The Franklin Effect At-a-Glance
Reciprocation, being the social currency, is one of the most powerful methods of influence in political and social arenas: if we do someone a favor, he or she naturally feels compelled to return a favor. The Franklin Effect is a potent technique that works the other way around: ask someone for a small favor and they will come to like you more.
Franklin’s Discovery of the Franklin Effect
This influence technique is named after Ben Franklin, who described it in his autobiography. When a new member of Pennsylvania state legislature opposed him, Franklin did not try to make him any favors. Instead, he himself asked for a small favor.
I therefore did not like the opposition of this new member, who was a gentleman of fortune and education, with talents that were likely to give him, in time, great influence in the House, which, indeed, afterwards happened. I did not, however, aim at gaining his favour 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 return’d it in 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.”
Research on the Franklin Effect
An early study done on the Franklin effect in 1969 confirmed the effectiveness of this technique. Theory of cognitive dissonance makes clear why this technique works. Cognitive dissonance thwarts the possibility of holding two opposing ideas or beliefs. It’s very difficult for a person to think that “I voluntarily did him a favor” and “I don’t like him”. Therefore, if people make you a favor, they will think that they did so because they like you.
Ask for Small Favors
If you use this influence technique, make sure your first requests are small. Faced with large requests people will simply refuse, and this refusal, due to cognitive dissonance, might spiral downwards.
- Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- Jecker, J., & Landy, D. (1969). Liking a person as function of doing him a favor. Human Relations, 22, 371-378.