Wednesday, October 19, 2016

This Simple Psychological Trick Can Jump-Start Relationships And Turn Enemies Into Friends

Via Business Insider:

Sometimes people will dislike each other without really having any reason to do so. And when you're new at a workplace some colleagues take a long time before warming up to you. The good news is that there is a simple physchological trick that can jump-start relationships and turn negative ones around in an instant.

It's as simple as asking for a favor.

Basically, the 'Ben Franklin effect' posits that getting someone to do something for you is a much more effective than trying to win their appreciation by doing something for them. So in frosty relationships, put yourself at the other's mercy by asking for some sort of assistance.

The method was named after the famous American statesman, ambassador to Sweden, author and inventor, Benjamin Franklin, who described it in his autobiography: "He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged".

To clarify, here's an anecdote of when Benjamin Franklin used the method to get on the good side of a professional rival who was rather disinclined towards Franklin: "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 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 to his death".

The psychological mechanism behind the effect is called 'cognitive dissonance'.

There are a couple of forces at work when you ask someone for a favor. For one, you're recognizing the other's importance and capabilities and thereby flattering and respecting them. At the same, a request for help or a favor is an act of humility, which effectively sidesteps rivalry.

More importantly, the Ben Franklin effect is also a special case of a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon which describes how humans retroactively change their attitudes so that they are congruent with their actions. If you help someone, your mind will adapt by becoming more inclined towards them so that you can explain the help by the fact that you like them. Similarly, wronging someone will make us more disinclined towards them, to deal with the dissonance between the action and our attitude.

In Benjamin Franklin's example, asking for a favor - which is clever because it is rarely socially feasible to decline doing someone a simple favor - creates cognitive dissonance in his rival because the action of doing Franklin a favor isn't congruent with the attitude of disliking Franklin. To resolve this tension the mind adapts by liking Franklin - then it's a lot easier to explain the favor.

Cognitive dissonance has many other applications.

Premium products are an excellent example of cognitive dissonance at work. In response to regret aversion and in order to explain why one bought something which is more expensive than it merits, the human mind will exaggerate those merits. Most things we make big investments in will therefore seem even better after the fact.

Someone who buys an expensive Tesla, will immediately become a lot more assured of the importance of driving an electric car for the sake of the environment, and will suddenly have no worries about the range of the battery and the prevalence of charging stations. It's not smugness - it's cognitive dissonance.

The same is true for children, for example. Children represent a huge investment in time, money, and self-sacrifice. Cognitive dissonance retroactively inclines the mind to think the investment was well worth it. So we love our children and think they are the best, and don't worry about what life could have been like without them.

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