Turning Foes into Friends with Favors

Want to turn an enemy into a friend? Ask them for a favor. It’s called the Benjamin Franklin Effect, so named for the sage of social dynamics that discovered it centuries ago. In a shell, when haters do you favors, they experience cognitive dissonance.  Their brains then cast you in a more positive light to eliminate that cognitive dissonance.   In Franklin’s case, there was a political adversary with whom he shared a mutual hatred, but whose future support he knew he needed. To put his social theory to the test, Franklin asked the adversary to borrow a rare book from his collection. The adversary obliged and the two remained friends until death. Franklin summarized the social principle in his autobiography as follows: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

The Benjamin Franklin Effect is a manifestation of the broader psychological principle that one’s character is defined by one’s actions.  In Ghandi’s words: “Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions, our actions become our character, our character becomes our destiny.”  More recently, authors on cognition like David McRaney have revisited this fundamental tenet, explaining succinctly and poignantly as follows:

For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.

Whether your aim is to transform a hater, or yourself, these lessons provide a powerful and proven starting point.


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