The Ben Franklin Effect — How to Get People Invested in You
Counter-intuitive, simple, and incredibly effective…
It’s not what you do for other people — It’s about what other people do for you
Forget the grandiose gestures, buying coffees, and definitely stop clamoring for the approval of others. Throw out the rule book and engage in some counter-intuitive behavior from one of the most legendary figures in history, Mr. Benjamin Franklin.
Legend tells that Ben Franklin won over a fierce rival by asking a favor:
Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. — The Autobiography of Ben Franklin
It’s almost ingratiated in our nature that we need to do things for other people in order to make them like us. Time and time again, this has been proved wrong in the reality of life. What actually happens is that we ourselves become increasingly invested in the person we are doing things for. We end up wanting to do more and subsequently believing we like them more than we do.
In contrast, the receiver rarely feels compelled to reciprocate, particularly if they have done nothing to earn your favor. For a practical example, look no further than dating. I think we can all relate to performing grand gestures or favors for our crushes, with little effect. If only I had known that getting my crush to do small things for me was the way, I might have saved on flowers, chocolates, gifts, and heartbreak. I joke. But not really.
Why it Works
A lot of theories in Self-Development come without scientific validation. Fortunately for us, Psychologists confirmed the legitimacy of the Ben Franklin effect in a study entitled “Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favor” (Jecker and Landy, 1969).
The explanation given for its effectiveness was Cognitive Dissonance i.e. even if the person does not like you, their brain struggles to maintain a logical consistency between their actions (doing you a favor) and perceptions (not liking you personally). The conflicting views create a psychological tension in the mind that is very uncomfortable for a person to deal with. In order to resolve this tension, a person will simply rationalize that they did something for you because they like you. We do this order to protect our own self-image and avoid contradicting our own beliefs. Put simply, would you do something for someone if you didn’t like them?
This effect doesn’t just apply to those who are not so fond of you. If the cost/time investment is sufficient enough, even those who like you will experience some form of dissonance. Any favor of significant effort in relation to how much they think they like you requires a justification. Failure to acknowledge this would the same aforementioned psychological tension. The fastest and easiest way to resolve this would be to accept that they like you even more than they realized. The alternative would again results in an attack on their own image — accepting themselves as a person who performed a large favor without reason because another person told them to.
Getting the Most Out of The Ben Franklin Effect
Whilst most articles on this concept just recommend asking for favors, I want to give you an extra suggestion that will allow you to get the more out of this principle. My advice is to start with simple requests such as borrowing a book, but with the longer-term intention of moving into personal territory. More specifically:
The cheat code for maximum results is to allow a person to teach you or share their personal experience/story.
When you approach people with a genuine desire to learn, and/or understand their story, you both win. That person feels immediately validated and valued. Everyone loves to talk about themselves and share a piece of their own humanity. We all crave acceptance whether we want to admit it or not.
If you are struggling with someone at work, think about what qualities they have that you admire. Even if you don’t like their personality, they are likely to have a skill they excel in (pun intended). Pluck up the courage and ask them to impart some of their knowledge, share the story as to how they learned that skill, or just to listen to their aspirations over a coffee. Instead of focusing on winning approval with your actions, allow your fellow human the chance to invest in you, and you shall be rewarded. Very few people will decline an opportunity to demonstrate talent and be simultaneously admired.
A Cautionary Note
This is not a license to stop doing anything for other people nor is it an excuse to become a soul-sucking leech that adds no value to the lives of others. It is an invitation to start asking more of others as a way of building a mutually productive and amicable relationship, whether personal or professional. You will be pleasantly surprised at how willing people are to help when your request is genuine and humble, particularly if you are seeking their expertise or wanting to learn about their story.
As with many ideas in Self-Development, this could be brandished as manipulative. For me, I prefer to think of this technique as a method of building rapport rather than some attempt to control or influence another human. When I use the Ben Franklin effect in real life, I do it to build a better connection with a person than I already have. For as long as my intentions are grounded in the principle of reciprocity, I feel congruent in my actions.
Sometimes in life, behaving counter-intuitively yields the most powerful and profound results. It can be incredibly difficult as humans to go against our nature, however, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you aren’t seeing the results you want in your personal or professional relationships, then maybe it is time to try something new.
Be bold and dare to ask others for help. Don’t worry about winning the approval of others with your gestures — focus on getting people to invest in you. Not only will you build deeper rapport, but you also give yourself a chance to create fresh, long-lasting, meaningful, and mutually beneficial relationships with anyone you desire.
Make it happen.
The Ben Franklin Effect — How to Get People Invested in You was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.