June 18, 2022

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, here is the definition of the word reciprocation:

A mutual exchange. A return in kind or of like value.

What I don’t like about this definition is that it implies that reciprocation has a “price”—that is, the exchange between two parties needs to be “mutual” or “a return in kind or like value.”

Unsatisfied, I went in search of another interpretation and found something closer to what I was looking for—that adds an important dimension to this very powerful word.

This one is from the Cambridge Dictionary:

The fact of feeling or behaving toward someone else in the same way as they feel or behave toward you

That’s more like it.

This Cambridge definition doesn’t presume a “matching party” (for example, I give you the exact amount you give to me).

This alternative definition also leaves room for over delivering (or even under delivering) …as long as your heart is in the right place…and you are delivering in the same way to everyone (regardless of volume or price).

That’s the way I interpret it for the purposes of this blog and in all of my writing, including my book, Overdeliver.

But wait…there’s more.

I will add, in the words of Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the masterpiece Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion:

“Reciprocation [is about] you, then me, then you, then me…be the first to give service, information, concessions.”

I will also add (and this is in no way shortchanging Cialdini):

You need to be the first to give…but it’s OK to get nothing in return…at least right away…and maybe never.

I learned two things going through this exercise in search of a better definition of “reciprocation,” a term that is used very often in the online/affiliate marketing world, and I am never happy with the way most marketers interpret it. More on that in a minute.

The first thing I learned, not all that important, but still a lesson:

If you don’t like the definition of a word or concept on your initial Google search, keep scrolling down the page until you find one that suits you. 🙂

The second thing I learned, which is far more important:

The Cambridge definition, with a nod to Cialdini, is a winner because reciprocation is not simply meeting someone halfway or “matching” them tit for tat (which is implied in the Merriam-Webster definition).

Rather, it’s about a mutual sharing of assets, knowledge, resources without the baggage of keeping score.

Why is it important to make this distinction?

Back to Cialdini.

In his chapter on “Reciprocation” (one of his “Six Principles of Ethical Influence”), he talks at length about the power of reciprocation because it’s human nature to respond “in kind” to a gesture of generosity (or anything of value).

There’s nothing wrong with adapting to the laws of human nature.

And I enthusiastically agree with Cialdini to always be the first to give.

I would simply add that you shouldn’t have an expectation of a return every time.

That’s why keeping score, outside of sports, is basically a waste of time…at least it’s a bit overrated…and your highest “lifetime score” is calculated a different way, and the result is an abundance of meaningful relationships…with no catches.

Put another way: Over a long period of time, by lowering your short-term expectations, your long-term outlook is far more bountiful.

That’s been my experience—but don’t ask me to calculate it favor by favor, deal by deal…or in any other form.

I just know it’s true.

Or maybe I’m just making this up as I go along. 🙂

It seems to work for me and now I’m wondering if you agree with me and if this philosophy has worked for you.

Or not.

The other thing this kind of behavior does–being the first to give concessions, value,  time, products or services with no stipulations (and with no expectation of a return—living “100-0”)– makes it a “pure gift,” which doesn’t have to get paid back with a defined reciprocal “payment” in volume or value.

Or during any specified time period either.

Therefore, with this alternative definition, it’s either nothing or something (in return) short term…and if it’s something, it’s not necessarily something of equal or more value…and it’s not necessarily something (in return) immediately.

Reciprocation in the affiliate world of online marketing does not always follow this adapted definition of reciprocity.

For example, if one party gets 100 leads or orders (or whatever the criteria) and the other party gets 50, how often will the party that got half the amount ask for another mailing (or compensation) for those additional leads or orders they “didn’t get?”

I assume no one in my online family would do that.

But if you would, is it really worth it?

Another example: I’ve done email swaps with other folks who have audiences similar to mine in terms of their intense interest in direct response marketing, entrepreneurship and/or copywriting.

Some have much larger lists (families) and some have much smaller ones…and in either case, it’s irrelevant (to me).

Intensive interest trumps size.

And quality beats quantity.

The way it goes with email swaps is that each of us mails our online families with an “offer” to opt in to the other’s online family, bragging about each other in emails that are a “mutual admiration society love-fest” (for each other).

Like any good affiliate mailing I suppose.

If you’ve been on my list for a while, you may recall when I did one of these.

And I will do it again with audiences who have “psychographics” similar to mine, regardless of size.

Feel free to make me a proposal. 🙂

And does it matter how many names each of us adds to our online families?


What matters is that we each got appropriate value—not necessarily equal value—but I will maintain, under my definition of reciprocity, appropriate equals equal.

Whether I leave money (or buyers, leads, whatever) on the table is of no consequence.

By looking at it this way, what are a few more names (or a few more dollars on an affiliate deal) vs. a simple, clean reciprocal deal?

It’s abundance thinking over scarcity thinking.

What ultimately matters is that we end up true reciprocal partners (under my definition); and we are behaving with integrity and transparency that no one can ever question…and never with pettiness.

It’s a great feeling to work this way.

And what do I have to show for it?

That after four decades of living my life this way, I have hundreds of people in my various circles who can ask me for anything–and I will say “yes” most of the time—and usually before I know what the question is.

Am I a sucker? A chump? Or something even more terrible?

I don’t think so (in my reality).

And this goes both ways.

I wrote in a previous post about how freeing it is to “never ask for anything from nowhere” which is another benefit of true reciprocation without sucking every name, dollar, deal point in every negotiation.

You can read that post here.

Reciprocally, I can ask anyone in my circles for almost anything (anytime) and get an unconditional yes (because of how we have dealt with each other with consistency over a long period of time).

Which is much better than a reciprocal yes, under the traditional definition of reciprocity, where reciprocity is conditional.

Added bonus: I’m never keeping score…and neither are they.



P.S. Once again, I want to thank so many of you for your outpouring of love, support and condolences on the loss of my mom.

One of the benefits of writing to an online family–in addition to creating a forum for ideas and engagement with like minded individuals–is that we can sometimes take a break from forum creating and engaging and move to a place of sharing intimate experiences that can help each other.

And we never need to take a break from “unconditional reciprocity” to coin a phrase. 🙂

We did this after my mom passed away on a recent live Titans Xcelerator call, with many of the 250 members…and we did it again inside this blog with thousands of you.

It wasn’t just your warm emails expressing messages of your condolences that were meaningful…it was also how you shared your experiences with death and loss since after all, just by living, we will all experience death.

Funny how that works. 🙂

So thanks for the warm wishes…and thanks even more for sharing yourselves with me. 

All of it has helped with my healing…and hopefully it helped with yours.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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