Have you ever noticed how the lackeys who attach themselves to bullies are often the first targets of their bullies’ rage? Lackeys try to make people like them by continually giving, but this leaves them entirely at the mercy of their masters, who will never respect them. Rather than building mutual trust and respect, constant giving implies weakness and lack of self-respect
Instead — although it might seem paradoxical at first — people often prefer those for whom they do favors. Relentlessly matching the needs of your target can lose their respect, whereas asking them for appropriate advice and favors will make them like you more. That is known as the Ben Franklin effect (although Franklin wasn’t the first to notice it).
In business, you have to have people on your side if you want to get anything done. To manage people you have to have their respect. To sell products, you must have your customers’ trust. To move up in your company, you must have the ear of people above you. You can be a lackey, but lackeys are disposable and without a will of their own. Instead, grow mutual trust and respect by asking for what is appropriate of others.
The Ben Franklin Effect
In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin wrote that “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (ushistory.org/franklin/autobiography/page48.htm). Many people understand and use this idea instinctively, but for others who find the idea paradoxical, there is proof that it works in multiple studies.
For example, in one early 1969 study on the effect, (See Study Here) the experimenter asked some study participants to return the money they received for participating in the study. The participants asked to return the cash appeared to like the experimenter more than did the participants who were allowed to keep the money. The researchers concluded that people grow to like other people that they do favors for because their mind assumes that if they’re doing someone a favor, then they must like that person.
This effect shows in some classic sales techniques, where the salesperson asks the potential customer for small favors to build rapport. For example, during the initial small talk, the salesperson might ask the customer for advice or information about their industry or interests, or the salesperson might ask the customer to hold their files for a moment. But the favor must be appropriate to the relationship. (It’s okay to ask a long-term friend for help moving, but not a customer.)
How to grow mutual trust, respect, and honor
Thomas Hobbes, the celebrated early English philosopher, noted in different terms the Ben Franklin effect a century before its namesake. In Leviathan, Hobbes’ massive tract on power and government , he explained the phenomenon in terms of honor and respect rather than as a mind trick of some kind. He wrote that “To hearken a man’s counsel, or discourse of what kind soever, is to honour; as a sign we think him wise, or eloquent, or witty.” And that “To believe, to trust, to rely on another, is to honour him,” and a “sign of opinion of his virtue and power.” (See Book Here)
Hobbes would explain that when a salesperson asks a customer to hold, however briefly, his files, it is a small sign that the salesperson trusts and respects their customer. Unlike continually giving concessions and discounts to build a relationship and make sales, this action builds mutual respect and trust without reducing the salesperson’s position, and it makes the entire interaction more collaborative and less competitive.
In the same way, when managers consult with their team, it shows that they trust and respect their team’s intelligence and abilities. Compare this to managers that make constant demands without consultation. Their team might comply, but without being shown respect, they will do so begrudgingly, and only enough not to get fired. Worse, this management style gradually reveals the manager’s weakness when things go wrong, and they can’t do anything without their team’s cooperation.
Constant giving implies weakness
There’s a particular type of man who thinks that the way to a woman’s heart is constant gifts and favors, and this might be true for some, but judging by the complaints of millions of supposed “nice guys,” this strategy has a reduced rate of return. By always giving, and receiving nothing in return, these men look weak to their potential paramours. There is no mutual respect, and no way to build it.
It’s not that giving doesn’t have its place. As Hobbes also wrote, giving honors the other person, but it is also an admission of the other person’s power. Overdo it, and you’re implying that the other person deserves more than you can give. Women don’t pick “bad boys” because they’re “bad,” but because they have the self-respect to ask for what they want.
In business, many people get lost in corporate hierarchies because they don’t understand this aspect of power. Lackeys rarely rise the chain of command. Instead, (in a well-functioning company) the people who move up are the ones who do a good job and have the self-respect of their position.
And even when lackeys do manage to call in their many favors to move up, it leads to precarious positions. They got their position by revealing weakness rather than relying on the strength of their work and personality, leaving them at the mercy of whoever promoted them.
There’s more to making people like you than giving them everything they want and more. If you keep giving, they’ll keep taking, but they’ll never respect you. Instead, by asking for advice and favors (as appropriate) and by having the self-respect to turn down inappropriate requests, you can build trust, respect, and friendship with the people around you. No one will ever respect you if you don’t trust in your value first.