Hello little blog!
I’ve been busy finishing my Masters which has left me with little time to write. But I have made time to read which means I have a backlog of things I’ve learnt that I’m eager to write down.
First up, a classic. First published in 1937, and many more times since, this is possibly one of the earliest self-help books to reach pop culture status. It was recommended to me by a friend, whose husband said it had changed his life. It’s surprising it has taken me this long to embrace it. It is, of course, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
This book is comprised of four parts. I could describe them to you but the titles speak for themselves:
- Fundamental techniques in handling people;
- Six ways to make people like you;
- How to win people to your way of thinking; and
- Be a leader: How to change people without giving offence or arousing resentment.
Some might say this book is a manifesto of common sense. To some extent, I think this is true. However, if handling people, and making people like you, and persuading and leading people were such common sense, well, the wheels of society would turn a little more smoothly I suspect. The reality is that in the hustle of life many of us forget, or forget to do, the little things that make others feel good and appeal us to others. How to Win Friends and Influence People is both a lesson and a refresher in this. So what did I learn?
Part 1: Fundamental techniques in handling people
Carnegie writes of the value of simple appreciation. “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise”, he says. Carnegie tells the story of a woman in charge of a team of people, including a janitor (side note, I am surprised that a woman was in a managerial role in 1937, but I digress). The janitor was doing a poor job, but showed promise of improvement. The other employees would jeer at him. The supervisor tried various ways to motivate him, including by making a point to praise him when he did a good job. Each day his performance improved, until he was doing an excellent job. Honest appreciation stirred results in a way that ridicule did not. Carnegie says that we should try “leaving a trail of little sparks of gratitude on [our] daily trips”. He says that people will cherish and treasure our words of appreciation and repeat them over a lifetime – repeat them years after we have forgotten them. I am sure this is true. I can picture moments where someone has been generous in their approbation or praise and it has been a most fortifying thing. Whether as a young ballet dancer, a school student or at work, heartfelt appreciation has buoyed me numerous time, and I ought to make sure I do the same for others. In addition to giving honest and sincere appreciation, Part 1 tells us to “arouse in the other person an eager want”. Meaning, focus less on what you want, and think about what others want. I like chocolate, but I don’t bait my fishing hook with chocolate. Fishies aren’t as keen on Lindt. Instead I bait my hooks with cockles, which entice the fish to bite. I get what I want, by thinking about what they want. Consider this when writing a letter. Start not with what you want. Start with what the reader might want, and explain how you can help them get it. Ask not what your country can do for you, etc. Carnegie says “First, arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way”.
Part 2: Six ways to make people like you
Now I wouldn’t want to deprive you of any tools of charm, so I shall simply list them here:
- Become genuinely interested in other people – be curious about their interests and take the opportunity to learn something;
- Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language – use it;
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves – “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new” – Dalai Lama ;
- Talk in terms of the other person’s interests; and
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
Part 3: How to win people to your way of thinking
“A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” While I agree with this, I am not sure that I agree with Carnegie’s advice on the avoidance of all argument. He says, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”. While I agree that heated argument can be pointless, I disagree that hearty debate between willing participants can’t be enlightening and energising. And of course, dispute resolution has its place too. Sometimes we need to stand up for ourselves and our rights which can require us to argue our points. It’s a fine line. To remain on the right side of this line, Carnegie offers the following advice: welcome the disagreement – don’t be defensive, rather be thankful it has been brought to your attention, CONTROL your temper, listen first, look for areas of agreement and promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully. Carnegie (quoting Buddha) says, “Hatred is never ended by hatred but by love”. He goes on to say that “a misunderstanding is never ended by an argument but by tact, diplomacy, conciliation and a sympathetic desire to see the other person’s view point”. It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Alain de Botton’s , The Course of Love, “Few in this world are ever simply nasty; those who hurt us are themselves in pain. The appropriate response is hence never cynicism or aggression but, at the rare moments one can imagine it, always love.” Oh, and if you’re wrong, admit it! Few things are more endearing than a person who is open to learning and changing their mind.
Part 4: Be a leader: How to change people without giving offence or arousing resentment
“Give a dog a bad name and you may as well hang him!” Okay, excuse the 1937 imagery but Carnegie is trying to say that a “naughty child” may as well be naughty, for they have already been given that title. Alternatively, give the child a fine reputation to live up to, and see what happens.
Carnegie tells a couple of stories. Bill Parker, a sales rep, was very excited about a new line of food products he was selling and was very disappointed when the manager of a large food market declined to carry the products in his stores. Parker wrote to the manager: “Jack”, he said, “since I left this morning I released I hadn’t given you the entire picture of our new line, and I would appreciate some of your time to tell you about the points I omitted. I have respected the fact that you are always willing to listen and are big enough to change your mind when the fats warrant a change”. What a reputation to live up to! Would Jack say no, when he had such a lofty reputation to uphold? Unlikely. Another story is about a dentist and his cleaner. The dentist realised that the cleaner’s standards had slipped when a patient pointed out a dirty cup holder. He wrote the cleaner a note saying that he was sorry he seldom thanked her for her work and complimented her on the fine job she had been doing. He acknowledged that the two hours, twice a week, she worked was a limited amount of time and suggested that if she needed a half an hour extra from time to time to get to those extra jobs like polishing the cup holders, she should feel free to take it at his expense. The next day, the dentist arrived to the cleanest of clean offices and the shiniest of shiny cup holders. The dentist had given his employee a fine reputation to live up to, and because of this gesture she outperformed all her past efforts. She probably felt appreciated too.
All this sounds pretty reasonable, right? It’s all the more remarkable to think that this advice was written in 1937. And it is still highly relevant, as is the rest of the book. There are very few signs of outdatedness, the references to letter writing a key exception. Few books are as timeless.
Annual publication of self-help and management titles must have multiplied by the hundreds or thousands since Carnegie’s book was first published. Amid that noise, How to Win Friends and Influence People continues to be republished. I am not surprised. It’s a well-written, reasoned and engaging foundation text of the genre. I would commend it to everyone.
Thought Leader(s): Carnegie, D