What is Quid Pro Quo?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The term quid pro quo is a Latin phrase informally translated as "something for something" or "this for that." The phrase is used in a number of different arenas, from the legal to the political to the economic. Some quid pro quo is seen as a form of social bartering, primarily when the exchange is considered equitable and mutually beneficial. Other elements of it, especially concerning sexual harassment, can be seen as an offer that cannot be refused.

Quid pro quo was not originally meant to encourage blackmail, although it is sometimes associated with the practice.
Quid pro quo was not originally meant to encourage blackmail, although it is sometimes associated with the practice.

Politically speaking, quid pro quo is often used as a bargaining chip between lawmakers or leverage between world leaders. A senator may agree to vote for a bill following an arrangement with the bill's sponsor. In exchange for the vote, the sponsor may agree to compromise on another issue. World leaders also use quid pro quo as a means of political leverage. Negotiations for the peaceful settlement of conflicts often involve exchanges of technology or humanitarian aid supplies.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves offering workplace advancement in exchange for sexual favors.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment involves offering workplace advancement in exchange for sexual favors.

In economic terms, the practice of quid pro quo is recognized as a legal arrangement between two parties if the goods or services have tangible value. These payments can be included as part of a larger contract. Instead of billing out in cash only, parties can agree to quid pro quo payments of tangible goods or services. If the contract is breached, a court can order any such arrangements stated in writing to be honored.

One darker aspect of quid pro quo occurs during certain forms of sexual harassment. By using his or her position as leverage, a boss may promise a subordinate an opportunity for a pay raise or advancement in exchange for sexual favors. Fearing that the boss may punish them financially for refusing the offer, some subordinates feel tremendous pressure to submit. The idea of promising a tangible reward in exchange for sexual favors is called quid pro quo sexual harassment. The original concept is not meant to encourage blackmail or sexual intimidation.

Some use a form of quid pro quo when seeking information or a favor from a friend or associate. Both parties may have information that would benefit the other, so an informal exchange arrangement is often discussed. The actual value of the information exchanged may vary widely, but at least both sides benefit from the agreement.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@Latte31 - Good for her. I just wanted to say that a quid pro quo arrangement does not always have to be negative. A lot of companies have affiliate relationships in which a company refers business to another company and in exchange receives a small compensation or additional business.

I have seen companies in similar industries work together to get customers for both companies. For example, a store that sells athletic shoes might offer discounts on gym memberships and the gym may offer discounts on the athletic shoes to the members of the gym. A lot of businesses do this because it is tapping into a similar market which makes it easier for both companies to thrive.


@Cafe41 - That is so true. I have to say that often in a quid pro quo situation there is a balance of power problem. For example, in most sexual harassment cases the supervisor is usually the one making the sexual advances while the person receiving the sexual advances is typically a subordinate employee.

This is a huge problem because the subordinate employee needs the job and depends on the job to pay his or her bills, yet they cannot accept the sexual advances because it is morally wrong. I think in these situations it is best to document everything and go to your human resource office with your complaints.

If that does not change things, then it may be time to look for another job. I know that there was a lady that worked at my husband’s company that was being sexually harassed by the CEO of the company and eventually she filed a lawsuit that was settled out of court and the CEO was fired. Her case was strong and ended with a sense of justice that made everyone at the company feel better about working there.


@Mutsy - I agree with what you are saying and it is probably the reason why a lot of people don’t trust politicians. I think that sometimes a quid pro quo occurs with a business and another business.

For example, there is an ongoing scandal with a local hospital administration that involved accepting bribes in exchange for becoming the preferred vendor of the hospital. Several of the administrators were suspended after these allegations became public because it would have been unethical to make a company a preferred vendor as a result of a bribe.

Bribes are used in quid pro quo situations all of the time and sometimes they are used on judges which is really terrible. Most judges do not fall for this tactic, but some do and they later pay the price. Integrity really has no price and when those around you realize it, you will never be involved in a quid pro quo scandal.


@Anon129234 - That is a good question. I think that a quid pro quo could situation actually often leads to a tragic downfall because there is the large potential for corruption in these types of arrangements.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more common for politicians to accept a quid pro quo arrangement that offers campaign contribution in exchange for political support of a cause dear to the contributor. Unions do this all of the time. They shower politicians with campaign funds raised from the union dues in exchange for pro-union policies and laws.

This can really be a problem because since the unions offered so much monetary aid to the politician, the politician is almost beholden to the unions and owes the union support on the union related issues which does not allow the politician to take a different stance if he wanted to.

It is almost like the politician is bought and paid for and that is not why we elect politicians in the first place. We want them to represent the needs of all people which is virtually impossible with such large contributions looming.


would quid pro quo be a dramatic device or an element of tragedy in literature?

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