Ben Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent

Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent

As a child, my father never tired of telling me the stories of how Prophet Muhammad treated his neighbours.  “He once had a neighbour who threw trash into his house,” my father told me.  The Prophet   would scoop the trash and throw it away.  A time came that the Prophet expected the trash but didn’t see any for a while.  So he asked after the offensive neighbour and was told that the man was sick.  Long story short, he visited the sick and the trash throwing stopped.

In keeping with this principle, the Qur’an also mentions that we should return bad with good. 

“ Repel evil by that which is better, and then the one who is hostile to you will become as a devoted friend.”   Fussilat 41:34-35


Ben Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent
Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

However, this can be difficult to do some times.  Thus, I’m going to share two more techniques you can use to turn an enemy into a friend.  That way, you can elect the one you find easier to employ.  The other two methods are from the American statesman, Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin had made a habit of requesting – with different tweaks – from those that would be considered his adversaries.  For example, although I learned the second technique from an organizational psychologist, author of ‘Give and Take’ and the youngest tenured professor at Wharton, Adam Grant, it was the reading of Franklin that made it click for me.

So if you want an opponent, a boss, or anyone to look favourably toward you, you should ask them for advice.  Yes, ask them to advise you on an issue.  Of this, Franklin said:  “We admire the wisdom of the one who comes to us for advice.”

This is effective for many reasons.  Kenny Linjenquist said three things tend to happen when someone asks us for advice.  First, we feel flattered, which makes us feel good and happy.  “Cool, this guy thinks I have a lot of wisdom,” we say to ourselves.

Secondly, to be able to offer advice, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of that person, which forces us to develop empathy for them. Thirdly, once they flattered us, and we empathized with them, we’re likely to help them.

Also an additional benefit of asking for advice is that it makes us look competent.  Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard University and her colleagues, Francesca Gino and Maurice Schweitzer found that even experts think we’re competent when we ask them for advice.  They explain in their paper (2015) in the journal, Management Science: “people are reticent to seek advice for fear of appearing incompetent. This fear, however, is misplaced. We demonstrate that individuals perceive those who seek advice as more competent than those who do not.”

Another way to win over an opponent, also from Franklin, is to ask them for a little favour.  Malam Benjamin Franklin wrote in his book, Franklin 1868/1900:  “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged.”

Indeed, later studies have found that someone who has done you a favour previously, is more likely to do more favours than the beneficiary.  Which actually doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Before the elections of 2011, while trying to persuade voters to choose Buhari over Jonathan, I wrote an article for Sahara Reporters titled, Benjamin Franklin Effect: The Simplest Way to Choose our Leaders in which I wrote:

“Imagine that you’ve just given me a valuable gift. Now here’s a question: who is more likely to love the other, you who gave or I who received?  The receiver? Wrong.  Another question: who is more likely to return the favour or give again?  The receiver? Wrong again.

“It happens that the person who gives will love the one he gives more; also, he’s more likely to give that person again.  The opposite is also true.  He, who takes or injures or cheats or bullies another person, is more likely to do it over and over again; not only that, he’s more likely to dislike the victim than the victim is likely to hate the tormentor. It’s called Ben Franklin Effect.

“This insight was a result of a personal experience.  Franklin was annoyed by a political opponent in the Pennsylvania state legislature. He thus set out to win him over; this is described on pages 216-217 of the aforementioned book:

‘“I did not … aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him but, after some time, took this other method. 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 returned 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. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself has obliged.”’

In that article, I also illustrated my argument by citing a laboratory study by Jecker and Landy (1969) to confirm the effect.

In sum, if you ask an opponent for advice and get him to do you a favour, he would be even more willing to do you more favours and more likely to be your friend.  However, if you think the last two techniques are manipulative, you’ve the option of using the first one.


2 thoughts on “Franklin: Simplest ways to make a convert of an opponent

  1. Beautiful wisdom. I have applied it severally in my life without knowing it even has a name: The Ben Franklin Effect! To be honest I have no use for enemies, I’m either indifferent to you and your feelings towards me or I find a way to live amicably with you.
    It was lovely to have stumbled in this blog Malam Dooba.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *