The Relationship Between Lenders & Borrowers

Most of my speaking events conclude with a book signing. Sometimes I forget to bring a pen. Oops.

The first person in line and I do the obligatory self pat down. Like a pen is going to some how magically appear in my chest pocket – where I have never in my life kept a pen, nor have worn a shirt with a chest pocket. Then the scramble to find a pen begins. Few people volunteer their pens – quickly stuffing them in their shirt chest pockets before I can see them. When I do spot one and ask for it, the response is clear: I better give that Bic back the moment I sign that first book. Crazy, isn’t it?

The Bic pen that I borrow is worth about ten cents. Probably half that, considering some of the ink has been used already. On the certified pre-owned pen market, the pens I borrow would likely go for a nickel. Yet, the owner watches over their valueless pen like they just gave me their first born. Why is that?

It’s called the Lender-Borrower effect, which plays into some of the strongest human motivators: Loss and gain. Loss being the stronger than gain by a long shot.

The emotional impact of borrowers and lenders

When people lend something, anything, they feel immediate loss, and the longer the item (or money) is away from them the pain of loss grows. For the borrower, when they get the item (or money) they feel the greatest benefit immediately, yet the feeling of gain diminishes quickly over time.

As more and more time goes by the lender feels more and more desire to get back what they lost, and the borrower feels less and less compelled to give it back. In other words, in any lender-borrower transaction, the lender gives more importance to the deal over time and the borrower gives less.

There is a lot of truth in “neither a lender nor borrower be.” Time is the enemy in these situations. If you do need to borrow something, return it fast – you will save your lender lots of emotional agony. If you are a lender, make sure it is returned fast – you will ensure your borrower doesn’t forget about you. Even if the transaction is as “insignificant” as lending a pen.

What is your lending or borrowing story?


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