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The Ben Franklin Effect on Friendship

“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” Ben Franklin

You may or may not have heard of the Ben Franklin Effect. It’s actually an intriguing concept. It is a cognitive theory of developing rapport and/or friendship with others. What Mr. Franklin is saying above is, someone who has done you a favor will be more inclined to like you.

I’ll be honest and say that I was a bit skeptical of this at first because it seemed inauthentic, but after researching this further, I found that it was well founded and incredibly useful in my personal and professional life.

In one study performed in Japan, 41 Japanese undergraduate students were recruited for an experiment, along with 42 American undergraduates. Each Japanese student was paired with an American student and both were tasked to complete the same set of puzzles independently, but they could choose whether to work together to complete each of their independent puzzles. The results were very telling. The participants experienced an increased liking toward the other when their partner made the request to help, but not when the experimenter instructed participants to help the other.

I always tell my clients that the Golden Rule of Friendship and Likeability is, that if you make a person or group feel good about themselves, they will naturally like you and/or your presentation in return. Therefore, when I am giving a presentation, sitting in a business meeting, or working with my team, I look for opportunities to plug in these words, “Can you do me a favor and…” I have found that when they do me that the favor, they experience something called cognitive dissonance, which means that when they do me a favor, they need to be able to justify it to themselves and they psychologically convince themselves that they must like me enough to do me that favor, even if that wasn’t originally the case.

Allow me to illustrate by sharing a personal experience. We have all been there. We work with someone that, for some reason or another, does not like you very much. More often than not, it is because of something you said or did (that you were not aware of) that influenced this individual’s perception of you. I was working as an Operations Manager at a small healthcare organization. I had a fellow manager in my division who did not like me very much. Every meeting I was in with this person was filled with tension and discomfort. I took it upon myself to try and resolve the conflict by asking this person what I had done to offend her. That question was met with, “Oh, nothing, we are good. No worries” “Great!” I thought. “We can now move on and put this behind us.” Or so I thought…

The next day I came into another meeting only to be met with the same level of tension and disrespect. I went to her again and asked what I had done to offend her and she replied with, “Oh, nothing, we are good.” This happened two more times and so I realized I needed to change my approach. I tried the Ben Franklin Method. “Paula, can you do me a favor and help me understand this complex code set?” It was like a flip of a switch. Her demeanor shifted and she happily agreed. I intentionally set up follow-up meetings to ensure I was understanding the code set and with each meeting came rapport, comradery, and teamwork. I eventually learned why she didn’t like me very much. It was because she felt they had hired someone who was inexperienced. I was an inexperienced manager, but it was interesting and somewhat counterintuitive because once I acknowledged I needed some of her knowledge and experience, she began to respect and like me more. To this day, we are still good friends and colleagues and laugh about the experience.

So how can one apply this in his/her personal and professional life?

1. While giving a presentation, ask the audience to, “do you a favor and share, participate, and ask questions as much as they can.”

2. Go to your Manager or Director and ask, “Can you do me a favor and tell me what it is I can work on to be a better employee?”

3. If you are looking for a social connection with someone dating or otherwise, ask that person to “do you a favor and hold the door, or take a photo of you and another friend.”

4. If you want to develop a relationship of trust with one of your employees ask them for help on a project or report.

The possibilities are endless. A word of caution, however: Do not overuse this because it will begin to seem insincere and in authentic. Like all things, the Ben Franklin effect should be done methodically and in moderation.

Go ahead, give it shot today and let me know in the comments below how it went. Did it work? I would love to hear your feedback.


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