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Something about the human instinct to pattern-match compels me to point out that this is the "reciprocity" principle of influence spelled out by Cialdini's 1984 book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion", http://www.amazon.com/dp/006124189X .

When people show up to networking meetings with a gift (book, chocolate, whatever) I know I'm being manipulated but I don't mind. I'm more likely to pass them on with a good reference because I know they'll behave well if I send them on. This is despite knowing that they're manipulating me.

When people show up to networking meetings with a gift (book, chocolate, whatever) I know I'm being manipulated but I don't mind

One could characterize it as "manipulation," which has a negative connotation, but it could also be conceptualized as dealing with a person who brings something to the table—that is, who understands that your time / effort is presumably valuable, and that they shouldn't expect something for nothing. Trying to pay outright would be overly expensive and too intrusive, but a small thing like coffee demonstrates that the person wants to differentiate themselves from most people, and that they have something at stake.

People treat "free" as very different than "not free," which Dan Ariely describes in Predictably Irrational, and people treat exchanges in a special way, as Lewis Hyde describes in The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.

Companies which write to me saying "we're using some open source code you wrote, thanks for doing that -- here's a free t-shirt" tend to get more help from me when they write back later to say that they're having trouble with something.

Paying for favors in advance goes a long way. I like the saying, "Dig the well before you need it."

You can tell pretty quickly whether it's manipulation or a kind gesture.

Manipulation: gift + nothing meaningful to share

Kind gesture: gift + something really meaningful to network about

True. But many times the networking comes from a junior person looking for help finding a job. I take those calls because everyone has to start somewhere. Usually I pick up the Starbucks because they're less likely to have any income yet, and the people taking care of me back in the day did the same thing. Though maybe I should pick up the Starbucks just to not get manipulated. :-)

One man's manipulation is another man's manners / ingenuity. Do you manipulate your parents by talking to them differently than to your friends?

Most definitely so! :-)

Kindly disagree here. Many people simply "need a favor", and frame it as such, without any manipulation. While I'm requesting another person's time, I might as well bring a small token of appreciation.

How meta! Not only are you bringing up the reciprocity principle to further analyze this phenomenon, but you're also offhandedly analyzing your actions as human instinct.

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