What Ben Franklin Can Teach Us About Persuasion

Ben Franklin is one of my favorite historical figures.

Known for many things besides being a Founding Father of the United States, Franklin was an astute observer of human behavior and effectively practiced persuasion, Franklin in 1736 was chosen without opposition to be clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The next year, he again was chosen. But this time, a new Assembly member offered a long argument against Franklin and in support of another candidate. Franklin won out, but he found it disconcerting that the Assembly member — a person of influence — rallied so publicly against him. Franklin knew he needed to win him over and didn’t want to appear obsequious or servile in his approach.

So what did Benjamin Franklin do?

He eventually asked his adversary if he would be so kind as to lend him a rare book from his library. Franklin was renowned for his discerning taste in books, and his target proudly agreed to lend him the requested copy. Franklin showed his gratitude with a nice note later on, and evermore the two men enjoyed a life-long positive relationship.

This episode is said to have inspired Franklin to coin this aphorism: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

The lesson here? If something about you is off-putting to someone else, follow Franklin’s lead and make an effort to change that person’s mind.

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