What Don Corleone Could Learn from Guy Kawasaki


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 respond to people who thanked him for a favor, Cialdini suggested that instead of a simple “You’re welcome,” 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.

  1. bonnie larner says

    Utterly fab headline, Roger.
    Leave the gun, bring the cannoli.


    1. Roger Dooley says

      Bonnie, if you like quotes… On IMDB’s Godfather quote page, the word “favor” crops up five times!


  2. David Manney says

    I’m halfway through Kawasaki’s book and I have to admit finding myself impressed. I’m not trying to keep score, but I think I’ve found more useful advise in this half-read book than in several of Seth Godin’s books – and I’m a Godin fan.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      David, watch this space for a review of Poke the Box… Godin and Kawasaki have very different styles. Godin is more of a sermonizer/motivator with a broad message, while Kawasaki likes to give you more specific, useful advice.


  3. David Manney says

    Kawasaki actually reminds me a little of Geoffrey Gitomer, but isn’t as verbose, which I prefer.

    I’d like to think that, from what I’ve read so far, that the Kawasaki/Godin combination will give a deeper value than simply reading one of them.

    Kawasaki’s “crow’s feet” really did make an impression on me – something I’ve tried to pass on to the sales people who work trade show booths with me.

  4. Petur Williams says

    Crafting a reply like that is kind of disgusting in its sheer selfishness. I think you are correct in suggesting that it be used sparingly.

  5. David Manney says

    Petur, to which reply are you referring and would you please explain further?

  6. Petur Williams says

    Sorry to be confusing, David…
    in “What Don Corleone Could Learn from Guy Kawasaki”
    “I know you’d do the same for me….”

    This neuro linguistic programming trick is just too self serving to be used on anyone you might have to encounter again later.

  7. David Manney says

    Thank you for the clarification!

    My initial, wiseacre thought is to be grateful there isn’t a ring kissing contest.

  8. Aaron W says

    Am I the only one who feels that this “reciprocity” is all very manipulative? In my experience, it has been much more effective to do favors for others, be a good person in general, and others have a hard time saying no when you ask them for a favor. If you are repeatedly doing favors for a person who never helps you in return, then simply quit helping them.

    It really just comes down to being a genuinely nice person without letting people use you as a doormat. I don’t feel the need for complex phrases and such.

    Aaron W

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I endorse your strategy, Aaron. And I think if one attempts to remind people of favors owed, the risk of seeming manipulative is indeed high.


  9. Chris says

    I didn’t know that Guy Kawasaki belonged to the Japanese Mafia, Yakuza otherwise I wouldn’t have bought this book. 🙂 Regarding reciprocity, that statement is really good compared to the stale thank-you’s and welcome’s just like the hello’s, it just becomes mechanical when they don’t mean it. But if you follow Buddhism or Hinduism, the real followers never expect anything back. They just help and don’t expect the fruits. In my experience, whenever I help someone I may or may not get things back from the same person, but I am definitely enriched and rewarded in so many different ways. This is what I feel about reciprocity:

    If you help just to gain something back, you gain nothing but frustration. http://goo.gl/CVTkA


    1. Roger Dooley says

      Guy’s apparently a lot older than he looks in person, if the photo is accurate. 😉


  10. MainSpring Video says

    Good advice- keeping the focus on making the other person feel good, whether or not you get a favor in return. Thanks!

    1. Roger Dooley says

      You’re welcome, MSV, I know you’d do the same for me!

      Couldn’t resist, glad someone finally gave me an opening for that!


  11. David Manney says

    I try to teach my daughters, and constantly remind myself, to place myself second, third, or whatever. I tell them to NOT expect anything in return, but I believe that by putting others first, we help ourselves.

    For example, in a marriage, if a spouse does something that doesn’t benefit him, but makes her life, at least momentarily, much easier. In this situation, they both win. I’m not saying my marriage is perfect – far from it – but not expecting a reciprocal action when giving one I think is a strong indication of selflessness.

  12. Wojciech says

    *Bob* Cialdini? (typo)

  13. Mark The Biofeedback Machine says

    This is like the fourth article I’ve read about Guy Kawasaki in as many days — I’m gonna have to buy his book eventually! I studied various theories regarding reciprocity during my college days. It seems like some good advice you’re giving, in that you shouldn’t over use the phrase. Perhaps you could just say, “friends help friends.” It’s less direct, a bit weak, but you’d never come off sounding like a jerk.

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