I got bored waiting at a dealership for my truck to be repaired, wandered into the showroom, and watched a salesperson use the same move three times in less than 15 minutes.
A customer walked in. The salesperson strode over, large leather day planner in hand. Smiled. Said, "Hi." Made a little small talk. Then, to his seeming surprise, noticed a small amount of liquid under one of the new cars.
"I'm sorry. Can you hold this," he said, holding out his day planner, "while I try to clean that up?"
The customer did while the salesperson grabbed a rag and spray bottle and wiped up the spill.
"Looks like a customer spilled a drink," he said, smiling. "Thanks for holding that."
I noticed the exchange. Thought no more of it. Until that customer left and the salesperson walked over with a cup of water, glanced around, and then created a new "spill."
Which he then proceeded to clean up two more times, each time asking the customer to hold his day planner while he did.
During a gap in customers he stood nearby. "Nice day," he said, looking out the window.
"It is," I said. I paused. "Does that actually work?" I asked, nodding toward the showroom,
He turned, smiling big. "Every time," he said.
"That" is commonly known as the Ben Franklin effect. Writing about a political rival, Franklin said:
I did not aim at gaining his favor by paying any servile respect to him, but after some time took this other method. Having heard 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 favor of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I returned it in about a week with another note expressing strongly my sense of the favor.
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 until his death.
This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned:
"He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged."
In short, get someone to do you a favor. For Ben, get them to lend you a book. For the salesperson, get them to hold your day planner.
Once they do, they will see you in a more positive light -- and be more likely to help you out in the future.
Cognitive Dissonance? Maybe
The Franklin effect is usually explained by cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests it's uncomfortable to hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time.
In Ben's example, lending Ben a book made it hard for his rival to feel he disliked Franklin.
According to one research study, "If an individual performs a favor for a person about whom he initially has neutral or negative feelings, he may come to like that person as a means of justifying his having performed the favor."
Or in non-researcher-speak, doing a favor for someone you don't like makes no sense. So you must like them after all.
Which sounds good.
But there's more to it than that.
Liking to Help? Certainly
Asking someone for a favor, asking someone for help, implicitly shows you respect that person. They know something you don't. They have something you don't. They can do something, however small, that makes a difference for you.
Asking for a favor makes you vulnerable. Makes you humble.
Makes you human.
The same for the people you ask. They feel respected. They feel valued. They feel trusted. They feel the satisfaction that comes from making a difference, however small, in someone else's life.
They feel more human -- and more connected.
And they like you, a little bit more, for helping them feel that way.
Use the BF Effect for Good? Absolutely
The salesperson's "Can you hold this?" move was clearly manipulative.
Like consciously using the power of touch, as in a pre-Covid world where a con man intentionally touches a mark on the arm or shoulder in hopes of decreasing the perceived distance between them.
But if you want to build or repair a relationship, consider the Ben Franklin Effect as a way to break the ice.
Ask for a small favor, and do so in a way that implies respect. Like Franklin's asking to borrow a book implicitly showed respect for his rival's library.
And then say thanks. But don't stop there: Take a moment to share genuine appreciation and gratitude. Explain how a shared connection helped build your business. How a piece of advice changed your perspective or actions. How a helping hand made a hard job much easier.
Sincere gratitude repairs and builds bridges.
And creates a great foundation for a mutually beneficial relationship.