tips were slightly higher than expected.

And if the server provided the bill with a ‘gift’, took two steps away and turned back, saying something along the lines of ‘because it’s you guys, here’s an extra couple of sweets’, the tip increased significantly and, in some instances, was three times higher than anticipated.

When implemented correctly, reciprocity can help build memorable experiences and develop long-term relationships with clients and even staff. It plays into our human nature to collaborate and when executed well it can increase the quality of your client’s experience.

This country!

“This country!”

“My upbringing!”

“This government!”

“I can’t do that”

“My school!”

“We have no voice!”

“My parents!”

“My boss!”

“I’m not able to do that!”

“My team mates!”

“This company!”

“My age/gender/colour/religion!”

“My job!”

“I was never given the chance!”

“This place!”

“This isn’t the right time!”

“I’m not able to talk to them like that!”

“This industry!”


There’s always a reason.

There’s always an explanation.

There’s always an excuse.

There’s always a belief holding somebody back or underpinning their behaviour.



These are all examples of how the stories in our heads can sometimes become anchors that hold us back called ‘self-limiting beliefs’. They’re ‘reasons’ that drive our behaviour or hide our shortcomings.

Of course this isn’t to trivialise real issues where they exist – it’s to point out two things which are of huge importance for leaders and managers.


1, Identify how your stories shape your own beliefs and the beliefs of those around you. Be analytical of yourself and your own language patterns. See how changing them changes the way others perceive things and behave

2, Listen out for the beliefs of others and you’ll be able to understand, engage and motivate them far more effectively. A skilled manager can use coaching techniques to identify the beliefs that hold people back and can reduce or eliminate them


Albert Einstein said, ‘the environment is everything that isn’t me’.

You can spend as much time as you like finding excuses amongst your environment or, as every successful leader will tell you, you learn to work it, create it and shape it.


More information

Coaching Skills for Managers

Organisational Leadership Skills

Impellus Google review winner May 2021

Congratulations to Mike Harmer of Schaltbau Transportation who is the winner of May’s Google review draw.

Each month we put everybody who leaves us a Google review into a draw to be in with a chance of winning a £100 gift voucher of your choice; whether that be your favourite retailer or even your favourite place to go to eat.

We use a random name generator to select our monthly winner which is verified internally. For May there was a 1 in 7 chance of winning. So, if you’ve enjoyed our courses why not leave a Google review to have the chance of winning £100 voucher of your choice this month.

Many congratulations again to Mike for winning this month and thank you very much for your kind review.

Mike – we’ll be in touch directly to send you the voucher of your choice.





The Calendar Mindset, is it holding you and your team back?

Let me just check my diary…

Time is a valuable resource and those who are hard pressed for it find ways to be as efficient with it as possible.

This is reflected in our habits outside of the work environment, too. Studies have recognised that as consumers, we schedule our social activities to use our time as efficiently as possible; like arranging to meet a friend for coffee or perhaps scheduling exactly what will happen and when, on a sight-seeing city break. We plan our free time in much the same way as we do work, into accurately timed segments, to get the most from this valuable resource.

Although the benefits of scheduling are well established, the downsides of this approach are relatively under researched.

Across thirteen studies, using leisure activities like going to the cinema or meeting for a coffee break, researchers have suggested that scheduling our leisure time, can make the activities we do outside of work feel more like obligations, dampening the excitement and anticipation you feel before the event and limiting the satisfaction you feel after.


So, we shouldn’t plan our free time?

In short, scheduling activities in our free time can reduce the benefits you would otherwise take away from spontaneous experiences.  Savvy companies can make use of this premise too, through their perfectly timed marketing. Have you ever received the ‘impromptu’ 17:30 SMS message from Just Eat? Their client base are likely to respond positively to this marketing message because of the time of day it reached them, but they are also more likely to enjoy the experience of ordering in, because they’d not planned it ahead of time. A marketing win-win.


But what about scheduling inside of the work environment?

Scheduling, figuratively, makes the world go round.  Businesses run on schedules and managers and their staff work efficiently because of this.

But through adopting more of a rough scheduling approach (agreeing what day will work best to check in with a teammate, without pre-specifying the time) in the situations where it suits your business, you could significantly improve the response you get from your team, the input they give, as well as the satisfaction they feel at the end of the conversation.

If effective productivity is based on doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons and in the right way, then perhaps by moving away from a calendar mindset, your conversations may be more valuable than you may have initially expected.


More information

Delegation and Time Efficiency

Organisational Leadership Skills

Look beyond the noise

The key to success is hard work, or is it?

We all know people who progress, or are thought of as the top performers, when they aren’t quite all they seem to be. They claim the successes but never seem to be responsible when something goes wrong.

Sometimes it’s those who are fairly average that thrive because they make more noise and get noticed. When promoting or rewarding, managers can become blinded by charismatic displays of overconfidence while the quiet stars in the corner get overlooked.

Research has found that most people tend to overestimate their own abilities, with those of lesser skill more likely to have an inflated sense of their own abilities, tackling tasks in a blissful state of overconfidence.

This phenomenon is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. It describes how the incompetent are not only bad at the task at hand, but can be so bad that they’re blind to their own ineptitude.


Confidence implies competence

In politics it’s well documented that we gravitate towards confident, charismatic leaders. Psychologists studying influence often talk about competence cues. These are signs that the person in front of us knows what they are talking about, such as speaking opinions loudly and without hesitation. We read body language as a sign of competence as well, such as emphatic gestures when making points and appearing at ease with tasks.


The mistake that managers make

Whether or not someone succeeds can often depend on unconscious bias which can cause us to make decisions in favour of certain people, regardless of their shortcomings. Although we like to think we’re open-minded, research consistently shows we’re biased when selecting other people to employ or promote. In most cases, we’re likely to have a more favourable opinion of people we perceive to be similar to us.


How managers can create a culture where results win through

It’s important for managers to recognise their own biases to avoid rewarding the mediocre. We should think carefully about whether a ‘good feeling’ about someone is because they deserve it and can it be backed up with concrete evidence, or is a natural but harmful bias.

Managers need to ensure there’s clarity around roles and responsibilities and that they have effective ways of assessing performance through a range of formal and informal measures such as objectives, targets, ongoing feedback and observation.

The most effective leaders create a culture of diversity and inclusion, allowing everyone to have a voice and affording everyone the same opportunities.

Recognition should be based on fact not noise.


Further information

Managing and Appraising Performance

Developing Winning Teams

Organisational Leadership Skills

Like, knowledge and respect

Many managers secretly worry about how much their employees like them.

Many worry that they have to have the highest levels of work knowledge and capability in every area amongst their team.

Such worries are commonplace. We train dozens of managers weekly – many at a senior level – who have allowed these thoughts to lead them into traps such as the inability to delegate or to build a cohesive team where people take responsibility.

The good news is there’s a simple way to stop worrying:


Does it matter if people like you?

It helps for sure, but a manager needs to consider this; we like many people but how we respect them differs. A good friend may be liked and respected as such but they may not necessarily have your respect when it comes to, say, legal advice, medicine or their knowledge on the current state of world crop prices, for example.


But I do need to know more than them, right?

No. In fact in many cases it might help if a manager has none of the technical knowledge needed by their team. There would certainly be no problem with delegation, micromanagement or sharing information then.

The skills that will make them a good manager are leadership skills. Of course technical and proprietary knowledge are useful but a skilled leader is a skilled leader forever and will always run a better performing team than a manager still trying to be the best at the day job.

Managers who pass on skills and allow others to take responsibility never need to hold onto knowledge for the purpose of their own ego.


So what of respect?

You can be liked and entirely disrespected – even by those who seem to like you and are always nice to you.

You can have great technical knowledge and skill and run a shambolic team.

If you give people the ability to perform well in their roles; if you treat people well and fairly (and that means setting boundaries and dealing with poor performance even-handedly too); if you get a team working together then people will respect you.

Ironically when people start to respect you they often start to like you. They also see your leadership knowledge and capabilities.


But start with respect.

Don’t start with trying to be liked, that’ll follow.

And as a manager remember your leadership skills are the capabilities that will drive your success and that of your team.

April’s Google review winner

Congratulations to Luke Hodson from Clifford Talbot Partnership Ltd who is the winner of April’s Google review draw.

Each month we put everybody who leaves us a Google review into a draw to be in with a chance of winning a £100 gift voucher of your choice; whether that be your favourite retailer or even your favourite place to go to eat.

We use a random name generator to select our monthly winner which is verified internally. For April there was a 1 in 7 chance of winning. So, if you’ve enjoyed our courses why not leave a Google review to have the chance of winning £100 voucher of your choice this month.

Many congratulations again to Luke for winning this month and thank you very much for your kind review.

Luke – we’ll be in touch directly to send you the voucher of your choice.






Rapid Reflection gets Rapid Results

The most effective leaders recognise that they still have things they can learn.

They understand that specific learning goals coupled with conscious effort and attention help them to be successful. This balance of self-awareness and self-discipline is what makes them a rounded and respected leader within their organisation.

One method that many effective leaders use is the practice of reflection; reflecting on the new things they have tried and what they have learned as a result. The good news is that this is a method of learning which is very quick and effective, and only requires a few minutes each day.

David Peterson, ex-Director of Executive Coaching and Leadership at Google, calls this Rapid Reflection. He suggests it’s a powerful tool which helps managers and leaders move from being ‘good’ to being ‘great’.

So how does it work? It’s a process where you set aside a few minutes at the end of the day, week and month to reflect on your actions and what you have learnt as a result. It also prompts you to look for new opportunities to learn and grow as a leader.


Rapid Reflection for Managers and Leaders

1. Daily (1-2 min.)
• What new thing did I do today?
• What did I learn?
• What one thing will I do differently tomorrow?


2. Weekly (3-4 min.)
• What progress did I make last week?
• What do I need to focus on this week?


3. Monthly (5-10 min.)
• What have I done this month to become a more effective leader or manager?
• When is my next opportunity to act with compassion, integrity, and courage*? (* replace with your own organisation’s values)
• How am I helping others to bring their best selves to work? What else could I do?


Building a reflection practice will help you move from good to great in no time at all. A few minutes a week will do the trick – and it’s so easy to fit in. So, what’s stopping you?

Are Communication Barriers Affecting Your Team’s Productivity?

We all know that highly productive employees bring value to a team and there are some traits they might have that won’t come as any surprise – being organised and the ability to prioritise, to name just two.  But could it also be the case that some of your most productive team members are also those who are afraid to speak up and ask questions or request help if they need it?


We don’t all communicate in the same way

Some people are great team players but don’t necessarily feel that they can tell their manager they’re going to miss a deadline, for example.  It’s a breakdown in communication because, for some reason, they don’t feel able to speak out.

It isn’t an easy thing for everyone to do.  Some people are naturally more reserved, and others may have tried to speak to management in the past with what they felt was little success, so don’t feel inclined to try again in the future.  Yet, if they don’t speak to their managers, they may be failing in their tasks if they don’t know what to do next or don’t have enough help to get it done in time.


Managers need to proactively enable communication

If managers want their team members to feel comfortable speaking up, then they need to foster a culture that encourages them to do so without any fear of ridicule or retribution.  People need to know who to go to with their queries or concerns and to feel that they can raise them honestly.  Does that always seem the case with the management team in your organisation?

Being productive is often considered to be primarily about a process of getting tasks done and not as a communication issue, yet it’s important not to forget about the human elements of productivity.  Good leaders know that barriers to communication increase the opportunities for mistakes and misunderstandings to arise, which in turn can adversely affect productivity.

The next time that you have an issue with a team member who makes an error or misses a deadline, it may be worth considering whether communication barriers were a significant factor in the outcome.  If so, then you should be able to help address the issue.  This is how a manager becomes an outstanding leader.


As a manager it’s down to you to identify hidden reasoning

What barriers were preventing them from speaking up?  What can be done differently in future to encourage them to raise concerns as soon as they arise?

Speaking up when required is an important communication skill for all employees but it won’t happen if the leadership within their organisation doesn’t encourage it. That’s down to you.

Are you an intentional listener?

As a manager, one of the key skills you must master is the ability to listen. By listening attentively, and intentionally, your working relationships will improve. Your team members will feel valued and that what they say to you matters. It shows that you’re willing to understand and respect them.

You could think that listening is an easy thing to do but it’s not. We’re not talking about hearing; that’s a passive, involuntary, effortless occurrence. We’re talking about focused, intentional listening, or ‘active listening’, as it’s sometimes called.

Unfortunately, far too often when people talk to each other, they don’t listen attentively. They talk too much and don’t listen enough. They are often distracted; half listening, half thinking about something else, already composing their response in their mind. They listen to respond instead of listening to understand.


“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to reply”

Stephen R. Covey


The skill of intentional listening involves suspending all judgement, quietening your mind, and focusing 100% on the other person. It involves you giving them your undivided attention to truly understand what they are saying.


Really great listeners don’t just listen to the words that are spoken

They listen for the feelings behind what the person is saying which allows them to really tune into what is going on for that person.

They also do something else. They listen for what’s not being said, noticing body language or other clues that signify there’s additional information that is yet to be uncovered. They allow the time for that information to be shared, often asking open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to elaborate further.

Great managers know that intentional listening is an important skill to have. They know that when they make the time to listen to their team, to both their ideas and their concerns, they create an environment where mutual trust and respect grows, and workplace relationships thrive.

Are you listening with the intent to understand? Or are you listening with the intent to reply?


For more information on the subject:

Effective Communication Skills

Coaching Skills for Managers

Negotiation Skills and Techniques 

Process, Questions, Objections and Value

Presentation Skills and Techniques