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Benjamin Franklin Effect

Manny RomanDuring my Internet studies I came across something called the Benjamin Franklin Effect. This “effect” is a powerful effect on relationship building. It also seems a little counter intuitive. Here is the quote from the famous gentleman: “He that has once done you kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

Studies indicate that when you do someone a kindness or favor you will like them more and be more willing to help them again. This is especially true if you tended to dislike them in the first place. According to his autobiography, Mr. Franklin apparently discovered this effect in an interaction with a rival legislator. The man had a rare book. Franklin asked to borrow it. He returned the book with profuse thanks and a good friendship was born.

The Benjamin Franklin Effect is generally explained with cognitive dissonance theory. This theory suggests that we feel mental discomfort when we have two or more contradictory beliefs. If we tend to dislike an individual and we provide a favor for them, the dislike and the kindness cause conflicting feelings. To avoid the dissonance, we find a way to justify the kindness. We provided something positive to someone we maybe dislike. So maybe we don’t dislike them as we believed. He must be deserving of the favor and would likely return the favor. We kinda like this guy after all.

It is important to note that if we were “put on the spot” and had to perform a favor for someone we truly dislike or a complete stranger, there is insufficient justification for having performed the favor. Consequently, there is no expectation that the person would return the favor and no reason to believe that he is deserving of the favor. There is no reason to begin liking him.

Another way to explain the “effect” is the self-perception theory. This theory suggests that when we have no preexisting attitudes or beliefs toward someone or something, we act on what we perceive from our behavior. When we do a kindness for someone with whom we have no meaningful existing relationship, we use the fact that we acted kindly to determine our feelings toward them. We must have positive feelings toward them because we did a kindness to them.

As if all this is not enough, since we are dealing with humans and their feelings and emotions, there might be other situations to consider. There is a likelihood that if someone asks us to do them a favor it can make us feel acknowledged and respected. These are positive feelings that we attribute to the person who asked. And, we might provide a favor just because it is inconsequential to us. Or we might feel that there is personal benefit to providing the favor.

So how is the “effect” implemented? Simply ask people for a favor when you think that this will prompt them to like you more. Of course, this is for those situations where they dislike you, feel neutral toward you or have no preexisting attitudes toward you. The “effect” may also work if you are liked a little. You will need to have a good concept of how these people perceive you.

When asking for a favor, it does not need to be huge. Actually, the more dislike that exists the smaller the favor should be. Be aware that we tend to underestimate the likelihood of others helping. We focus on the expected cost of the favor while they focus on the social cost of saying “No.” No one likes to say “No.” You might consider providing a small favor first to activate the reciprocity trigger. (Google “The 7 Triggers to YES” by Russell Granger). And strive to provide a small favor after you receive one for obvious reasons.

A couple of negative results need to be proposed. Someone may intentionally attempt to use the “effect” so that they can more easily influence you later. And people may dislike you more when you treat them in a negative way. The best way to deal with any situation is always to be prepared with as much knowledge as possible, both about others and yourself.

Speaking of Mr. Franklin, the following is attributed to him, “Fish and visitors smell in three days.” Also, “Experience keeps a dear school: yet fools will learn in no other.” These are easier to understand and implement.

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