For Part 3 of my Cognitive Bias series, I wanted to handle a fun one that has some interesting implications for our work lives. Lets talk about the Ben Franklin Effect. The Ben Franklin effect was named for Ben Franklin based on his actions to quell a fight with a rival in the 18th century. In his autobiography Ben Franklin wrote:
“He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
The basic premise of the Ben Franklin effect is that you are more likely to do a favor for someone if you have already done a favor for them as opposed to if they have done a favor for you. Umm….what? I’m less likely to do a favor for you if you’ve done a favor for me? And if I’ve already done a favor for you I’m more likely to do another? This one is going to take some unravelling.
What Benjamin Franklin observed, and took advantage of is a form of Cognitive Dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance can be described as a person’s internal conflict when old ideas don’t align with new ones. In this way people’s feelings might change to reflect their actions.
One way to operationalize this one is simple. If someone doesn’t like you, you might ask them for a favor. Maybe something that is within their easy grasp or their absolute wheelhouse. If they agree, the result could be them liking you more after doing it. Why? Because after doing you a favor, they will likely have to deal with the internal conflict of having done a favor for someone they dislike, and as a result of that, their feelings might change. And this change may make them more likely to do another favor for you. Of course, the same is possible in opposite. People might vilify someone they have spoken ill of or done some harm to.
Does this seem a little manipulative to you? Yeah, its should. I’m not recommending you ask someone who really dislikes you to help you move next weekend. That probably wouldn’t work out that well. But, if there was something they are good at that is easy enough to do and you ask for that…you might be able to move the needle in the right direction. Following Ben’s lead, its important that you not do something for them first as that might allow them to keep or even increase their negative thoughts about you.
If you run into me this week and I ask you to borrow that book from your office….I mean….maybe its just a coincidence right?