Lesson 2: My Two Favorite Networking Principles, Courtesy of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most fascinating men in history. He wasn’t just a Founding Father of our great country; he was an absolute master of psychology. He really knew how to win people over.

One of my favorite stories about Ben Franklin was about the time he won over a legislator. This legislator did not like Ben; he liked him so little that they rarely spoke despite many opportunities to collaborate in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

To win him over, Ben Franklin wrote the legislator a note asking if he could borrow a very rare manuscript. This may have been the only copy of the book in the entire content at the time. This was a very big favor to ask but ignoring this note or saying no would have come across as very rude.

So, the legislator sent the book along to Ben’s house and a week later, Ben returned the book and wrote a very strong thank-you note. He emphasized that he understood what a big favor the legislator had done. In the next House meeting, the legislator spoke to Ben Franklin with a lot of courtesy and respect. In the later days, he, according to Ben Franklin’s autobiography, “manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to [his] death.”

This isn’t just a cute little historical anecdote. The Ben Franklin Effect is a very well-documented and studied phenomenon.

Here are three things we can learn from the Benjamin Franklin Effect:

#1. Reciprocity can backfire.

Ben didn’t try to reciprocate the favor. Reciprocity may even have made the legislator feel like he was being bribed.

Doing something nice for people may make them uncomfortable. This is an extreme example but imagine if a fairly new acquaintance gave you a 20-piece dinner set. You would think, “Are they going to ask me for money? Are they trying to sell me something?”

This is at odds with traditional networking advice, which usually goes along the lines of “if you want someone to like you, give, give, and give.”

#2. Tap into the subconscious.

Making people feel good about themselves is key to getting them to say “Yes!” to you. When we ask for a favor, we say, “You are more knowledgeable and have more access to information than I do. I admire and respect you.”

When we do someone a favor, we subconsciously think “I like this person. That’s why I am doing this for them.” If you’ve ever hand-made a gift for someone, you may be able to relate – you may have felt your love for your friend growing as you worked on their gift.

#3. Eliminate friction.

Hold on a minute, you may be thinking. In the last lesson, you said that asking people for a favor by sending them a copy of my resume isn’t smart networking.

Yes! When Ben Franklin asked the legislator for his valuable book, he asked for a large favor, but one that didn’t require much effort or thinking. The legislator’s thought process must have gone something like this:

Ben Franklin is a relatively well-known and trustworthy person; he won’t steal my book, he won’t lose it, and he certainly won’t harm it. I have the book right here. I’ll ask my assistant to carry it over to his house right now.

And that was it. Maybe the whole thought process took three seconds.

When you send your resume and ask for a referral, on the other hand, there are a lot of decisions you’re asking your contact to make; there are many steps your contact has to take to get to the “Yes!”

If you send your resume to someone, even if they really do want to help you, they’ll have to think “Should I contact my HR department first? Will reaching out to HR reflect badly on me? Or should I look up open roles on our company’s website? Or, considering this person is interested in sales, should I contact the sales department to see if they have an opening? Will the Sales Director think that they have leverage over me if I ask for this favor?”

And on and on and on. That’s a lot of questions. That’s a lot of thinking. That's a lot of friction. And this is if your contact wants to spend time and energy helping you.

Which brings me to my second networking principle – Greasing the Wheel.

Instead of asking the big question first (Would you like to collaborate with me politically and be my friend forever? / Would you like to pay me thousands of dollars a year so I can work side-by-side with you every day?), do what Benjamin Franklin did – Grease the Wheel.He started with a very simple Yes/No question. “Can I borrow your book?”

Then, he must have asked “Would you like to grab a cup of tea with me?”

Then, “I see that you have extensive experience with taxation regulations. Would you like to advise me on this minor tax bill?”

Then, “I’m having a small gathering next week to celebrate my birthday. Would you like to attend?”

As you can see, with each step, there is a bit more friction; the question does get a bit harder to respond to positively, but that’s okay, because the previous “yes” “greases the wheel” and makes the next “yes” easier to get.

So how do we apply this to your job search?

First, when reaching out to someone, start by asking a very easy question. Make it so that your contact doesn’t even have to think to respond positively.

A few days later, ask a slightly harder question. This question should require more thinking – maybe 30 seconds. But because they had positively responded to your initial email, there’s a much higher chance they’ll respond positively to this second email. They’ve already rationalized that they like you.

By slowly building up the questions you are asking your contact, you are establishing that you are invested in a relationship with them, and not looking for a quick fix.

And yet, this method of outreach results in responses more quickly than “traditional” networking.

Overcoming a “no.”

Another facet of Grease-the-Wheels networking is if someone says “we don’t have any openings,” take whatever help you can get from them. Ask what resources you should pursue instead. Respectfully take their advice. And then follow up with them letting them know how you’re doing with their suggestions.

You can say “Thank you so much for recommending I check out www.jobs4salesassociates.com. A few recruiters have been looking at my profile and I’m confident this will result in an interview soon!”

The key to success when networking is timing. By keeping the wheel rolling, you maximize the number of times you positively reach out to your contacts without being annoying. You build relationships.So, when next time, you email your new friend your update regarding their advice, maybe that’s the time they will have a job opening that matches what you’re looking for.

And how much effort did you make on your outreach? Maybe three minutes per person? And yet you’ve effortlessly built relationships with key players in your industry (not recruiters, as I mentioned in the first lesson).

What Next?

In the coming lessons, I’ll show you how to keep your wheels greased, how to follow up, and when. But before we get to that, we need to figure out who you should be messaging in the first place.

You can access the next lesson in this tutorial here.

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