How to Become Likeable by Practicing the Benjamin Franklin Effect

Do you want to be likeable? Practice the Benjamin Franklin effect. Keep reading to discover it!
How to Become Likeable by Practicing the Benjamin Franklin Effect

Last update: 04 July, 2021

Have you ever heard about the Benjamin Franklin effect? He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a polymath, philosopher, inventor, activist, and diplomat. When he sought to transform an adversary into a supporter, he turned to an unusual approach. Franklin later described it in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as an old maxim. In 1969, researchers confirmed his maxim. It’s known today as the Benjamin Franklin effect.

You can find it in Franklin’s unfinished autobiography he wrote from 1771 to 1790: Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin. In it, he wrote a story about an adversary of his in the Pennsylvania legislature. Franklin wanted to befriend or at least neutralize this adversary. 

Therefore, he asked him for a favor: to borrow a rare book. The adversary sent it, and Franklin returned it a week later with a note expressing his gratitude. When they next spoke, it was with great civility, a departure from their previous encounters. They ended up becoming lifelong friends.

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

-Benjamin Franklin-

In short, this translates to “To build rapport, don’t do a favor, rather ask for one”. The Benjamin Franklin effect is a cognitive bias that makes people like someone more after doing them a favor, especially if they previously disliked that person or felt neutral toward them. This psychological trick causes someone who dislikes you to start liking you after they do you a small favor.

It’s a useful concept to be aware of since you can use it when interacting with others. It’s also important to be aware of the fact that others might use it on you. In the following article, you’ll learn much more about the Benjamin Franklin effect. Most importantly, you’ll learn how you can use it yourself and how to account for its use by others.

An image of Benjamin Franklin.

The Benjamin Franklin effect

Benjamin Franklin was the eighth of 17 children of a poor candlestick maker. The chances of him becoming one of the Founding Fathers of the United States was low. Even so, he went on to play many crucial roles. He was America’s best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist. He was also a master in the game of personal politics. To climb the social ladder, he resorted to many secret weapons, including the Benjamin Franklin effect.

Back in the day, when Franklin ran for a term as a clerk, a fellow clerk publicly opposed him. This tarnished his reputation. Although Franklin won, he was furious with this person. Nevertheless, he observed that “This is a gentleman of fortune and education. He might one day come to hold great power. Only a fool wouldn’t want his friendship”. Franklin wanted to turn this hater into a friend. 

Back then, his reputation as a book collector positioned him as a man with cultivated literary taste. Thus, Franklin wrote him a letter. To win his friendship without “paying any servile respect,” Franklin asked for a favor instead of doing one.

In 1969, researchers Jecker and Landy wrote about this. In 2014, Yu Niiya conducted a study on it. Here, participants were asked to solve puzzles together with someone else, who was a researcher in disguise. There was a positive response when the participants were asked by their partner for help. They ended up having more positive feelings toward them later on, after task completion. In other words, the more you help, the more you like.

Cognitive dissonance explains why this works

How do we explain such a phenomenon? If you feel that it’s completely unintuitive, then you aren’t alone. Luckily, cognitive dissonance offers some explanation about why people behave this way. According to cognitive dissonance, when a person’s beliefs clash with their actions, a mental discomfort is triggered. This forces them to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce the discomfort. Let’s suppose you do a favor for someone you feel indifferent towards. 

Furthermore, let’s suppose you do a favor to someone you dislike. You now experience dissonance, an inconsistency between your beliefs and actions, which you must resolve. “I just went out of my way to do a favor for this jerk. Why?” Your mind reaches for harmony between the two. Hence, you alter your beliefs to fit your actions. “He’s actually not that bad.”

It’s far easier to convince yourself you like the other person than it is to reason away your actions. It’s also easier to pretend it never happened. Besides, since we do favors for people we like, we’re more likely to grant additional ones.

The possibility of using this technique intrigued me. I’ve always suffered from a lack of charisma and have struggled with meeting new people. I was eager to try out this strategy, not to manipulate others but to improve my likability.

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

-Benjamin Franklin-

The hard truth about the Benjamin Franklin effect

You can’t go around asking people to do you favors and expect them to oblige. You might even utterly annoy a lot of your friends, coworkers, and family members. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t employ the essence of what Franklin observed centuries ago. The idea is to try being as clever as he was. If you read over the snippet about Franklin’s original request, you might notice the second factor at play.

He asked for a special type of favor, one that probably evoked a feeling of pride in his adversary. Franklin’s adversary took great pride in his rare book collection. By asking to borrow from it, Franklin validated his adversary’s passion. He implicitly stated, “You have excellent taste and judgment in books”. That kind of validation generates warmth and appreciation. It’s hard to avoid liking someone who compliments you on your excellence, passion, or taste.

Strategies to enhance your likability

You can resort to many techniques to improve your interpersonal relationships. You need to make an effort on the backend before you execute on the frontend.

Learn about the people you wish to befriend

Pay attention to the subtle clues people drop in their conversations. What skills do they pride themselves in? What passions do they pursue? Ask questions to learn more about their likes and interests. Pay attention to the things they speak of most. You’ll discover what’s important to them. By acquiring this information, you can seek small favors in a way that validates their passions and abilities.

Ask for a targeted favor

Ask for a favor that’s easy to deliver and meaningful for you to receive. Don’t put someone in an uncomfortable position. Never ask someone to do you a favor when you should be paying them for their work. That’s a surefire strategy to make you unlikable. By acquiring the right knowledge in step one, you’ll attune yourself to opportunities as they arise. You only need to pay attention to the subtle cues.

Perhaps an acquaintance of yours touts their chops as a foodie. She boasts about her connections with local restaurants. Since you have a date night planned with your partner, an opportunity presents itself. You need a restaurant. Call that foodie acquaintance of yours. Ask her for a favor.

“I have a special dinner planned for Friday. I need to pick the perfect place. Can you do me a favor and help me?” If she prides herself in this sort of thing, she’ll appreciate you for recognizing her expertise. Most importantly, since the task is simple, she’ll oblige. She may even offer to set up the reservation with her contact.

An image of people speaking in a study group.

The gratitude sandwich

Always express gratitude once they do you the favor. Start with a sincere thank you. Include a sentence about how it benefited you or what it meant to you. For example, “Thank you for getting us into that restaurant. It was an unforgettable evening. My partner can’t stop talking about it. Thanks again, I appreciate your help”. 

Furthermore, avoid saying something such as “I owe you one” or “I’ll make it up to you”. That makes it transactional. Friends do things for each other out of genuine kindness. Benjamin Franklin made a lifelong friend when he asked an adversary to borrow a book. 

Simply asking people for favors won’t make you more likable. It might even make them resent you. Instead, learn about people’s passions and interests. Ask for a targeted favor when the opportunity arises. Always remember to express gratitude in a way that truly demonstrates how much it meant to you.

Franklin was so brilliant that he used a simple trick to win over haters. Today, people all over the world use this psychological trick. Are you ready to harness the power of the Benjamin Franklin effect? It’ll instantly make you more likable at work and in life.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

-Benjamin Franklin-

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