“When we ask, miracles can happen.”
—Wayne Baker

Now more than ever, networking and social capital are of the essence, as we telecommute and practice physical distancing. “Social capital” is a term coined by Wayne Baker, one of the world’s foremost experts on building and strengthening connections. Baker, who serves as faculty director of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan, defines social capital as “how willing people are to help others in their social network.” This concept relates to reciprocity in general, which is the “exchange of resources between two people.”

The idea behind reciprocity, according to Baker, is “I help you and you help someone else, and maybe that person will end up helping me (or someone else) sometime in the future.” His research has shown that when reciprocity is widespread in organizations, it improves productivity, promotes learning, and builds a climate of trust. And we can continue to build social capital while we’re working remotely.

In his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, author Adam Grant outlines a method for individuals who want to engage in this act of giving and receiving. He calls this activity the “Reciprocity Ring” and describes it as “a revolutionary exercise in corporate give-and-take and a remarkable experience that changes the way we see helping, problem-solving, and social networks.” The Reciprocity Ring has been shown to build trust and community and to strengthen networks and relationships.

This type of meet-up provides the opportunity for participants to both make a request and to help fulfill the request of another. Individuals are encouraged to be not just givers (other-focused individuals who prefer to give more than they take) or takers (self-focused individuals who get more than they give), but rather “matchers”—those who strive for an equal balance of giving and getting.

Here’s how it works: Each person presents a request to the group—something important to them in either their personal or professional life that they cannot obtain or attain on their own, and group members then make contributions by matching up a solution, using their knowledge, resources, and/or connections with others. Givers and takers then connect to ensure how each will follow up with fulfillment of the request. At the end of the session, the facilitator debriefs the group, with part of the focus on the emotions produced by this exchange.

The acts of giving and receiving have been shown to generate positive emotions, a sense of gratitude, feelings of belonging to a group, and a sense of community—all of which are elements of well-being. “In the midst of challenges and stress,a strong social support network isthe greatest predictor of both performanceand happiness,” says Shawn Achor. According to Dr. Dan Tomasulo, the activation of such factors as altruism and vicarious learning contribute to the positive effects of this process.

In Grant’s words, “The Reciprocity Ring is a dynamic group exercise that applies the ‘pay-it-forward’ principle to your team or group while creating and cementing high-quality connections. People who use the Reciprocity Ring get the information they need and solve real problems, both personal and professional. Moreover, the Reciprocity Ring energizes a group, creating strong relationships that help individuals and organizations.” (To hear more from Grant on creating a giving culture, listen to him on Michelle McQuaid’s podcast, “Making Positive Psychology Work.”)

At WBI—as individuals and as an organization—we are creating a circle of giving and receiving and building social capital in various ways, including the following:

We’ve partnered with the JCC Manhattan to offer an online Lunch and Learn series starting Monday, March 23, through Friday, March 27, from 12:00–1:00 pm ET daily, with different speakers and topics each day, including WBI faculty Megan McDonough, Maria Sirois, Jane Anderson, and Megha Nancy Buttenheim, and Sherry Kelly, founder of PositiviTeens®. Register here.
We are starting a weekly zoom session called Happier Together: A Give and Take Circle. Physical isolation is needed, not social isolation. We will break people into small groups and connect virtually, sharing what we have to give, and asking for what we need. Join us every Wednesday, at 9:00 am ET from March 25 to April 8.
Megan will be hosting a Facebook Live session each weekday morning at 8:00 am, through Friday, March 27, when she will lead a short meditation or breathing exercise. Join her on our Facebook page to practice.

If you have something to give to our community or a need we might be able to fill through the practice of reciprocity, post a link in the comments below.

Phoebe Atkinson, LCSW-R

Phoebe Atkinson, LCSW-R

Phoebe Atkinson is a core faculty member of WBI’s Positive Psychology Coaching Certification program. She is a licensed clinical social worker, certified coach, and board-certified trainer, educator, and practitioner in psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy. She serves on the faculty for WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology, and is also a graduate of the program.

Along with Jennifer Hanawald, Phoebe teaches the online Positive Psychology: Skill-Building Intensive course and leads the Positive Psychology Coaching Mentorship.