It always helps to learn from the best. If you want to achieve something spectacular, wouldn’t you want to emulate the best? Enter Ben Franklin, one of the most influential men in history.
Ben Franklin was a “G” in his day. He was an entrepreneur, inventor, businessman, politician, and his adept social skills helped America gain independence from the British.
Today I want to share three social skill hacks that Ben Franklin used to go from a poor family of 17 kids to one of the most legendary Renaissance men that ever lived.
1. Ben Franklin worked on being likable
Ben Franklin was known for his social prowess. He knew how to make friends out of enemies and like any great politician, how to persuade people to his side of an argument. But this didn’t come naturally to him, it was something he systematically worked on.
In his autobiography, Franklin shares that a friend of his gave him some invaluable feedback. His friend basically told him he was cocky, “overbearing” and “insolent” were the exact words. Did Ben get defensive?
Not one bit. Instead, he iterated and improved.
Ben Franklin was your modern-day productivity nut. He came up with 12 virtues that he wanted to live by and practiced them weekly, he kept a journal to track each virtue he was working on along with any actions that were not in accordance. It was upon this feedback that Franklin added a thirteenth virtue, humility.
One of the ways he worked on his humility was by changing his everyday language.
He said, “I even forbid myself…the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly…and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend it, I imagine a thing to be so…”
He realized that people don’t like getting interrupted, proven wrong, or talked down to so he made the necessary adjustments and it paid off. His conversations became more pleasant, he found it easier to persuade people and he even mentions that it made up for his lack of public speaking skills.
Another helpful nugget we can take away from Ben Franklin is the Ben Franklin Effect. Franklin had a nemesis, a politician that tried to tarnish his image publicly. Rather than taking revenge, Franklin used a counter-intuitive approach. He simply asked this man for a favor. He was a pretty influential person in the community, someone Franklin knew would be beneficial to be on good terms with. He possessed a rare book that Franklin wanted to borrow, so he simply asked him for it.
The enemy obliged and lent the book to Franklin. After reading the book Franklin promptly returned it with a “thank you” note. Immediately following this transaction, the man approached Franklin for the first time ever, they spoke and became friends for a lifetime!
Franklin understood the psychological phenomena that humans have, we like to act in accordance with our beliefs. Franklin was able to take advantage of this and created cognitive dissonance for his nemesis. The rival had to rationalize his behavior of lending the book against his opinion of not liking him. He had to “believe” that Franklin was likable enough to share the book with. You wouldn’t lend a book to someone you don’t like right? After convincing himself that Franklin must be a good enough guy, they became fast friends.
How you can be as likable as Ben Franklin
Tip #1: Use Tentative Language
Franklin changed his vocabulary to show more humility, you can too. The type of language he was using is called “tentative language” as described in the book Crucial Conversations:
“One of the ironies of dialogue is that, when talking with those holding opposing opinions, the more convinced and forceful you act, the more resistant others become. Speaking in absolute and over-stated terms does not increase your influence, it decreases it. The converse is also true– the more tentatively you speak, the more open people become to your opinions.”
You can use phrases like, “I think that” or “I believe…” or “In my opinion” to share your feelings as feelings rather than definitive statements. Franklin understood that people despise being interrupted or corrected, he also knew that using tentative language can be way more persuasive. So the next time you want to persuade someone to your opinion, use tentative language to describe your stance and get them on your side!
Tip #2: Seek Feedback
Another important lesson here is that Franklin was open to feedback, you can take this a step further by proactively asking people you are close with for feedback on your social skills. Sometimes it takes an outsider to change your mind about your habitual social habits.
After receiving feedback, thank the person and take their assessment seriously. Franklin took his feedback so seriously he made it a virtue to live his life by! You may not have to go that far, but the takeaway is to keep an open mind and not get defensive when someone is critiquing you.
Tip #3: Use the “Ben Franklin Effect” to Turn Enemies into Friends
The next time you want to be friendly with someone you don’t get along with, ask them for a favor or advice. If they oblige, you can bet that they’ll begin to see you in a different light. Asking for advice is a simple way to show someone that you think their opinion matters while engendering rapport in true Franklin style.
2. Ben Franklin built the first “LinkedIn Group”
Another brilliant idea Franklin came up with was to form his own networking group, called the Junto. It was a group with some of the brightest minds in the community and it was based on the idea of “mutual improvement.”
The group would share business intelligence, ideas, essays and books. These men were hand-picked by Franklin as he socialized with many different types of people in his local area. The group included the most successful merchants of the day, a cabinet maker, astrologists, mathematicians, and men among diverse backgrounds.
The Junto would get together on Friday nights and discuss matters of philosophy, business, morality or whatever Franklin brought up. He had a list of go-to questions that benefited the whole group, he’d ask questions like:
- Has any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
- Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
- Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
- In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist you in any of your honourable designs?
Franklin understood the importance of using your social connections to do good for the community and for yourself. In his autobiography he admits that the Junto was a great source of leads for his printing business.
Beyond being a free marketing machine, the Junto was also a great way for Franklin to efficiently get information about the community, business and industry in one place with some of the sharpest minds he knew. Finally, because he put the group together he was seen as the natural leader which helped his political prospects.
4 Steps to Form your own Junto Group
You don’t have to be a savvy politician to form your own Junto group. Here’s an easy way you can form one in a few hours:
Step #1: Identify interesting people
Jot down ten interesting people you know locally. These people may work at a cool company, have their own business, or have fascinating life experiences. If you don’t know ten people, invite five people and ask each person to bring a +1 who could positively contribute.
Step #2: Propose a time & place
Send out an invitation with a few weeks of lead time proposing casual drinks or dinner at a local spot (or at your place if you want to host). Since people are more prone to do something if there’s a reason associated with the request, you can mention that you want to get some of the most interesting people you know together. Ask them to RSVP within 7 days, this will encourage them to take more immediate action.
Step #3: Notify the attendees
When you have your RSVP’s lined up, email all the attendees reminding them of the details of the meetup. If you want to formalize it, you can suggest some topics for the group to discuss or you can keep it casual and let the conversation flow
Step #4: Have fun & make intros
Show up at the event and have fun! Make sure everyone is introduced and acquainted with one another. You may want to have a few questions prepared ahead of time to spark conversation. It’s also good practice to know a few things about each person and if there are commonalities people share, make sure you mention them when making introductions.
3. Ben Franklin knew how to adapt in ANY situation
One of Franklin’s toughest career challenges was becoming the first American ambassador to France. Think about how “foreign” France was at the time, they spoke a different language, had different tastes and a unique culture. How would Franklin fit into such a new place without knowing the language, customs and people?
Socially savvy Franklin knew that one of the best ways to make friends was to “mirror” people and he did this masterfully while abroad. Franklin adopted the French ways of dress, language and tastes.
Let’s compare Franklin’s approach to how John Adams fared. When Adams was sent to assist Franklin the French despised him, perhaps it was because he refused to adapt to any of the French customs. Adams also had a “hardball” negotiating style. Franklin was a bit more socially astute, he understood the importance of social connections and making other people feel at ease.
Franklin understood something about social psychology that would be proven hundreds of years later– people like people like themselves.
A Harvard study illustrates this, subjects were shown pictures of people of the same race and were described to have either conservative or liberal political leanings.
When subjects saw people of their own race and were told they shared their political leanings, those subjects tended to make assumptions about how they shared other things in common (even though they had no clue about the other person’s opinions outside of politics).
Having some semblance of “common ground” with someone is enough to assume that you share other preferences, it is the keystone to cultivating deeper relationships with people. This is exactly what Franklin did, he showed the French that there was “common ground” in the way they spoke, dressed and acted.
Franklin understood that finding “common ground” would make it easier to build trust and rapport with new people. All of Franklin’s social tactics worked, he was so well-liked by members of France’s court that he was able to secure a deal for America to get financial and military support from them. The truth of the matter is that Franklin’s understanding of social psychology helped America gain its freedom!
How you can adapt like Ben Franklin
Tip #1: Admit your Ignorance
The best way to adapt in new surroundings is to be honest about how the experience is new for you. Whether you have a “strange” accent or aren’t sure about cultural norms, simply state it. Faking it will only make you look silly. Being open about your shortcomings shows vulnerability which humanizes you and makes other people perceive you as charismatic. Multiple studies have shown that people prefer being around people who are likable and more vulnerable rather than perfect. You can even preface a conversation with, “I’m still learning this new language so bare with me” or “I just moved here so I’m still learning how to adapt..”
Tip #2: Ask questions
Along the lines of not pretending that you know it all, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking for people’s advice also makes them feel important and studies have shown that people love sharing their feelings and sentiments, so much so, they’re willing to give up money in exchange for talking about themselves! Not only will asking questions engender trust with your conversation partner but you can gain a whole lot of knowledge about your new environment to adapt effectively.
Ben Franklin was one of the greatest thinkers, inventors, philosophers, politicians and writers of our time. His savvy social skills helped him make friends out of enemies, build his own “think tank” and helped America gain its freedom! By using some of Franklin’s social skill hacks you can become more likable, build the network you’ve always wanted, and adapt to any social situation imaginable.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Dover Thrift, 1996.
Patterson, Kerry et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. New York: McGraw Hill, 2012. (pp. 143-145).