'Don’t Mention It': Yeah, Right!


One of the most common mistakes in the back-and-forth trading of favors at work is that of showing insufficient gratitude. Now, it can be difficult to figure out what someone expects in return for providing useful advice or for helping a colleague win a promotion — but ignorance of the rules of reciprocity is no excuse.

Some people are specific about what they expect in return for a favor. Most, however, believe that the recipient should be able to figure out what’s expected. It can seem a little crass to stipulate what one wants in return for helping out. Yet, not clearly stating the anticipated nature of a payback — or even disclaiming that there is any debt — can’t be trusted. “It was nothing,” “It was my pleasure,” “Don’t mention it,” should be taken with a grain of salt.

Even when businesspeople help others out of sheer altruism, reciprocated respect at the very least is quietly expected. If you fail to provide it, your Good Samaritan may quickly become cool in demeanor toward you, and eventually even turn into an opponent.

With all this obfuscation, how do you estimate the amount of reciprocity required? What chits are owed, especially at work? If you aren’t fortunate enough to notice or become privy to the give-and-take rules at your company, then seeking others’ advice may be your best option. A mentor can be quite helpful in this kind of situation. 

For some people, expressing gratitude can be sufficient. With others, a sincere and public compliment or strong support in an important endeavor may do the trick. Perhaps you may have a special skill or knowledge to offer.

Stay on the safe side. Don’t publicly disagree with the person who holds your chit. Wait until your favor has been repaid and some time has passed. A fresh favor not yet returned can make many donors extremely sensitive.

In the absence of experience or good mentoring, when granted a favor consider asking, “Is there something I can do for you?” If the person resists or can’t give you an answer, you might ask, “Can I at least take you to lunch?” 

You’ll want to avoid incurring debts with people who have high reciprocity expectations, even for the loan of a pencil. They exist and they’re dangerous.

Favors are a fact of life in business. They’re a good opportunity to make friends, but often also create enemies. If you’re going to give or accept a favor, it pays to know what you’re getting into.

Kathleen also blogs about communication, negotiation, and politics here.

Photo: Igor.stevanovic / Shutterstock

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

Pixabay
Mind & Brain
  • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
  • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
  • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
Keep reading Show less

4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

Moon Landing Apollo
popular
  • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
  • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
  • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
Keep reading Show less

Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions

The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.

Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. Painting by Adolphe Yvon. 1861.
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
  • Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
  • Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
Keep reading Show less