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Monday, September 22, 2014

Asking For a Kindness To Find a Friend

Author Anais Nin put it beautifully when she said, "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." What a thought-provoking statement meant to encourage new friendships and assure us that every new acquaintance has the potential to help make us a better, more dynamic human being.

Yet, in the age when friendship is confirmed through Facebook, chat rooms, and brief, fleeting personal encounters squeezed into our busy lives, it seems almost a platitude, more a hollow prosaic statement than a call for discovery.

What is friendship? Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection. Like love, it depends on the single factor of attraction and in this case, it is more of a mental and emotional chemistry rather than a physical attraction. So while romantic love usually begins with physical attraction, friendship is more mental, emotional or psychological.

We attain a level of close friendship with very few people. So like love, friendship also goes through our internal filter, and as we choose our lovers unconsciously, even our friends are chosen unconsciously as we somehow intuitively understand who could be our true friends.

Value that is found in friendships is often the result of a friend demonstrating on a consistent basis: 

  • the tendency to desire what is best for each other 
  • sympathy and empathy    
  • honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth 
  • mutual understanding  

All of us could use more good friends. One key to making solid friendships is really a very simple concept. One of the founding fathers offered this good counter-intuitive advice a couple hundred years ago, and it still holds true.

Benjamin Franklin himself said, 

"He that has once done you a kindness 
will be more ready to do you another 
than he whom you yourself have obliged."

Like many people full of drive and intelligence born into a low station, Franklin developed strong people skills and social powers. With 17 children, his parents Josiah and Abiah Franklin could only afford two years of schooling for Benjamin. Instead, they made him work, and when he was 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James who was a printer in Boston.

All else denied, an analytical mind will pick apart behavior, and Franklin became adroit at human relations. And according to author David McRaney, Mr. Franklin evidently employed the thinking expressed above to great advantage ...

 "At age twenty-one, he (Franklin) formed a “club of mutual improvement” called the Junto. It was a grand scheme to gobble up knowledge. He invited working-class polymaths like him to have the chance to pool together their books and trade thoughts and knowledge of the world on a regular basis. They wrote and recited essays, held debates, and devised ways to acquire currency. Franklin used the Junto as a private consulting firm, a think tank, and he bounced ideas off the other members so he could write and print better pamphlets. Franklin eventually founded the first subscription library in America, writing that it would make “the common tradesman and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries,” not to mention give him access to whatever books he wanted to buy."

(David McRaney. You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself. 2013)

This philosophy has become known as the Franklin Effect. When we do a person a favor, we tend to like that person more as a result. This is because we justify our actions to ourselves that we did them a favor because we liked them.

The reverse effect is also true, and we come to hate our victims, which helps to explain wartime atrocities. We de-humanize the enemy, which decreases the dissonance of killing and other things in which we would never normally indulge. 

(John Jecker. "Liking a Person as a Function of Doing Him a Favor."  
Human Relations 22. 1969)

In his research, involved students in an intellectual contest where they could win significant money. Afterwards:
  • A: 1/3 were approached by the researcher and asked to return money as he had been using his own funds and was running short.
  • B: 1/3 were approached by a secretary and asked to return money as it was from the psychology department and funds were low.
  • C: 1/3 were not approached.
Then all were surveyed to see how much they liked the researcher. Group B rated him lower than Group C (so impersonal request for a favor decreases liking). Group A rated him higher than group C (so personal request for a favor increases liking).

Nelson Mandela restated the principle more broadly in his famous work Long Walk to Freedom (1995) as follows:

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. 
Then he becomes your partner."

Perhaps Dale Carnegie is the most famous developer of famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills.The Franklin Effect is also quoted in Dale Carnegie's massive bestseller (over 15 million copies worldwide), How to Win Friends and Influence People, where the request for help is explained as a subtle but effective form of flattery ...
"When we ask a colleague to do us a favor, we are signalling that we consider them to have something we don't, whether more intelligence, more knowledge, more skills, or whatever. This is another way of showing admiration and respect, something the other person may not have noticed from us before. This immediately raises their opinion of us and makes them more willing to help us again both because they enjoy the admiration and have genuinely started to like us."

The Ben Franklin effect is a paradigm of cognitive dissonance, a well proven theory that states that any conflicting ideas in someone’s brain will be reevaluated and straightened out in order to ease an individual’s internal conflicts.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

The cognitive dissonance theory says that people change their attitudes or behavior to resolve tensions, or "dissonance," between their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

In the case of the Ben Franklin effect, the dissonance is between the subject's negative attitudes to the other person and the knowledge that they did that person a favor.

In layman’s terms, this theory asserts that our mind can only have one STRONG attitude at a time against something (someone in this case), so if you hate someone and do him a favor, contradiction will make us re-evaluate the situation concerning this guy, and make us think we don’t hate him as much (if no strong external justification is present) because after all, if we did, we wouldn’t have done him any favor.
(Leon Festinger. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. 1957) 

Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals tend to become psychologically uncomfortable and are motivated to attempt to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoiding situations and information which are likely to increase it.

Get someone to do us a favor and they will like us more? Many in the Me Generation will argue with this philosophy, but the Franklin Effect works. Many more of us will think it shouldn't. Ideally, it should be the other way around. People should feel closer to us if we've done them a favor rather than they us. Right? Wrong.

The truth of the matter is that our actions influence our beliefs. In truth, our brain doesn’t like it when our actions don’t match the beliefs we have about ourselves. Isn't it amazing that we can decrease dissonance by requesting a small favor? The morals and ethics we have are proven when another responds to a request. Some call it encouraging good manners, but the Franklin Effect has the proven power to create and to strengthen strong, reliable friendships.

"Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, 
you would stay out and your dog would go in." 

--Mark Twain

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