Paying it Forward at Work

Someone brought me coffee at work today–what a nice gesture!  Now, sometime throughout the day or the week, I’ll do something nice for him.  That’s how it works.  And what I do for him might be a small favor like picking something up from the copier, but it might also be a larger favor like approving a trip or some professional development expenses.  So for a minor investment of $3.50 and a little extra effort, he will probably benefit many times over.

My coworker, wittingly or not, employed an indirect method of influence this morning when he delivered my favorite beverage.

It’s easy to rely on this indirect method of influence because there’s such a strong sense of obligation to repay favors in our society.  Even the smallest favors like holding open a door, grabbing the mail, or picking something up at the store are often repaid with larger, more meaningful favors.  If I bring my boss her reports and a cup of coffee every week for our weekly strategy meeting, I may be more likely to get promoted than someone who doesn’t.  Or (and I’ve actually recommended this in the past) if my car dealer knew how I liked my coffee in the morning and had it ready when I arrived for a scheduled maintenance trip, I’d never buy a car anywhere else.  And that’s a huge payoff for coffee twice a year.  But that’s just me.  I like little considerations like that, and I’m likely to reward them with loyalty.

Informal polling of friends and colleagues shows I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Such small favors can result in very special consideration in the future.  This is something we can all use at work and in our personal lives.   So I’m going to add small favors like getting coffee and making copies to my daily routine.  Aside from the fact that the obligation to repay those favors may benefit me in the future, the world will be a happier place if we all did small things for each other.  And it makes me happy to make other people happy, so it’s really not work at all!


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