Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Law of Compensation (and how it applies to sales)

I recently just re-read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay titled: Compensation.

In it, he refers to the Law of Compensation.

So if you’re wondering…

What does Emerson mean in his Essay Compensation? 

He is in essence referring to 3 laws:

  • The law of cause and effect
  • The law of reciprocity
  • The law of duality

The first 2 are similar, so I will explain those first.

The law of cause and effect basically says any action will have an equal and opposite reaction.

In other words, “You reap what you sow.”

Emerson is talking about how anything you do, it will always have a particular reaction or response tied to that action.

There will always be an effect to a particular cause.

This is the same with the law of reciprocity.

The law of reciprocity states that whatever you put out into the world, you get back.

This is especially true in sales.

And then the law of duality states that there is always a polar opposite to something.

For example:

  • North & South
  • Male & Female
  • Night & Day
  • Low Tide & High Tide
  • Summer & Winter

Emerson also states that whenever there is an affliction, a form of suffering, or pain…

Nature provides the “compensation” for that “weakness” in some other form.

And in reality, while you may see one aspect of a thing..

Let’s say the “good” aspect, you’re not seeing the other half…

You’re not seeing the full picture.

How does this apply to sales & success?

Well, a couple ways…

1. Taking the idea of how nature compensates weakness or pain…

I’ll use myself as an example.

I spend most of my adolescent years feeling lots of pain around my social/communication skills.

I just felt like it was such a pain going through life without this area… being smoother

So because of my initial pain and dissatisfaction in this area…

It caused me to go out, work hard to improve, and because of that…

This is now a strength of mine and I am helping other people with it as well.

Another example can be how when we see a wealthy person drive off in a Lamborghini or a Ferrari…

All we see is the surface and the fruit…

What we don’t see are the countless hours and sacrifices that person had to MAKE in order to GET those things!

So remember, if you feel frustrated that you don’t yet have the sales skills or communication skills you want…

Use that pain and frustration as fuel to help you! 

And you are in essence leveraging the Law of Compensation.

2. Reciprocity is incredibly important in sales.

Often times, a long sales cycle is nothing but a series of “reciprocity” being exchanged.

An old mentor of mine said in his head, it appears like a “table tennis game” happening.

Ping – pong, back-and-forth… 

Ping – pong, back-and-forth…

I’ll give you a couple examples of how this happens in sales:

If I give you a sample of my product, and I ask you to give me your feedback on that sample (permission for another conversation)

If I go get you a price quote, and I ask you to go get me your manager’s opinion of my product…

If I give you a free trial, and you give me the permission to collect the data that will help you build a business case to buy this resource.

Get it?

Except that through a sales cycle, or even in a conversation, this is happening multiple times.

You talk – I talk …

You share some insight or vulnerable piece of information…

I share some insight or vulnerable piece of information… etc.

There are many levels of this going on in a sales conversation or sales cycle.

In fact, Robert Cialdini in his landmark book Influence, mentions how reciprocity is one of the six main pillars of influence.

This brings us to point #3.

3. You get what you give


this goes deeper than sales… this is true for life.

I am constantly learning this in new ways, and seeing it in different areas of my life.

If you treat your prospects well, and don’t pressure them or be pushy…

Well most likely they will treat you well and engage with you.

If you pay attention and genuinely listen to your prospects when they speak instead of cutting them off and telling them about your product… 

They will

probably be more inclined to listen to you when it’s your turn to talk…

about how you can help solve their problems or about your product.

And if you’re sincere and genuine with your prospect…

Then I’d be willing to bet there’s a better chance that they’ll be sincere and genuine when sharing information with you as well.


hope this article was helpful for you… 

*Remember, these are universal laws, as true as the law of gravity*

But maybe don’t take these at face value – observe them in your own life.

And see if they are true for you.

As always, hope this helped and please share, comment, and subscribe below!

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