How You Can Use the Counterintuitive Genius of the Benjamin Franklin Effect to Your Advantage

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The human mind sometimes works in mysterious ways. It can defy logic. The Benjamin Franklin effect is an excellent example of this. Our founding father is one of the most admired personalities in history and was an entirely self-made man. In a society where family wealth, prestige and status determined how successful you were, he defied norms to rise to the top.

Needless to say, you can probably learn a thing or two from ‘ol Benny Franklin. 

So, what is Benjamin Franklin effect?

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

I know, slightly confusing at first, but here’s what that means as clarified by Franklin himself: “A person who has performed a favor for someone is more likely to do another favor for that person rather than if they had received a favor from that person.” 

Here it is again in plain English:

  • The misconception. You do favors for the people you like and don’t do favors to the people you dislike.
  • The Benjamin Franklin effect. You grow to like people for whom you do favors for and hate people you harm.

On the surface, this makes little sense and defies traditional thinking because one would believe that you would be more open to helping an individual you like, and not to the people you dislike. Research has suggested otherwise, and experts believe in the psychology that backs up his claim. 

Here’s the breakdown to back it up. 

The Benjamin Franklin effect has been explained to be an example of what psychologists call the cognitive dissonance theory. As cited by Wiki, this theory explains that “people change their attitudes or behavior to resolve tensions, between their attitudes, actions and thoughts.” 

When people ask for a favor, they acknowledge that you can help them and have resources or skills that they don’t have. 

The acknowledgment is very flattering and boosts a person’s ego. This makes you feel superior, even if that’s not true at all, but the perception becomes the reality.

When you ask for a favor, you’re admitting to weakness, and that can hurt anyone’s pride. You feel like you’re in a lower position, so you don’t like the person who obliges to your favor because that puts them in a weakened position. 

Most people react in a similar manner subconsciously, and Franklin used this to his advantage several times in his career.

Can this be used in business?

You can apply the principles of this concept to your business, as they can help you develop a better relationship with associates, employees, customers and investors. Here are two scenarios of how you can do that:

  • Employees and clients. Ask for help and assistance from your employees and clients when you need it (but not too often). This is an equalizer and will please your employees and clients. It will make them feel empowered. 
  • Negotiation tool. If you feel you’ve reached a roadblock during a negotiation, ask the investor or negotiating party for a favor and a reason to come back to you. This will help you reopen the discussion, and give them a perceived sense of power. You can then use it to your advantage because you understand the Art of War, and know that deception equals victory.

It might seem counterintuitive to ask for assistance or favors from your employees, clients and business associates. But science, psychologists and one of our greatest historical figures have proven it would help you in the long run.