Renowned author, politician, diplomat, scientist, publisher, philosopher and inventor, born in 1706, perhaps Benjamin Franklin is best known as simply, a founding father.
Be it the respect of his peers or opposition, it’s what Franklin discovered about winning, that really makes the man a legend.
Accounts recall that when he was in the Pennsylvania legislature, he was deeply bothered by the staunch political opposition and honesty of another legislator. Franklin himself then explained how he successfully won his respect and even friendship:
“I did not, however, aim at gaining his favor by paying any servile respect to him, but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately and I returned it in a about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”
Almost a century later, researchers Jon Jecker and David Landy set out to see if Franklin was right.
In one study, participants won some money from the experimenter in a contest. Afterward, one group of participants was approached by the experimenter, who asked them if they’d be willing to give back the money, stating it was his own and he had little left. Almost ALL agreed! Another group of participants was not approached with any request. All of the participants from both groups were then anonymously surveyed about how much they liked the experimenter.
Was Franklin’s strategy, as illogical as it sounds, supported? Indeed it was. Jecker and Landy found that those who were asked to do the favour for the experimenter rated the experimenter more favourably than those of whom were not asked to return the money. Why? We know from other studies that people are strongly motivated to change their attitudes in ways that are consistent with their behaviour. When Franklin’s opponent found himself doing a favour for someone he didn’t care for, he probably had to say to himself, “Why am I going out of my way to help this person I don’t even like? Perhaps Franklin’s not so bad after all. Come to think of it, he does have some redeeming qualities…”
Franklin’s strategy lends itself to managing relationships in a myriad of differentiating environments. To take one, often we are in need of assistance from a coworker or neighbor who, for whatever reasoning, may not hold us in very high regard. We proceed with hesitation thinking that if we ask, they’ll like us even less. So, rather than ask for such a favour, a more typical tendency is to put off that request, creating delays. The results of this experiment indicate that such apprehensiveness is unwarranted.
In the case of some objectionable people, asking for a favour may seem to be a rather brave thing to do. But consider the following: If you currently have nothing to show for your communications (or non-communications) with this person, the worst thing that will happen is that you’ll end up with the same nothing. Try it. You truly have nothing to lose.