How to Turn an Enemy (or a Stranger) Into a Friend

A counterintuitive strategy that works.

One of my strengths is sometimes a weakness. I want everyone to like me. But what do you do when personalities clash? I learned to give gifts, to give people space, and to be nice. Now I am learning to engage in difficult conversations, to listen actively, to speak assertively, and to act on what God calls me to do. Last week I learned a new truth.

Did you know that you can turn an enemy into a friend by asking them to do you a favor?

“This was a phenomenon first observed by Benjamin Franklin . . . [who claimed] that he could easily turn an enemy into a friend with one simple act — asking them for a favor” (King, P., 2017, pp. 29-30).

Social scientists believe there are several reasons why this works.

  • You are interacting with the person who you may be avoiding. This helps bring down walls.
  • When you ask someone for a favor, this is a subtle form of flattery. You are kind of submitting to the other person’s strength. This is gratifying to the other person.
  • People do not naturally do favors for their enemies. King theorized that when someone we don’t like asks us to do them a favor our brain starts telling us, “They are not actually that bad. They have strengths. That is why I am doing them this favor.” Unconsiously we start liking the other person more.
  • King stated that it is also helpful to “perform small, subtle favors for your enemies and frenemies. Actively performing favors for others builds goodwill and indicates a willingness to be friendly and open. You are raising the white flag of peace and sending the signal that you don’t harbor any ill will” (pp 34-35).

Jesus teaches that accepting favors from strangers is a way to quickly build trust. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house” (NIV Luke 10:7).

If you want to give the gospel to someone there is a danger that you will establish a power-over relationship. “I know stuff. You don’t. I am saved. You are not.” It is often awkward for people to enter into power-over relationships when they are in the power-under side. As we receive favors from others, this levels the relationship. People are freer to receive what we have to offer if they have done us a favor.

Both Deanna and I grew up in hospitable homes. I remember commenting to my family one time when I was about 15 years old that it was just our immediate family at the table for the first time in a year. We always had guests and boarders, and so did Deanna’s family. When Danny Meyer, Craig Heselton, and many others started bringing teams to Altamira in the 1990s, it felt natural to be hospitable. But as these teams received our hospitality they rapidly became among our best friends, and they remain among our best friends to this day. Doing favors for others, and receiving favors from others, may set the stage for great friendships.

If you have any experience with this, you know it is humbling to receive food and favors from strangers, especially when these strangers struggle financially. I remember meals among the river people where us guests were fed first. We were given the choice selections in the soup pot, and we could eat all we wanted. Later I realized it was because this family only had four plates and spoons, and limited amounts of food in certain seasons. When we studied how to learn a foreign language and culture we were told to leave our backpack with a vendor we barely knew, so the vendor could do us a favor for a hour or so, while we did something else. The teacher said that asking a stranger for help is a way to build trust and become friends. King (2017) noted that it is most helpful to ask for a real favor, one that is somewhere between too big and too insignificant. Receiving is still more awkward than giving for me. Learning to both give and receive is an effective way to turn strangers and enemies into friends.

References
King, P., 2017, The science of likability: 27 studies to master charisma, attract friends, captivate people, and take advantage of human psychology (pp. 29-30). Kindle Edition.

HOMEWORK: This week ask a stranger or an enemy to do a favor for you, one that is genuine, and that will take them about 3 minutes to do. Not too big, not too small. Email me the story at rick.bergen@xingu.org .

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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