Recently I severed a business relationship that I once valued. It was not something that I did impetuously; on the contrary, I had been contemplating this move for quite some time. The delay was not in the deliberation, but in maintaining the hope that things would get better - which it didn't.

At the heart of the matter were my deeply entrenched feelings of being used (i.e., taken advantage of). We've all been in situations, but to be in a relationship - personally or professionally - where you constantly feel this way, is a tell-tale sign that reciprocity, or a lack thereof, is missing.

When I first entered the business world, I was greatly inspired by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar who was quoted in his famous book, How To Win Friends & Influence People, as saying, "You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." That was the creed that I lived by as a professional.

Many years later I incorporated Zen into my life. One of the basic tenets of Zen philosophy is giving without the expectation of receiving. As a person, and as a service-oriented business professional, my path and mission were clear: give more than is expected.

While munificence may go a long way toward building good will and being liked in business, it will have an adverse effect on the bottom line. Personally, it's important to note that people rarely give without the expectation of receiving something in return. It's just human nature. Zen practice attempts to make you aware of that so that you can give freely without expectation.

In business, this is where there is an abrupt departure.

Robert Cialdini, a Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University elaborates on what he calls "the Rule of Reciprocity" in his book Influence:

The Rule of Reciprocity requires that one person try to repay what another person has provided. By obligating the recipient to an act of repayment in the future--the rule for reciprocation allows one individual to give something to another with the confidence that it is not being lost.

This sense of future obligation - according to the rule - makes possible the development of various kinds of continuing relationships, transactions, and exchanges that are beneficial to society. Consequently, virtually all members of society are trained from childhood to abide by this rule or suffer serious social disapproval.

Cialdini's Rule of Reciprocity may be misnamed if reciprocal thinking is human nature and business relationships, and business itself, depends on it. Instead of viewing this as a give/take situation, we should focus on the benefits of reciprocity.

These benefits are not only experienced when we receive, but also when we give. They are predicated upon actions, reciprocal actions, and interactions which have a positive domino effect. It's true that in a community in which we take care of each other, everyone will be taken care of.

But when the benefits received on behalf of one party far outweigh the benefits of the other, or elude you altogether, you feel short-changed. Such an imbalance will ultimately result in discord, or as was the case in my situation, dissolution.

To avoid this situation, and to prevent others from experiencing it, you must think proactively about present and future benefits (e.g., what's in it for them, what you have of value to offer, and how they can profit). This is the foundation for the proverbial "win-win" scenario.

Often people don't see or realize what reciprocal benefits there are to be offered to others because they are instinctively focused on their own. It's best to be up-front about these matters in the beginning, and during the course of any long-term working relationship. The phrases "I owe you," or "I can't wait to return the favor" are checks that you can cash at a later date.

In the end, you have to be able to hold people accountable to the benefits that they advertise to you with diplomacy and tact. If they are not advertised and are only perceived (by you or the other party), then they must be articulated. This serves as a form of documentation that can be acknowledged and measured at a later date, if necessary.

By learning to be mindful of reciprocal actions, you inevitably increase the abundant benefits of reciprocity for yourself, and others in a way that Zig Ziglar would surely be proud of.

Author's Bio: 

Gian Fiero is a speaker and author who lectures throughout the country.