Who doesn’t want friends? Who doesn’t want to have some influence over others? Who doesn’t read that “influence” sentence and at least wonder in the back of their heads how slimy the content coming might be?
How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic book by Dale Carnegie all about how to treat people well. The influence you can have with people is not because Carnegie is going to tell us how to manipulate people. The influence comes from being a decent human being.
Carnegie wrote this book to help you be just a bit better at dealing with the situations that life throws at you.
If by the time you have finished reading the first three chapters of this book-if you aren’t then a little better equipped to meet life’s situations, then I shall consider this book to be a total failure so far as you are concerned.
Before he digs in to the main content of the book he gives us 9 suggestions we should be using if we want to get the most out of the book.
- Be someone that desires to learn
- Read as an overview for each chapter then read again deeply
- Ask yourself how to apply each item
- Highlight and make notes
- Review the book every month to keep it in mind
- Apply the rules all the time or you’ll forget them
- Get accountability
- Review your week in light of the teaching and see how you did
- Record your triumphs as a result of the teaching in the book
These 9 suggestions are not only great for the content of the book, they’re good suggestions for any type of success you want in your life.
A Few Caveats on the Content
Before we dig in to the meat of the book, we need to add a few caveats. This is an old book, it was published in 1936 and as such there are a number of assumptions about genders and roles that seem crazily dated today.
Much of this is only encountered in the final section as Carnegie talks about marriage and the root behaviours he’s suggesting are good ones. The examples he chooses though are clearly dated.
He spends a whole chapter going on about how much women like clothes. He spends a decent amount of time talking about how women nag.
He spends a chapter talking about how men will only talk to a woman that has few opinions and is mainly interested in what this man has to say.
Both of those stands are ridiculous.
The second item worth mentioning is that there is a bunch of repeat in the principles of the book. Carnegie keeps coming at the same behaviour from a different angle and in a different relationship context.
A good example comes fairly early. In Part 1 Chapter 4 Carnegie tells us to be a good listener instead of a good talker. The very next chapter tells us to talk about the interests of the people we are talking with. Chapter 6 is about giving compliments to those you speak with which is one way you make people feel important, but is a repeat of chapter two which was about smiling because it will make others feel important as you have a happy demeanour and is the antithesis of Chapter 1, which was about criticizing. They’re all circling the same ideas with slightly different looks at the behaviours you use.
As I work through the book I’ll look at the behaviours as a whole and combine a bunch into one behaviour that may manifest itself in a few ways.
The final thing I should mention if you want to dig in to the book is that Carnegie tells so many stories. Way to many stories, especially in the first sections of the book. He could cut half the stories and still have a story heavy book.
He uses the stories to try and show us the principles in action, and they do, but half the stories would still get the points across fine.
With that out of they way, let’s start looking at the behaviours that Dale Carnegie says we should adopt if we want to be just a bit better with our relationships.
On Making People Feel That They Matter
One of the main themes in Dale Carnegie’s book is that we need to help people feel that they matter. One of the big thrusts of his advice on this is that we work to make people think that they matter instead of just waiting for our turn to talk about ourselves.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
This comes down to asking more questions and talking less. For years I had a sticky note on my desk that said exactly that, and it helped my discussions with my customers immensely as we dug deeper in to their problems and came up with better solutions.
Letting people know that they genuinely matter to you starts with your first interactions with them. It starts with the smile you give them as you greet them.
Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, “I like you, You make me happy. I am glad to see you.” That is why dogs make such a hit. They are so glad to see us that they almost jump out of their skins. So, naturally, we are glad to see them.
Can you think of a better way to let someone know that they matter to you than by being genuinely happy to see them?
Next, remember their names.
Jim Farley discovered early in life that the average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment. But forget it or misspell it -and you have placed yourself at a sharp disadvantage.
We also saw this in H3 Leadership when Brad Lomenick said:
Whether you are dealing with clients or meeting with colleagues, always remember and address them by their names. In a moment when people are often viewed as job titles or potential sales, this will make a massive difference in your work. – H3 Leadership
I did give myself an “out” for a long time on remembering names. I just told myself that I was bad at it, but what it came down to is that I didn’t care enough to put the effort in.
Remembering someone’s name and using it shows them that they matter to you so put the effort in to names and stopping letting yourself be lazy. Because that’s what’s really happening, you’re being lazy about it.
Another key to making people feel like they matter is noticing the things they do well. We’ll come back to that latter as we look at what Carnegie has to say on helping people change.
One warning that Carnegie gives us is that we need to be real with our praise. Not just flattery in the way that shallow people need to prop up their ego’s, but true appreciation of the good work that someone does.
The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.
Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.
As you read How to Win Friends and Influence People you’ll note that criticism is one of the key things that Carnegie speaks against. He’ll call it nagging later in his section on marriage, but he keeps tackling it from different angles throughout the book.
We are often quick to criticize so many around us. I think of my middle child who is willful and adventurous. It’s a constant battle for my wife and I to remember to not come down hard on her for her adventures, and to remember to praise her for the smallest behaviours that show she’s doing better.
It’s hard to remember to keep the criticism out of not just our words, but our actions because the little behaviours we use can speak volumes of disapproval without any words attached.
You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words -and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never!
The subtle eye rolls we use and try to deny speak loudly. We saw Patrick Lencioni talk about this in The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team:
Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments. – The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
That leads to just plain old arguments instead of constructive fierce brainstorming with your teams. Instead of moving forward together, you argue and leave holding the same ideas and thoughts you started with.
Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.
When it comes to arguing with those around you, Carnegie says that we can’t really ever win an argument. Oh sure we may have won some intellectual superiority over someone else, but they are almost never happy about it. They are annoyed and though they may concede the point, they’re not on our side. They’re most often just waiting for us to mess up and pounce.
We will all mess up. Sometimes, maybe lots of the time, we are the ones that is wrong and by driving hard to win an argument we may have just created an enemy where there was none.
To combat this Carnegie recommends a few things. First, admit when you’re wrong.
You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. That will stop all argument and inspire your opponent to be just as fair and open and broad-minded as you are. It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong.
Years ago I cut someone off in traffic and boy were they mad. They honked and you could see them screaming at me and waiving their hand out their window. They even followed me in to a parking lot, but this is where the story takes a turn.
I knew I was in the wrong so I said something along the lines of: “I’m really sorry I wasn’t paying attention. I totally cut you off. Thanks for paying enough attention to make sure we didn’t get into a car accident.”
My admission of guilt diffused the situation entirely. All the other driver said was to be more careful and have a good day. You could see his rage leak out of him as I took the blame, rightly so, and thanked him.
Could we do this more often? Could we talk about how we’re at fault in a situation instead of focusing on how we’ve been wronged?
Finally, Carnegie asks us to understand people instead of just condemning behaviour.
Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”
I’ve heard a story about a man in the subway. His kids were running up and down the car and making a fair bit of noise. They were fighting and yelling and being a pain to the other passengers.
Finally the man sitting beside the father said something about the kids needing to be under better control. Like a sleeping person waking from a haze the father looks around and realizes what the kids are doing and apologizes. He had been too busy thinking about his wife that had just died and realizing that he was now a single father. They were on their way home from the hospital after saying goodbye to a wife and a mother.
Does your perspective change on the behaviour and lack of intervention? Would you now be wondering if you can go with him and grab some groceries or order take out so they have one less thing to worry about?
Once you understand the expectations and circumstances of those around you, their behaviour often seems entirely reasonable and expected.
All of us are in the business of sales. We’re trying to sell our kids on the benefits of behaving the way we wish they would. We walk in to the office every day and “sell” the value we bring to our job.
Unfortunately sales has a bad name. We think of the used car salesman. Like the one that told me “A real man wouldn’t need to talk to his wife about a car purchase.” We feel the slime and the cheap suit and the comb over that accompanied that statement.
None of us wants to be like that, but if we’re not selling our services and the value we provide, then no one is selling our value. People have problems, and they’re looking to solve them. We need to tell people how we can help them solve the problems they have.
So the only way cm (sic) earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.
When you show someone how to solve their problem, they want to make a purchase. They want to trust you to solve their problem. You’ve made them want to purchase.
There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. Did you ever stop to think of that? Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it.
That does mean you need to go back to a number of the things that Carnegie talked about at the beginning of the book. You need to listen more than you talk. Find the real problems that your customers have instead of just assuming that they must need whatever it is you want to sell.
You need to ask them lots of questions about their needs and then maybe use those questions to steer them towards the purchase you think is in their best interest.
This means that you need to “sell” ideas with story and drama.
This is the day of dramatization. Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do it. Television does it. And you will have to do it if you want attention.
In Switch the authors tell a story of a purchasing agent roaming an entire organization for all the different gloves that were purchased. He ends up with a huge stack filling an entire board table and then the brings in the various purchasing managers to look at the gloves.
Not only are they surprised to find that huge pile of gloves, they’re surprised to see prices attached to the gloves and find out that some departments are paying much more than others for the exact same glove.
This is the showmanship that Carnegie is talking about. It speaks to more than our intellect, it speaks to our emotions and with our emotions behind us we’re much more likely to make that sale we’re hoping for.
Bringing Change to Your Team
As have just said, we’re all in sales. We’re trying to sell our ideas to our teams and our bosses. To do this Carnegie gives us a number of tips.
First, is to bring your team on board with the decision making process. If someone has taken part in the decision, then they own it and they are more likely to follow it through.
People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.
This has been talked about in a number of the books I’ve covered. In The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team they talk about letting a team argue.
Contrary to the notion that teams waste time and energy arguing, those that avoid conflict actually doom themselves to revisiting issues again and again without resolution. – The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
In Great at Work, they also talked about fighting about things so that you can unite on the decision later because everyone feels like their voice was heard. In Multipliers, we learned that good managers don’t try to hold all the decisions, they work to let their team take part so they have buy in.
If you want your team to come alongside you when change needs to get made, make sure you include them early in the process.
Then, as you go forward with change make sure you recognize them for the behaviours you want. Give them recognition.
Remember, we all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it. But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery.
While Carnegie doesn’t use this example, I think of my youngest child who is currently potty training. We praise her for every attempt as using the toilet. She farts on the toilet and we clap and encourage. The slightest behaviour that is toward the end goal gets a party.
While we shouldn’t be treating our employees like children, we should be sincerely recognizing the hard fought strides they make as they improve in their work.
It so easy to leave those we work with in a vast dessert of compliments and encouragement. It’s easy to jump on failures and mistakes and never tell someone when they do a good job.
Who can you tell today that they did a good job on something? Who can you tell tomorrow? How can you make it a daily practice to notice something someone on your team did that was worthy of praise?
So far the book has focused on the relationships we have at work or in our social circles, but Carnegie ends with the most important relationships we have around us, our spouses and partners.
If the life you live at home is in shambles, then it will affect your success. One of the key assumptions of Personal Kanban was that we have a false sense of the separation between home and work.
Professional life. Personal life. Social life. They are often treated as separate entities, but our lives and insights cannot be segregated. Work/life balance is a false dichotomy; compartmentalization is not sustainable. It forces life’s professional, personal, and social elements to vie for attention, bringing with them seemingly competing expectations and goals. – Personal Kanban
While Carnegie doesn’t call this false separation out specifically, he does apply the principles he’s been writing about to those relationships.
Just like the beginning of the book, he starts with criticism in our relationships at home though he calls it nagging in our home life.
…neither royalty nor beauty can keep love alive amidst the poisonous fumes of nagging.
This is also where we get the first glimpse of the dated stereotypes in the book. We talked about that at the beginning of this review, so I won’t dig in to it now.
The point that Carnegie is making is really that all the negatives of criticism we’ve read about apply to marriages in the context of nagging.
Another key to a strong marriage in Carnegie’s view is not trying to remake your spouse in the image you want. Worry less about how they can be a better spouse to you and more about how you can be the spouse they need.
Or, as Leland Foster Wood in his book, Growing Together in the Family, has observed: “Success in marriage is much more than a matter of finding the right person; it is also a matter of being the right person.”
This seems to fly in the face of much of what we see written now as people are almost always told to go for their own self-actualization first and foremost and if it continues to work, bring your partner along.
How many more relationships would survive if we spent time worrying about understanding our spouse and their needs. What would marriage look like if we helped our spouses be the best person they can be? What would we look like if we spent more time thinking about how we can do marriage better instead of how we are being wronged in our relationships.
To do this we need to know what our spouse really wants. Remember Carnegie has already talked about listening, showing genuine interest, and being active with our interest in others. We need to extend that towards our spouses as well.
Carnegie spends a chapter talking about doing little things for our spouses, like bringing them flowers or coffee. I think of this as a discussion about learning your spouse’s love language and then speaking it regularly to them.
From Time immemorial, flowers have been considered the language of love. They don’t cost much, especially in season, and often they’re for sale on the street corners. Yet, considering the rarity with which the average husband takes home a bunch of daffodils, you might suppose them to be as expensive as orchids and as hard to come by as the edelweiss which flowers on the cloud-swept cliffs of the Alps. Why wait until your wife goes to the hospital to give her a few flowers? Why not bring her a few roses tomorrow night? You like to experiment. Try it. See what happens.
In an episode of The One Thing Podcast they talk about the hug routine which is how you greet your spouse when they get home from work. This routine is another one of the little things that you can do to show your spouse that they are important to you. Adopting this routine means that you don’t start talking about how the kids did crazy things, you first embrace your spouse long enough that you relax in to each other’s arms.
You take a few minutes to connect and tell each other that you love each other. Then after you’ve connected you can get on with the day. The point is that we need to be as intentional about the behaviours we use with our spouses as we are with the things we do at work. Success in only the work area of our lives means we’ve failed.
One area in marriage that Carnegie surprised me was his admonition that marriage is also about sex and that we need to educate ourselves about it. While I haven’t done the research on the sexual beliefs of the 1930’s it has been my understanding that talking openly about sex like this would be a fairly risky thing to do.
Well Carnegie tells readers to take sex in marriage seriously and educate yourself about it. He says “Read a good book on the sexual side of marriage.”
We could benefit from this today. How many people only know about sex from the encounters they have had, which they expected to be modelled off the highly inaccurate performances they’ve seen on adult sites? How many people talk about their sexual lives as a way to try and impress others when they reality is far from 10% of what they claim to have had happen?
So, read a good book an sex. Maybe even make the goal of your sexual life the pleasure of your partner. In my experience, it’s way better for both parties when we’re trying to maximize the pleasure of the other.
Carnegie ends his look at having a great marriage with a key insight we all need to have as we think about our marriages. It’s not the grand gestures that make a good marriage, it’s the little things that happen day in and day out that add up to a marriage that lasts.
That’s what marriage is in the long run—a series of trivial incidents. And woe to the couple who overlook that fact.
Remember this if you want to have a strong marriage. Put effort in to the little things that happen around your home every day because that is what builds the foundation of a good marriage.
Should I Read How to Win Friends and Influence People?
While How to Win Friends and Influence People says a few things that seem comically dated to us, the underlying advice is solid. If you were to read through this book and start working on the behaviours that Carnegie asks of readers then you will start having better relationships.
As you read the book, feel free to skim the stories. He tells lots of them and at times it feels more like a way to try and hit some word count instead of adding much more depth to the principle he’s trying to get across.
Photo by: thp4