Convince people: The Franklin Effect

convince people

How often do you need to convince people?

From grabbing a bargain from a second-hand car dealer to trying to convince your Boss on a salary raise, from getting your spouse to throw a party together to trying to get your son to do his chores – life is full of situations where we have to convince people in some way or the other. How helpful would it be then, if you knew a less known trick which can suddenly help you get into people’s minds and make it easy for you to convince people?

The Benjamin Franklin effect

I am in love with the Franklin effect. It is a masterpiece!

Did you know that doing a favor brings you closer to a person than getting a favor from him?

Killer Negotiator

One of the weirdest discoveries (rather defined by him for the first time) on psychology was made by Sir Benjamin Franklin in 1730, who was famous for his work on theories of Electricity. He said that if you ask someone for an appropriate favor, it makes the other person feel closer to you, and he is now prone to do you more favors eventually.

The concept is counterintuitive. You would assume that taking a favor would be obligatory and you will have to return it at some point. You are theoretically right in most cases. But if you know exactly how much to ask for, it works the other way round. The person on the other side feels closer to you. This can be a priceless arrow in your quiver if you are trying to convince people.

Convince People: Experiments

In 1969, in an experiment carried out by researchers Jecker and Landy, a group of students was asked to take part in a contest and win some money.

Later, one-third of the students was asked to return the money because the researcher explained that his funds were really short (Personal favor).

One-third was asked to return it because the Psychology department needed the funds (Impersonal favor).

One-third was not asked to return the money(Control group).

Those who returned the money because of the Psychology Department’s needs (Impersonal favor) were badly irritated and did not like the researcher. However, those who returned because of the personal request of the researcher, even though they lost the money, rated him to be much kinder than the third control group.

When we do a personal favor to someone, out mind convinces itself that we are doing it because we like him or her. He is now prone to do you more favors with time.

The only conditions are:

1. This favor has to be personal

Remember, those who did an impersonal favor such as returning the funds to the Psychology Dept did not enjoy it.

2. It has to be doable. It has to be a favor which the other person would be able to do easily.

Try asking a person on the road for directions and thank him. You will find his attitude change towards you in a flash. He would perhaps be willing to do you a bigger favor by walking with you. However, if you ask him to walk with you all the way (Big favor), he may not oblige and is likely to walk away.

3. Remember to thank him for it.

Real Life situations:

  • If you are in someone’s house for the first time, ask for a glass of water. It’s a small favor. But you will find how you start getting personal attention from the host after that.
  • Enter a departmental store and when the sales person comes up ask him what time the store closes. He has this information and will be happy to impart. Once he gives you that information, feel good about that and thank him. Even with this simple gesture, you are likely to find his attitude towards you humbler and more cordial.
  • You are pulled over by a cop for breaking into a one-way. Ask the strict inspector where you could find the information regarding One-way streets in the locality. You might get away with a clean chit.
  • If you feel you have come to a dead end in a conversation, just ask the other person to do you a favor. Something small such as if he can help you set up the projector (if appropriate). Often the scales will tip over to your side, provided, it is not very big, is personal, and you thank him for it.
  • You are not doing so well in a presentation. In the lunch recess, ask the board member for a trivial information such as which day care center he sends his kid to or such other random information which you might need. It does not have to be related to your work at all. In fact, it needs to be personal to you. Thank him for it. You may have just won a valuable friend.
  • When in an interview, ask for something insignificant, such as a pen. It makes you more approachable because now the interviewers have found a personal connection to reach out to you. Same goes when you are giving a presentation for your company with a potential client. Asking for a pen is very useful!

It works on another level too. When you ask the other person for a favor, you are essentially telling them that they possess something that you don’t. In turn, you are giving them respect causing them to respect you back.

If the favor is too big that it seems inappropriate at the time, it will make you look weird and have the opposite effect. Examples? Do not ask that cop just to let you go as a favor, or ask that board member to sanction your proposal in the lunch recess!

Get the picture?

convince people

The board meeting scenario:

You have a meeting with people who are not agreeing with your opinion.

Stop teaching and start learning.

Stop trying to force your idea on to them. Take a step back. Ask them a question with all your heart: “Sir, could you please explain to me your alternative concept? I want to understand that more closely Perhaps I can incorporate it in my work.”

What just happened?

  1. You became a student. You bowed down to learn. You gave respect to the other person to allow him to teach you. Even though he is teaching you, Franklin effect kicks in. This will immensely make him respect you back. He now knows that you want to understand his concepts and incorporate them. The battle is half won.
  2. You are now getting into their minds. Learning what they think. This will greatly help you to modify as required to suit their needs.
  3. When you completely learn what their idea was you can perhaps explain to them in what way your idea was better, and they will appreciate it because it will be from their point of view now. You can convince people at the snap of a finger.

The Benjamin Franklin Effect is perhaps the biggest WIN-WIN strategies in a negotiation.


In a series of posts on and my blog, I have discussed few of the basics of how to convince people. You need to believe that Everybody is a good Guy,  Break the Self-Serving Bias, and to  Say less, listen more!

This excellent hack, while a separate topic in itself, stands hand in hand with those and can propel you upwards success in a short time.

The Benjamin Franklin effect reveals a beautiful truth about our psyche. It proves that even in a material world like ours, the joy of giving far surpasses the joy of receiving, even if most people do not always see it that way!

Our subconscious is somehow wired to keep the society as a coherent unit.
Benjamin Franklin effect

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