Guy Kawasaki counseling Don Corleone

When someone thanks you for doing them a favor, there are any number of stock ways to respond. “No problem.” “It was nothing.” And, of course, “You’re welcome.” For some situations, though, there’s a phrase that beats the common replies that we toss out. One of my favorite bits in Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment is a brief anecdote describing a conversation with persuasion expert Bob Cialdini. When Kawasaki asked how to best thank people that did him a favor, Cialdini suggested that instead of simply thanking them, using this phrase would be much better:

“I know you’d do the same for me!”

Reciprocity in action

Cialdini’s recommendation is based on the concept of reciprocity, something we’ve discussed here at Neuromarketing from time to time. In short, when a person does something for you, they establish within you a small need to repay that favor. Reciprocity is the principle behind non-profits sending you free address labels and other items that are apparently unrelated to their cause. They spend the money on this postal swag because even though most people will still ignore their pitch, the reciprocity effect will raise the response rate more than enough to cover the additional cost.

An initial favor sets the stage for reciprocity. Do someone a favor, and they’ll be far more likely to do you a favor. What the phrase “I know you’d do the same for me” does is amplify the reciprocity effect by reminding the other person of the possibility of payback.

Don Corleone: Not Enchanting

Mario Puzo’s fictional Don Corleone in The Godfather knew a little about reciprocity himself. He granted favors often, but those favors established debts that would be collected later. Owing Corleone a favor was terrifying, because the return favor he later demanded would likely be illegal and dangerous. And that’s the risk of using Cialdini’s potent phrase – you can come across like the Godfather reminding the favor recipient that “now YOU owe ME one.” A weighty sense of obligation is hardly the emotion you’d like to inspire when someone thanks you for helping!

Kawasaki recommends using this phrase judiciously, and only when it can be done in a way that makes a positive statement about the other person. In that context, it’s a compliment – “I know you, you are a person with integrity who cares about people and is always willing to help others.” Simply throwing out the words to establish indebtedness is hardly “enchanting,” Kawasaki notes. (I suppose enchantment didn’t rank high among Don Corleone’s priorities.)

My suggestion – use this phrase sparingly and honestly. You can even further temper it with an observation that amplifies the compliment, like, “I know you’d do the same for me, Sally, I remember how you helped Bill when he was up against a deadline.” That will help on multiple levels. Praise is all too uncommon and, if honest, is always welcome. In addition, that statement helps underscore the self-image of the recipient that they are the kind of person that really does help others, which actually helps your cause. But whether or not you ever get a return favor, you’ll have made the other person feel good. As Kawasaki might say, that’s enchanting.