Cognitive Dissonance, Relationships and Trust

“If you want to make a friend, let someone do you a favour” Ben Franklin supposedly claimed. Regardless of the exact citation, his message is clear—get closer to people by having them do you a favour. Relationships are the key, I guess.

It sounds counterintuitive, yes—maybe that’s why Franklin got all the attention for it—but it turned out to be true too. Psychological research supported this statement—some more, some less.

Some say it’s got to do with cognitive dissonance—as in how can you not like someone and still do them a favour. Not to say cognitive dissonance does not exist—it might as well on many levels. But I’m not sure whether we can let go of this peculiarity just like that. Or maybe, attributing it to people’s need for relationships is just not intellectual enough. Who knows.

When with my psychotherapy clients, it’s not hard to see love and hate going hand in hand—it’s called splitting. So, I guess cognitive dissonance cannot be a straightforward answer to everything. And, when quoting Franklin, even researchers are not at one whether cognitive dissonance is the reason why people like people who ask them a favour. Maybe prospects of one building true relationships is more of a lure.

I am not in favour of simplification when it comes to human behaviour. And I think that Franklin’s statement may be true for multitude of reasons. But I do think it—and also see in my work both in psychotherapy as well as coaching—that it must have a lot to do with opening up to people.

When you ask for a favour, you actually show your vulnerability. You show your true and undefended self. You show who you are—no cognitive dissonance there, no. You may think people will take advantage when you do, but as it turns out, they actually offer help. Not only do you encourage trust despite showing your true self, but mainly do it because of your true self—the authentic, real self.

I guess it’s in human nature—unless you are on the antisocial side—that helping another person makes us feel good about ourselves. Although, this too can be a pathology, it doesn’t have to be one.

Intuitively, there’s obviously always danger of people’s pathological omnipotence surfacing. Sometimes it does. And that has nothing to do with true relationships. But still, it doesn’t mean that you’re narcissistic when you feel good helping someone out—although you just might end up feeling a bit better if you actually are.

I guess it’s worth contemplating what gets you by in relationships—be it social, intimate or business ones—false pretence or authenticity.