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

On rare occurrences, life moves in such harmony where it provides you with an experience that prompts you to question why something happened, and then subsequently provides you with the answer the next day. A few days ago, I was lucky enough to experience this phenomenon.

This life lesson took place as I sat next to a complete stranger to play cards a few nights ago for about two hours. After today, I would likely never see this person again. He was the the classic “single serving friend” referred to in the movie Fight Club. Aside from the fact that he formed his words with a Brooklyn accent, I knew nothing about him. Thus, my opinion of him was almost completely neutral. A short while passed, and we chatted a bit. Based on what he was saying, he seemed like an OK person, but our interests were on opposite spectrums. He was interested in high-end watches, whereas I’m more interested in how I can help people become the best versions of themselves.

“Can you do me a favor, can you make change for this five?” He asked. Always willing to help my fellow human out, I gladly made the exchange.

Something very peculiar happened after that, I began to like him. I no longer remained neutral on this person’s existence. We began talking more, and his points seemed a little bit more insightful, and I began to feel a small, albeit ethereal, friendship being created. At the same time, I was very self-aware when this happened, and I couldn’t figure out where the turning-point was when my opinion went from neutral to “this guy seems like a genuinely good person.”

Here’s where the harmony part comes in. Literally, while making breakfast the very next morning, I was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast with Ryan Holiday, author of “The Obstacle is the Way”, and they mentioned the Ben Franklin effect, which originated from the following story:

In his autobiography, Franklin explains how he dealt with the animosity of a rival legislator when he served in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 18th century:

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. Source

Logic would tell us that this should be the other way around: “If you want people to like you, do favors for them.”

That makes sense, right? However, as it stands, if you want to try and create a connection with someone, the opposite is more effective:

Have people perform small favors for you, whether it be borrowing a pen, watching your purse while you go to the bathroom, etc., and this will actually increase their positive feelings for you.

If you’re skeptical, I don’t blame you. It sounds counter-intuitive. However, researchers have performed experiments to test this phenomenon, and came to the same conclusion.

This also works the other way around as well. Doing favors for others will ultimately result in positive feelings for them. Want to love everyone? I recommend doing nice things for everyone, and see how that works.

Why do we feel more positively towards people we do favors for? This can be explained through cognitive dissonance. Basically, our brain needs to resolve any “incongruence” between our thoughts, actions, and outlooks. Simply, if we do a favor for someone, our brain subconsciously assumes that we must like the person, because if we didn’t like the person, we wouldn’t do the favor in the first place, right?

Spark Your Growth

Have a person in your life who you want to create a better relationship with, whether it be in the office, at home, or in your social circle? Try asking them for a very small favor, and see if their disposition towards you changes.

You can run your own personal experiment on total strangers to try and build rapport. For example, if you're in a Starbucks with your laptop, go to the bathroom, but before you go, ask the person next to you if they'd be willing to keep an eye on your computer while you ran out for a few second. Thank them when you get back, then strike up conversation with them and see if they are more receptive to talking.

If you run your own personal experiment, leave a comment and let us know how it went! Or, if you'd rather keep it private, feel free to email me at chad@buildthefire.com