Bonnie Marcus, contributor to Forbes Magazine writes:
“Quid quo pro” is a reciprocal exchange. The definition is “something for something”. In plain English, it’s called trading favors or in slang, “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.
Reciprocal relationships in the workplace are powerful. Reciprocity, if done effectively, helps one gain influence and access to those people who can serve as allies to advance your career.
Women typically shy away from this type of behavior as they see it as manipulative and political. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage in the workplace. As a consequence, they lack access to the informal networks and decision makers who can make or break their career.
According to The Center for Work Life,
To their detriment, women perceive cultivating relationships and mobilizing them on their behalf as, at best, an occasional necessity rather than the key exercise of leadership. They fail to see that the practice of seeking out powerful people, cultivating favor and cashing in those chips is itself a demonstration of leadership potential.
On the other hand, research indicates that,
Men view politics as part of the rules of the game, and they use informal systems built on the notions of loyalty, trading of favors and protection. They use informal systems to gain access to early information and to read political currents within the organization.
Without access to these informal networks, how do women get this critical information?
The answer is they have to rely on the traditional organizational channels. And it’s often too little too late. Key decisions have already been made. They are powerless, therefore, to influence the decisions that influence their careers. The goal is to get access to the decision makers and information beforehand.
This is where reciprocity comes in. Reciprocity helps to build strong allies who can, in turn, provide access to critical information. Collecting favors by scratching someone’s back is like influence in the bank. Those who have the political savvy know best how to spend these chips or favors wisely at key decision points.
What is the best approach for women who are uncomfortable with trading favors?
First, it’s important to understand that people always want to know what’s in it for them. It’s human nature. Knowing what others want and need positions you to offer your help and thereby collect favors or chips.
Here is a step by step approach to nurturing reciprocity in your relationships:
- Know yourself. First understand how you can help others. What is your value proposition? How does your work benefit your department? your boss? the company? What skills do you have that can benefit others?
- Know your audience. Know what they need and want; what they think is important; what motivates them. Ask probing questions. Make strategic visits across the organization to gather information about what’s current and what’s important. The more you know about another person, the more influential and helpful you can be.
- Position yourself as someone who can help. Connect your skills-what you have to offer with what they want and need.
“If you don’t know what motivates someone’s behavior-and how to link the things he or she values to those that you need-you’ve no hope of influencing, managing, or changing the situation.” Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Ph.D, The Secret Handshake.
Here are some examples of how you can offer to help in order to build up your favor bank:
- Your boss has some family matters which are preventing him/her from being in the office full time. You can offer to help by identifying tasks that can be outsourced to you. (A Chip)
- A colleague is behind schedule on a project and has no hope of meeting her deadline. You can volunteer to help the project move along by identifying how your skills can be best utilized. (A Chip)
- There is a new company wide initiative. You offer to help facilitate Q & A group discussions to help management “sell” the project and change. (More Chips)
The bottom line is that stepping out of your comfort zone and building and leveraging relationships will benefit you in many ways.
Identify the decision makers. Observe how others have gained access to the informal networks. Ask questions to understand what is important to them and position yourself as someone who can add value and help. Your benefit: chips or favors that you can call in when appropriate.
Collecting favors not only ingratiates you but it also creates visibility and credibility for you across the organization.
I scratch your back and you scratch mine. It’s a win-win!