Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort resulting from a threat to our existing beliefs. This internal tension arises from balancing two seemingly contradictory thoughts in our minds at once. The stress can be enough to alter one existing belief to conform to the other. Although cognitive dissonance theory was not published until 1957, Benjamin Franklin may have been one of the first to understand the fine craft of altering predisposed beliefs.
The story goes, a young Benjamin Franklin made one particularly powerful political rival hell-bent on making his life miserable. This man was threatened by what Benjamin Franklin had to offer, while ol' Ben wanted to reduce tension between the two.
We are intuitively conditioned to believe the best way to get someone to like you, is to flatter, be kind and go out of our way to please the other person. The actions seemingly demonstrate our value and loyalty. Benjamin Franklin concluded these attempts at charm are often shallow and transparent. And so, he committed to another approach. Franklin was aware his rival was in possession of a rare and very valuable book. He asked to borrow it, a seemingly innocent request. After a few days, Franklin returned the book with a short note thanking this rival for his generosity.
Effectively this put the pressure on his rival by adding a conflicting thought to his standing conviction. The rival had been holding the thought, "I do not like Benjamin Franklin and do not want to see him succeed." However, by doing Franklin a kindness, he was forced to consider a new belief, "It is inconvenient to do favors for other people, so I only do favors for people I like." The two beliefs are in contradiction, and because the favor cannot be undone, his will was softened and opened the door towards a new friendship with Franklin.
The secret Benjamin Franklin discovered and cognitive dissonance confirmed is this; if you want people to like you, ask them to do favors for you.