Favors may be offered as a crudely verbalized quid pro quo, but they actually carry forward a very subtle and potentially devastating dynamic. We may think of the favor as a nice gesture, but it is often used intentionally to create social tension. Almost universally, there is an expectation to “even up the favor” (see Cialdini’s “reciprocity” rule[vi]). As a rule, when we receive spontaneous favors, we want to reciprocate.
Favors come into play in many ways. Perhaps your adversary at the negotiation table says, “I was just at Starbucks and picked up a coffee card. Here, we may need it later.” This spontaneous gift may only be a few dollars, but studies suggest the gesture is more important than the value. It creates tension and an advantage for the giver.
To deal with favors in a negotiation context, either decline or accept gracefully, resisting any influence the favor may have with respect to your decision-making. Public officials, fiduciaries, or persons who are responsible for the interests of third party beneficiaries should decline any favor.