Monday 23rd October 13:47

Get Others to Like You: The Benjamin Franklin Effect

04._franklin_142If you want to improve your relations with others in your team, there are several ways to do it. You could invite them out for a social drink to get to know them better, though this might end in disaster if you don't already get on. You could force yourself to like them, even though all your feelings are telling you that you don't. Or, if all else fails, you could try the Benjamin Franklin Effect.

Who Was Benjamin Franklin?

Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of American independence and is still revered to this day in the United States. Although he became Postmaster General in the Continental Congress, he was not primarily a politician but a polymath who was also a writer, publisher, diplomat, scientist, and inventor. He is credited with inventing the lightning rod, the Franklin Stove, and bifocal spectacles. A year after his death in 1793, his autobiography was published and it is there that we find an explanation to what has become known as "the Benjamin Franklin Effect".

So, What Is the Benjamin Franklin Effect?

Halfway through his autobiography, Franklin tells a story about an up-and-coming member of the Pennsylvania Assembly who had snubbed him on several occasions. Faced with the same dilemma as anyone might be in getting on with a colleague, Franklin decided to win him over and asked if he might borrow a certain scarce book from the Assemblyman's library. The Assemblyman obliged. Franklin thanked him and from then on, they became best friends. Franklin drew out the lesson that when you ask someone for help and they oblige, they are more willing to do you a further favour in future than if you had been the one helping them.

The Proof of the Benjamin Franklin Effect

The Benjamin Franklin Effect works but shouldn't. It should be the other way around. People should feel closer to you if you've done them a favour rather than they you. The effect has been proven in a 1969 study by psychologists Jon Jecker and David Landy who found that a lecturer who asked students to lend him some money was more liked by these students better than by those who hadn't been asked. The effect is also quoted in Dale Carnegie's book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" where the request for help is explained as a subtle but effective form of flattery.

Using the Benjamin Franklin Effect

As Carnegie suggests, when we ask a colleague to do us a favour, we are signalling that we consider them to have something we don't, whether more intelligence, more knowledge, more skills, or whatever. This is another way of showing admiration and respect, something the other person may not have noticed from us before. This immediately raises their opinion of us and makes them more willing to help us again both because they enjoy the admiration and have genuinely started to like us.

Now Try It Out Yourself

Think about someone at work, (or in your non-work life), who you don't get on with. Establish that you would be much better off if you made an ally of this person. Now work out a favour that you would like from this person that would cost them nothing. It could be advice, practical help, a bit of their time, whatever. Approach this person with your request in a positive and honest spirit and log the response. You've nothing to lose and everything to gain!