Few people can boast achievements equal to what Benjamin Franklin (Jan 1706-Apr 1790) accomplished in his lifetime. Coming from simple, working class roots, he made his wealth with his printing business then went on to invent many useful things; the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, the Glass Armonica, bifocals, and Daylight Savings Time. Not just an inventor, he discovered the gulf stream and whirlwinds.
Discontent with all of that, he is also a founding father of the U.S.A. – often hailed as “The First American” for his campaigns towards colonial unity. He served as the governor of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Ambassador to France. A pretty full life don’t you say?
On top of it all, Franklin was well-liked for his wit, charming to men and women, high in his diplomatic ability, and constantly working on a kind personality. A man who greatly impacted politics knew how to get people on his side. Franklin was friends with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Samuel Adams, James Madison, William Keith (the governor of Pennsylvania) and some important European thinkers like Hume and Priestley. He was known to make friends wherever he went, and to keep those friends.
So what can we learn from Benjamin Franklin about making friends? From the age of 20, Franklin set himself 13 virtues to follow, covering many aspects of life. Some of these virtues give good suggestions on how to improve your social life, but his pearls of wisdom don’t stop there. Through his life, Franklin dropped many tips to make friends.
Tip 1: Speak good of people
Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody.
If you think the U.S.A. was founded purely on intelligent, friendly debate, think again. Setting the foundations for a great nation was no easy task. The founding fathers allegedly argued like nobody’s business! John Adams in particular was no big fan of Franklin, commenting, “That I have no friendship for Franklin I avow. That I am incapable of having any with a man of his moral sentiments I avow.”
Franklin, on the other hand, vowed to see the good in people and avoided talking badly about them. He said of John Adams, “He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one…”
When you disagree with someone, it’s tempting to complain about him behind his back. When you hate someone, it’s even more tempting. People filled with venom and spite rarely attract nice friends. The next time you want to drop a negative comment about someone, stop yourself then find something positive to say about them. You’ll be surprised at how people warm to you when they know others would respond with bitterness.
Tip 2: Be nice to enemies
Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none.
As a young man, Franklin was quite tactless. With effort, he became so good at handling people that he became a founding father, and even an Ambassador to France. He didn’t do it without ruffling a few feathers – when he started campaigning for American independence, many of his English friends and even his own son turned their backs on him.
Despite this, Franklin remained in contact with “enemies” across the ocean and continued to be sociable whenever possible. His biographer, Isaacson, said, “His most notable trait was a personal magnetism; he attracted people who wanted to help him. Never shy, and always eager to win friends and patrons, he gregariously exploited this charm.” Although he pulled himself up from poverty, he didn’t leave his old friends behind when he made his wealth.
You are bound to meet people you don’t get on with or you dislike. Franklin’s tip to make friends is to be pleasant and polite to everybody. By being a generally nice person, you draw more people to you than if you go around making enemies. Treat everybody with respect, even those who you don’t agree with; you never know what might turn into a friendship.
Tip 3: Honor honesty
Honesty is the best policy.
Franklin printed this quote in his Almanack. When his printing career evolved from apprenticeship to producing the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Poor Richard’s Almanack, Franklin could have done whatever possible to sell papers. Although the temptation loomed, Franklin held a strict policy of not printing any libel or insulting views of foreign governments.
Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools.
Honesty was an important virtue to him because of his Puritan upbringing and the social benefits it could deliver. He is also quoted as saying, “Let honesty and industry be thy constant companions” and “Tricks and treachery are the practice of fools, that don’t have brains enough to be honest.”
When your thoughts line with your actions and words, you are honest. You don’t have to tell everybody exactly what you think of them, but many people appreciate honesty if you present it in a diplomatic way. Men, I’ve found women appreciate it when you call them out on their dodgy behavior rather than being dishonest through silence.
People can spot fakers. If potential friends find out you’ve lied about something, they distrust you over even frivolous things like repaying a movie ticket that affect your relationship.
Tip 4: Add value to a conversation then employ silence to empower what you say
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Franklin knew how to negotiate. What mattered was the benefits to the parties involved. You could ramble on about a lot of things yet it’d be distilled back to how it affects you and others making the decision.
A second part of this quote suggests minimizing noise. Silence is one of the thirteen virtues Franklin wrote at the age of 20, and swore to live by. Imagine what life was like in his time – the evenings would be quiet without electronic entertainment to fill the silence. With few distractions, important topics could be discussed such as Franklin’s favorite subjects of politics, philosophy, and science.
Maybe some of his acquaintances were fonder of filling the silence with worthless conversation. Franklin was not referring to being completely silent or to avoid all small talk, but to useless, uneducated nonsense rather than adding value to a conversation. In this day and age, the art of quality conversation seems to be fading; we would rather absorb ourselves in our cell phones and laptops than really talk to each other.
Employ the virtue of silence in terms of being fully present in every conversation. Don’t play on your phone or answer text messages when someone else is talking to you – it’s poor social etiquette. Treat every conversation as important, and devote your mind to it. If you want to make friends, develop your conversation topics.
Tip 5: Do not gossip and instead think well of others
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Another of Franklin’s 13 virtues is sincerity. You already know Franklin was a big fan of honesty, and sincerity is a big part of that. When Franklin was unhappy with somebody, he did not go behind their backs but told them directly. On reading a manuscript for Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, Franklin was upfront about his feelings: “…You strike at the foundations of all religion… I would advise you… not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person.”
When you disapprove of someone’s behavior or opinion, it is tempting to smile and pretend to agree, then later whisper about them behind their back. Being sincere means being honest, meaning what you say, and not gossiping about people behind their backs. Franklin even suggests we think innocently – if you don’t have bitter or judgmental thoughts about someone, you’re less likely to gossip. If you find yourself judging someone’s behavior, see the possibilities from their point of view to build compassion.
Tip 6: Respond positively to criticism
Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.
When John Adams quipped, “His whole life has been one continued insult to good manners and to decency”, Franklin could have responded with anger and defensiveness. Instead, he pointed out the good qualities in Adams (see #1) and quipped that critics should be loved because they show our faults.
When somebody criticizes you, the natural reaction is to get defensive, become angry, and retaliate. You easily find yourself in an argument. Instead, listen to what they’re saying and imagine it’s about a third-party.
It’s hard to remove the sting, but sometimes the other person tells you something to help you. Look for the lesson in their message; if someone tells you you’re too quiet, instead of getting angry, think about ways to deal with that knowledge (such as speaking louder, contributing to conversation more, or finding people who appreciate it).
Tip 7: Keep your tranquility over trivial incidents
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Whether dealing with an angry Englishman, finding a beer spilled over him in a bustling tavern, or being held up by a delay; Franklin had plenty of reasons to lose his cool. Whether he did or not is not clear, but another of his 13 virtues was tranquility. He saw plenty of others losing their temper over trivial incidents and decided he would not waste his energy.
When someone cuts past you in line, you stub your toe, or your phone messes up, you might find yourself boiling with anger. But what do people around you think if you swear and curse? Flashes of anger are scary, and potential friends will find it hard to trust someone who gets mad so easily.
Pay no attention to the incident when someone accidentally spits on you when talking, says a rude comment about you, or profusely sneezes. When you feel anger bubble, breathe deeply and count to ten. Ask yourself whether it is worth getting angry at things that happen to everyone or at things beyond your control.
Tip 8: People remember how you make them feel
A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.
In his youth, Franklin was quite tactless. He admitted a fondness for starting arguments for arguments’ sake. During heated political discussions with former English friends, and while arguing with other founding fathers, he learned the hard way that you can’t take back something you say in the heat of the moment.
Leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
Franklin also said, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” With his razor-sharp wit, he learned to hold back his clever quips. In the heat of an argument, you might think of the perfect put-down. Stop and think about it. While saying what’s on your mind might make you feel better for a moment, people will remember it so think before you speak.
Tip 9: Asking for a favor can build friendship (the Ben Franklin Effect)
He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.
Franklin in his autobiography explains how he won a rival legislator onto his side in an unusual way – he asked him for a favor. After Franklin thanked the legislator for his compliance by lending Franklin a rare book, he found the guy was suddenly friendly and willing to do more favors for him. They became great friends. This line of thinking was so unique it is dubbed the “Ben Franklin effect”.
We usually think doing favors for others will win them over to us, but Franklin’s advice is to do the opposite. Convince someone to do you a small favor like borrowing their phone to make a call or borrowing a good book they have. Express your gratitude, and from then they’ll be open to doing other favors for you. If you treat this right (i.e. don’t treat them like a servant) you could gain a great friendship.
Tip 10: Let your best friendships develop over time
Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.
Franklin was known for being friendly, or at least civil, to everybody (#2). We know even after achieving fame and wealth, Franklin didn’t turn his back on his old friends – he still considered himself a printer at heart. You can find tons of letters online that go to show how much effort he put into keeping friendships, but how many people did he consider true, close friends?
When you’re lonely, it’s easy to grab onto the first nice person and try turning them into your best friend. It doesn’t always work that way. You’ll find some people are nice on the surface but no good at being close friends; your best friends will take time to find. It’s also tempting to act like somebody you’re not to get close to someone. Eventually they work out you’re different from the persona you put on.
Tip 11: You must earn a kind word
If you would reap praise you must sow the seeds, gentle words and useful deeds.
Another quote from the Poor Richard’s Almanack; Franklin didn’t expect to be spoken of highly for no reason. As well as his numerous scientific and political achievements, he was a kind and honest friend to many, and it was the combination of personality and achievements that brought him much praise in his time, and continues to do so today.
You can’t expect people to speak highly of you if there’s nothing to compliment. Be nice to people, do “useful” things – not only favors for others, but in your personal life. If people can see you are kind, ambitious, interesting, or fun, they will want to get to know you more. Don’t sit around waiting for people to automatically like you. Work on becoming a great person in your own right, be nice to others, and people will gravitate toward you.
For more tips to make friends, read this free simple guide to make friends and build a social life.
About the Author:
Joshua Uebergang, aka “Tower of Power”, teaches social skills to help shy guys build friends and influence people. Visit his blog and sign-up free to get communication techniques, relationship-boosting strategies, and life-building tips by email, along with blog updates, and more! Go now to http://www.towerofpower.com.au/free/