C&B Notes

The Benjamin Franklin Effect

Ben Franklin highlights a human psychological trait that is generally counterintuitive (most anticipate attitudes dictate behavior, when it is often the opposite) but very applicable in everyday life:

The Misconception: You do nice things for the people you like and bad things to the people you hate.

The Truth: You grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.


Franklin’s autobiography never mentions this guy’s name, but according to the book when Franklin ran for his second term as clerk, one of his colleagues delivered a long speech to the legislature lambasting Franklin.  Franklin still won his second term, but this guy truly pissed him off. I n addition, this man was “a gentleman of fortune and education” who Franklin believed would one day become a person of great influence in the government.  So, Franklin knew he had to be dealt with, and thus he launched his human behavior stealth bomber.

Franklin set out to turn his hater into a fan, but he wanted to do it without “paying any servile respect to him.”  Franklin’s reputation as a book collector and library founder gave him a reputation as a man of discerning literary tastes, so Franklin sent a letter to the hater asking if he could borrow a selection from his library, one which was a “very scarce and curious book.”  The rival, flattered, sent it right away.  Franklin sent it back a week later with a thank you note.  Mission accomplished.

The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin and spoke to him in person for the first time.  Franklin said the hater “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death.”

What exactly happened here? How can asking for a favor turn a hater into a fan? How can requesting kindness cause a person to change his or her opinion about you?

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