Why Do We Say -Much Obliged--

Earlier this morning I had a meeting scheduled with a dear client. They hadn’t updated their homebuilding website in about three years and were pretty excited to hear about our new marketing automation program.  Their office is in a fairly large complex equipped with an exterior door that leads into a small vestibule, then another door leading into the massive lobby.

I’m no spring chicken, mind you, but an elderly gentleman about a decade older than me approached the exterior door at the same time. I smiled, opened the door for him and he literally tipped his hat before saying, “Much obliged.” He entered the small foyer and then held the interior door open for me. Has anything like this ever happened to you?

This, friends, is what is often referred to as The Principle of Reciprocity. The elderly man intrinsically felt obligated to return the favor.

If I was in Tokyo and someone held the door open for me I might say “arigatou”, which is the Japanese term for “thank you”. If, however, I opened a door for someone who lives in Japan, they would most likely respond by saying “sumimasen” which translates to “sorry for inconveniencing you.” An amazingly powerful difference, wouldn’t you say?

The Principle of Reciprocity is the same reason handwritten notes seem to garner significantly more responses and emotional value than the same message sent in an email.

In another example, a college professor recently sent Christmas cards to people he didn’t know, individuals he never even met. The following year he received several cards in return from these same people. Again, a perfect example of this principle in action.

In a sense, our species is hardwired to return the kindness of others. Pretty interesting, don’t you think?

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