Some time ago, I was introduced to a social theory that has really interested me over the past few years. It was called the “law of reciprocity” and it is a legitimate theory of social behaviour. Basically, the law of reciprocity means that you attract what you radiate; if you are friendly to people, they will be friendly in return. Alternatively, if you are negative and rude to people, they are more likely to be rude and negative in return.

I observed some interesting examples of this over my Christmas break and have reflected on what this can mean in my own job. I will share a couple of these with you all now:

  • I spent some time over the past couple of weeks with a lady in my “extended social/family circle” and closely watched her interact with others. She would have to be the most negative person I have ever encountered and it became a personal mission of mine to try to make her friendly. Needless to say, I failed. No matter how hard I tried to point out the positives in her life (great kids, great job, great weather, great holiday etc) she managed to put a dampener on the situation. She seemed to thrive on the misfortune of others and regularly pointed out perceived faults of her own close friends and family. She loved when people were ill (and regularly diagnosed them) and always seemed tired. It was exceptionally draining just to be around her. However, the interesting thing was the impact she had on those around her. Happy people suddenly became sullen and withdrawn. Even young children were afraid to smile and laugh. The conversation in general became pointed and judgemental and it seemed to be commonplace to criticise others for the smallest and meanest things. This one lady had the ability to turn a whole environment toxic (I tend to avoid her at social functions all costs).
  • On the flipside, I have just spent two days at a resort on Hamilton Island called Qualia. I was there with my founding team to celebrate our ten years of business. I have never experienced service like this in my life (and yes, you do pay for it). The team at Qualia genuinely love working there and they loved helping people. As a result, I did not see one guest frown the whole time we were there – people laughed and smiled and every person I spoke with cannot wait to come back to the resort. Each dinner group seemed to be enjoying themselves and the event groups were all laughing – the vibe in the resort was just brilliant. This showed me that if you radiate a positive demeanour, people are more likely to be attracted to you.

This made me think about my own workplace and the role I personally have played from time to time in setting the tone with the manner I radiate. There have been people over the years that I have not treated well enough and have been too harsh. Maybe, I haven’t given people the time and been a good enough listener. I have probably come across as terse and uninterested and this has potentially resulted in them being the same to me. These people eventually became disengaged with the business and left and I hate think of the business opportunities I have missed by not being aware of the impact of my own behaviour. In contrast, there are some people who I have allowed to be “bone rude” with their team mates and not “pinged” the bad behaviours. I was only recently talking about one former staff member who went out of their way not to talk to any single person in the office all day and was negative all the time. They continually undermined their team members and this led to a temporary culture of mistrust and untruths. By allowing this behaviour to go unchecked, I effectively condoned it and previously happy people became bitter when they were in the presence of this individual (thankfully, they have not worked with Optimum for a while now). It took me and other leaders within the group quite some time to undo some of the damage that this individual caused and I only wish I acted more quickly and decisively to remove these behaviours.

Good behaviours attract good behaviours and bad behaviours can be cancerous in a business environment. While the “law of reciprocity” is a social behaviour theory and is no way a fail-safe leadership tool, it certainly does provoke some thought upon reflection. I challenge all business leaders out there to take the time to consider the ramifications of their behaviours and the behaviours of their teams. Finally, on a social sense, avoid those negative people like the lady I described earlier – they can take the fun out of any situation – even she would have found something to complain about at Qualia!!!!

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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