Certain types of reciprocity are appropriate; others aren’t in business dealings. This article discusses three types of reciprocity -gifts, bribes, or kickbacks – and how to distinguish between them.
One type of business reciprocity that would be ethical and appropriate would be a gift, which is something that is given without someone expecting that you or the company will do something for that person in return. Such a gift would generally be something of small value, designed to create warm, positive feelings and show one’s appreciation, or it might be given in a spirit of friendship and continuing to have a good relationship. For instance, some common gifts that would be ethical and appropriate are giving a bottle of wine, flowers, framed photo, small memento of some activity, calendar, poster, or any number of small embossed gifts available through advertising specialty houses that can personalize the gift with the recipient’s name. As an example of this general acceptance of such small gifts, a number of these premium services are accepted in the business community. Some owners are even on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce, showing that there is widespread support for such premium gift giving as an accepted, ethical form of practice. Some members of the Chamber also offer prizes for raffles, which are designed to get recognition for the company, but there are no strings attached for whoever wins the prize. So as a manager of a company, you might ethically offer such a prize.
However, it would not be ethical to offer a bribe or kickback. A bribe is a gift or monetary payment of value to influence someone to do something, while a kickback is a gift or monetary payment of value paid after an exchange. The difference between giving a gift and a bribe is that a bribe is large enough to influence someone to do something or not do something, while a kickback is paid after the fact, whereas there is no such expectation with the gift. For example, a bribe might take the form of an expensive free trip to a travel destination by a hotel or resort in return for promoting the hotel or resort, while a kickback might be providing that free trip after the deal is concluded. Often hotels or resorts offer a free trip to reporters, meeting planners, and travel agents to introduce their hotel or resort, but that is ethical if there is no expectation that the reporters have to write a favorable article, that the meeting planners have to book a meeting there, or that travel agents have to favor their hotel or resort rather than another hotel or resort which would be a better deal. However, it is ethical if the reporters, meeting planners, or travel agents make a voluntary decision after the trip about what they want to do based on what’s best for their readers or clients.
The key difference marking the line between what is ethical and not ethical is the size of the item offered as a gift and the expectation that someone will act in response to having received it or receiving it in the future to benefit the giver of the item in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise act but for getting gift. This influence would be an even greater ethical breach if it leads the recipient to act in a way that is detrimental to others, such as offering an inferior service or a more costly one because of receiving the gift. An even worse breach would be offering a product or service that is harmful, such as sending tourists on a trip by a wholesaler who has inexperienced guides resulting in the death or injury of some participants.