Are you a scorekeeper? Do you keep track of whether it’s your turn to buy lunch? Do you always do your best to keep a conversation balanced?  Do you remember who’s had you over for dinner?  

Or are you the one who never reaches for the check?  Are you the kind of friend who forgets to ask about your co-worker’s ailing parent?  Or maybe it simply doesn’t occur to you to follow up with your buddy after his wife’s miscarriage.

Maybe you’re more like me, not keeping track unless it becomes so obviously one-sided that you can barely be civil.  

What I’m talking about here is reciprocity. briefly defines “reciprocal” as “matching, corresponding, equivalent.”  I’d like to elaborate on that definition by adding the concepts of balance and sustainability, and sustaining a relationship takes reciprocity, not just by gestures but also by showing an interest in the other person’s world. 

I’m starting to confuse myself.

Consider the concept of sharing.  We learn this as children, and it usually starts with our toys.  The kids who don’t share aren’t as likeable.  When learned at an early age, reciprocity becomes a social norm that we utilize, in various ways, all our lives.  

Reciprocity in marketing is another example.  Spend $50.00 at our store, and we’ll give you a $10 coupon good on your next visit.  If we actually use the $10 coupon before it expires, we’ve benefitted from the merchant’s reciprocity. 

Sometimes we need to take some time to think about making a reciprocal offer.  I often feel the urge to even the score immediately.  Like when I’m finishing a meal at a friend’s house, and while helping to clear the table, I’m opening up my calendar to see when they can come over for dinner at my house.  Do I really want to cook dinner next Friday night?  Or was I simply caught up in the urge to reciprocate?

And sometimes there is an obvious inequity in the reciprocity.  Giving me a ride to the airport doesn’t necessarily entitle you to borrow my car for a week while yours is in the shop.  

So how do we climb this potentially slippery slope?  If you are about to do something really nice for a friend or co-worker, first give some thought to your expectations about how your kind gesture will be received.  I have, more than once, offered to proof-read a friend’s newsletter, with the sole intention of sharing my ability (or curse) to spot a typo.  I expect nothing more than a “thank you.” 

On the other hand, I have several very generous friends who understand that reciprocity doesn’t have to be equal.  Nor is their generosity delivered with the intention to obligate me. 

Understanding expectations and intentions has helped me to arrive at my own definition of reciprocity.  It’s the return of a kindness without measure as to balance or equivalency.   

Would you be willing to reciprocate by sharing your thoughts?  Comments can be less than a three-minute read!