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The Ben Franklin Effect: The Unexpected Power of Asking for a Favour

Published
June 1, 2023
• Updated
January 30, 2024
Read time —
6 Minute

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Most of us wouldn’t think asking a favour could turn an enemy into a friend.

But that is exactly what the Ben Franklin effect does.

It uses the approach of requesting a favour to overcome the negative view that person has.

Of course, The Ben Franklin Effect is a cognitive bias and a psychological phenomenon named after Benjamin Franklin. Ben was one of America's Founding Fathers and one of the most revered men from the 18th century.

The principle is counterintuitive. It suggests we are more likely to develop positive feelings toward someone for whom we have performed a favour. The irony is that by requesting acts of kindness from our adversaries, we can turn them into friends.

Understanding the Ben Franklin Effect can bring various benefits, both personally and professionally.

In this article, we will explore the Ben Franklin effect in greater detail. We will also look at how you can use this psychological principle to enhance your relationships.

What is the Ben Franklin Effect?

The Ben Franklin Effect suggests that doing a favour for someone we initially see negatively can change our attitude towards them.

This effect challenges our conventional understanding of human behaviour. Performing a favour for someone can actually lead to the development of positive feelings towards them. Conventionally, we wouldn't expect our feelings to change.

But they do.

This cognitive bias was helpful to Ben and is even more relevant in modern times.

Relationships and connections play a vital role in various aspects of our lives. By understanding and utilizing the Ben Franklin Effect, we can leverage this principle to improve our interactions and outcomes with others.

How a Political Enemy Became a Friend

One of the best examples of the Ben Franklin Effect comes from Ben himself.

In his biography, he explains how he managed to turn a political adversary into a friend.  During his time in the Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin faced strong criticism from a fellow member.  Instead of responding with hostility, Franklin took a different approach.

He decided to ask his adversary for a favour.

Franklin requested that the person lend him a rare book from their personal collection. Graciously, the opponent agreed and provided Franklin with the book. Franklin promptly returned the book, offering thanks for the man's kindness.

At the next assembly, the opponent who had spoken so badly of Franklin greeted him with smiles. Later the political enemy went on to become a supporter and a close friend of Ben.

Ben's request to borrow the book created a sense of cognitive dissonance for his opponent. The opponent's actions contradicted their negative perception of Franklin. Settling this contradiction brings a favourable change in attitude.

This anecdote demonstrates the power of the Ben Franklin Effect. It shows us a way to transform relationships and turn adversaries into allies by simply asking for a favour.

Why Does the Ben Franklin Effect Work?

The Ben Franklin Effect works by leveraging a psychological principle called cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental discomfort we experience when our beliefs, or behaviours contradict each other. Humans naturally strive for internal consistency. When faced with conflicting thoughts or actions, we seek to resolve that dissonance.

When we perform a favour for someone we initially perceive negatively or as an adversary, it creates a state of cognitive dissonance.

Our behaviour contradicts our negative perception, leading to discomfort. To reduce this dissonance, our mind tends to adjust our attitudes to align with our actions. We start to rationalize our behaviour by convincing ourselves that we must like the person to whom we have extended help.

In the context of the Ben Franklin Effect, when we ask someone for a favour, they are more likely to comply due to the principle of consistency. Once they have performed the favour, their mind seeks to align their attitudes with their actions. Consequently, leading to a shift in perception towards us.

5 Ways You Can Use The Ben Franklin Effect Today.

Our world has changed much in the last two hundred years. So the lesson Ben shares might not feel too practical. In today's world, and in especially in business, the Ben Franklin effect can help us.

Here are five areas where entrepreneurs can use this psychological framework as a force for good.

Collaborative Projects:

Entrepreneurs can use the Ben Franklin Effect by involving others in collaborative projects. By requesting their help, entrepreneurs create an opportunity for individuals to contribute. This fosters a sense of ownership and positive feelings towards the entrepreneur.

Seeking Feedback:

Entrepreneurs can ask for feedback from potential customers or stakeholders. By actively seeking their opinions and suggestions, entrepreneurs show they value others' expertise. This can lead to a sense of reciprocity. It leads individuals to feel more inclined to support the entrepreneur's business endeavours.

Offering Opportunities:

Entrepreneurs can provide opportunities for others to showcase their skills or talents. By giving someone a chance to contribute or take part in a meaningful way, entrepreneurs can tap into the Ben Franklin Effect. Those involved will develop a sense of pride and affiliation. It naturally leads to stronger relationships and support.

Mentorship and Guidance:

Entrepreneurs can offer mentorship or guidance to aspiring individuals in their fields. By sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources, entrepreneurs create favourable impressions. It also cultivates positive relationships. The act of helping others can trigger the Ben Franklin Effect, fostering loyalty and support.

Networking and Relationship Building:

Entrepreneurs can actively engage in networking and relationship-building activities.

By genuinely:

  • Asking for advice
  • Showing interest in others
  • Seeking collaborative opportunities

Entrepreneurs can establish connections that go beyond superficial interactions. These efforts contribute to building a strong network and harnessing the power of the Ben Franklin Effect.

FAQs

A. What is the Ben Franklin Effect? The Ben Franklin Effect refers to the psychological phenomenon where people develop positive feelings towards someone for whom they have performed a favour.

B. How does the effect work psychologically? The effect works by leveraging cognitive dissonance. This is where our actions contradict our negative perceptions, leading to a shift in attitudes.

C. Can you use the Ben Franklin Effect to manipulate others? While you can use the Ben Franklin Effect to influence others positively, it's essential to use it ethically. You should look to using it with genuine intentions, rather than as a manipulative tool.

D. Are there any situations where the effect does not apply? The Ben Franklin Effect is a general psychological principle, but its effectiveness can vary depending on individual circumstances and relationships.

E. How can individuals cultivate the effect in their relationships? Individuals can cultivate the Ben Franklin Effect by genuinely seeking help, showing appreciation, and reciprocating favours when appropriate. Building trust and fostering positive interactions are key.

F. Can the Ben Franklin Effect be reversed? While the Ben Franklin Effect is primarily focused on developing positive feelings, it is possible for attitudes to change again if subsequent negative experiences or behaviours occur.

Conclusion

The Ben Franklin Effect offers valuable insights into human psychology and relationship dynamics.

By understanding and utilizing this effect, we can transform adversaries into allies. We can build stronger connections, and enhance our professional and personal interactions.

It doesn't matter who you are, if you're looking to improve your relationships then this psychological insight can help you.

If you're an entrepreneur seeking to leverage this effect for business success, great. If you're an individual looking to improve your relationships, great.

Embracing the power of asking for favours can lead to unexpected positive outcomes.

Remember to apply the principles of this psychological phenomenon with authenticity, respect, and a genuine desire to build meaningful connections.

By doing so, you can unlock the hidden potential of the Ben Franklin Effect and create a positive impact in your life and the lives of others.

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