Simply said: I do for you and you do for me. On the surface one may feel that the only reason why someone would act within the guide of reciprocity is the expectation of return action. Reciprocity goes much deeper than that. Give and take elements govern the majority of our relationships whether or not you may recognize the subtle exchanges that take place. Exchanges can range from; an emotional fulfillment from a caring friend, assisting in moving, sharing responsibilities, assisting in the completion of errands/tasks, intellectual support and the like.
Although many of the exchanges listed may lend themselves in retrospection, to our more personal relationships they are present in our work life. Ever have a coworker ask for your help in completing a task? Reading over their report? Making those last few copies? Covering for them (insert reason here)? Recovering that lost document? These, along with a myriad of examples bouncing around in your thoughts, are reciprocal actions. We help because we know that at some point we are going to need help.
No man is an Isand, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the belltolls; It tolls for thee.
– A famous line from “Meditation XVII,” by the English poet John Donne
If, as individuals, we could handle all that is placed upon us there would never have been ingrained in humanity the division of labor and communal living that has led to our survival as a species. This holds true for the workplace as well. As a community in the workplace we rely on one another’s assistance in both task completion and emotional wellbeing. Harm to either one of these safeties will have far reaching effects. As I discussed in Compliance the repercussions can run deep through an institution where reciprocity is replaced by demand.
So what needs to happen?
Communication before action.
Allocate resources to ensure success.
Always help those who need you.
Don’t act with the sole intention of reciprocal action.
Be nice! oh wait did I mention that?
Set personal agendas aside and do what is best in the situation that will have positive long lasting effects (if you don’t know the best course of action then talk with your cohorts).
Realize that people have sought you out because they think you are capable of helping them. Help them!
Make sure that within whatever role you play that you have afforded those you work with every possible opportunity for success.
Lastly… BE NICE! (I guess we just cannot get away from that one).