Each Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal productivity or personal development book.
How to Win Friends and Influence People had a tremendous positive impact on my life when I was younger. I was filled with a lot of social anxiety and was extremely uncomfortable interacting with people outside of my immediate social circle – and sometimes even uncomfortable interacting within that circle. Over a period of about a year, I used the ideas in this book to become substantially more outgoing, even to the point of being able to speak in front of a room of people and effectively carry on positive conversations with potential colleagues. I can’t even possibly guess how useful the content of this book has been to me over the last five years.
How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published in 1937, which to some people might mean that the content is dated. In a few places, you can detect some dated language and cultural references, but for the most part it is a non-issue; it’s quite easy to visualize every human interaction example given in the book in a modern context.
Discovering How to Win Friends and Influence People
Section 1: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
1. “If You Want To Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over The Beehive”
Most people don’t respond very well to criticism, condemnation, or complaint, so if you’re feeling such things about someone, just bite your tongue and hold back. By doing this, you avoid adding unnecessary negativity to a conversation, negativity that can very easily backfire on you by making others think less of you.
2. The Big Secret of Dealing With People
Speak positively of others every chance you get. Think of a few positive things to say about each person you know and then reference those positive attributes when you can.
3. “He Who Can Do This Has The Whole World With Him. He Who Cannot Walks A Lonely Way”
Make the other person interested in you by leading with the things that are useful to them. Take a cover letter, for example; don’t lead with “I want this job,” but instead with something stating your best characteristic for that job.
Section 2: Six Ways to Make People Like You
1. Do This and You’ll Be Welcome Anywhere
The suggestion here was one of the most challenging ones for me to understand. In essence, Carnegie says that you should become genuinely interested in other people, which is rather challenging for most introverts to do. What I’ve found that works for me is that I try to internalize what other people are saying – does this make sense in my life? Then, I try to express what I figure out – it shows that I am taking an actual interest in what they’re saying.
2. A Simple Way to Make a Good First Impression
All you have to do is smile, but it’s harder than it sounds. I generally find success by greeting people in a positive fashion while imagining things that make me happy – it makes it much easier to bring forth a smile.
3. If You Don’t Do This, You Are Headed For Trouble
I am very good with names – I can recall facts about people by name without any trouble – but I run into issues when I see a face and try to put a name with it. This chapter suggests getting as good as you can with it. I’ve found that if I really need to remember someone’s name with their face, particularly before a conference, I look at their picture online with some regularity. This helps me to imprint their image in my mind and then be able to recall their name quickly after meeting them.
4. An Easy Way to Become a Good Conversationalist
Here, Carnegie says the best way to be seen as being a good conversationalist is to genuinely listen to others. I’ve always found this part to be easy – it’s the speaking part that I find challenging.
5. How to Interest People
The key technique here is to translate what you hear into talking about what interests the person you’re speaking to. Listen for things that they are interested in that you know something about, and then follow that point as a train of conversation – don’t just interject your current passions into the discussion, because they might not be shared.
6. How to Make People Like You Instantly
If you want to build a real bond with someone else, make it clear how important that person is to you and do it in a way that the sincerity of the feeling comes across. I find a great way to do this is actually by connecting two people I know together – I introduce them to each other with a compliment to both of them, especially if I know something that they’ll have a mutual interest in.
Section 3: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
1. You Can’t Win An Argument
So, avoid arguments. If something looks like it might be turning into one, just let it drop as gracefully as you can and move on. Doing this over and over again will make you appear levelheaded and rational.
2. A Sure Way of Making Enemies – and How to Avoid It
The easiest way to make an enemy is to tell them that they are wrong. Instead of doing that, say something like, “I never thought of it that way before” and ask questions, whether or not you feel the position has merit or not.
3. If You’re Wrong, Admit It
If you are revealed to be wrong, just admit it and be very clear about the admission. Don’t try to hide it under sulking or arrogance, because you’ll just amplify the negativity of those behaviors when you’ve clearly been exposed as being wrong.
4. A Drop of Honey
Often, you have to enter conversations where you’re going to have to deliver some bad news or a negative report. You can make this go much easier by starting off with the positives. For example, if you have terrible service at an otherwise good restaurant, don’t shout at the manager about it – tell him the things you did like first, then point out that some service problems may be tarnishing the reputation of the restaurant. This actually works really well for making the conversation go well and it has earned me a few vouchers, too.
5. The Secret of Socrates
If you’re trying to convince someone of your argument, start off with base points that you’re absolutely sure they will agree with and ask them to acknowledge that agreement. Then, when you move from step to step, keep getting those positive acknowledgements. A string of “yes”es is more likely to yield another “yes.”
6. The Safety Valve in Handling Complaints
When someone comes to you to complain about something, don’t interject and start an argument. Let them blow off their steam and only respond when they’re finished. Ask questions to encourage them to speak even more. This will often cause them to vent off most or all of their issue, which makes it much easier for the problem to be handled rationally at the end of the conversation.
7. How to Get Cooperation
If you can, lead them to the conclusion of the argument. Present all of the ideas up front, then state your conclusion and ask for their approval on it with a nice “What do you think?” Listen to what they have to say and then try to incorporate it. In the end, they will feel like the idea is theirs and will come out of the conversation feeling quite positive about things. This is a great way to get a supervisor to incorporate a change in the workplace.
8. A Formula That Will Work Wonders for You
If you just don’t understand where someone is coming from, spend a bit of time trying to put yourself in that person’s shoes. Why would this person feel this way about the situation? Usually, putting yourself in their shoes for a while will reveal a few things that weren’t entirely clear to you before and might just lead directly to a healthy understanding and solution to the problem at hand.
9. What Everybody Wants
Inevitably, someone will come to you with an untenable idea or desire that you simply can’t approve of. In that case, at least show approval of the feelings and thoughts that brought the suggestion to bear.
10. An Appeal That Everybody Likes
Regardless of whether or not you feel a claim is legitimate or not, respond to it with sincerity by appealing to fundamental societal ideas of right and wrong and fair play. Frame your response in such a way that the person’s fundamental sense of right and wrong is put into play when they hear what you have to say.
11. The Movies Do It. TV Does It. Why Don’t You Do It?
If you have a great idea, think of how to incorporate it into a story. Relate it directly to a human experience and tell that story as you’re trying to tell your idea. Connecting the concept to a tale will always make it work – that’s the reason fables stay around for thousands of years.
12. When Nothing Else Works, Try This
If you can’t get your ideas and motivational speeches to work, throw down a direct challenge. This doesn’t mean saying something like “I challenge you…”; just do something to get their competitive spirit going. By doing this well, you can draw even more of their spirit into completing the objective.
Section 4: Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
1. If You Must Find Fault, This Is the Way to Begin
If you’re going to find fault in a person or an organization, start off by stating their positive attributes and the things that you find good about the person or the group. Then, once you’ve established that there are positive attributes and you’re not just railing on them, you can move onto the criticism.
2. How to Criticize – and Not Be Hated for It
If you’re going to criticize something, you’re better off criticizing it indirectly, usually by offering a positive suggestion in another direction. Let’s say, for example, that I were to write a piece on here that you didn’t agree with. Rather than trying to trash the argument, one could merely say that I could word it differently and suggest some phrase changes so it didn’t come off as overbearing, thus alerting me indirectly to some of the big flaws in the argument.
3. Talk About Your Own Mistakes First
Another effective way to blunt the sting of criticism is to tell of your own faults and mistakes first. Let’s say you’re trying to advise someone about debts. One way to make the advice more effective is to talk of your own problems with accruing debt.
4. No One Likes to Take Orders
If you need to instruct someone to do something, instead of shouting out an order, ask some questions about the problem and lead them to the water of the solution in which they can participate. If you involve them in the solution by asking questions, not only will they do it, they’ll feel involved in the solution.
5. Let the Other Person Save Face
If you’ve just offered up criticism, allow the other person plenty of space to save face. Let them correct the mistake if they can, or at least give them the opportunity to do so – only after this opportunity should you seek change. Your belief might be to get rid of the problem completely, but by letting the problem at least have a chance to be solved, you not only appear more fair to the person or group in question, you appear more humane and a much more sound leader to everyone else.
6. How to Spur People On to Success
Whenever someone shows any sign of improvement, make it clear to that person – and to others – that you notice and appreciate it. I recall an experience in a workplace where we had to turn out “units” every so often. The average person on the team was turning out eight or nine units a day, while one person was working steadily but only turning out five. After talking to a supervisor about it, he tried some new techniques and produced six a day – and seven on the final day of the week. The boss made it a point to praise him at a meeting, stating that he had cranked up productivity more than 20%, even though he was still the lowest producer. Eventually, he began to produce at the level of everyone else because he now believed he could do it.
7. Give a Dog a Good Name
When you introduce someone or mention them in a group setting, always talk them up. Give them a standard to live up to as you introduce them and they’ll try hard to live up to that standard. The reverse is true; if you don’t say much or criticize them as you introduce them, they’ll live up to that lowly standard instead.
8. Make the Fault Seem Easy to Correct
If you’re giving advice to someone about how to correct a problem, try to make the problem seem easy to correct. Offer up lots of pointers that on their own seem quite easy and let that person believe that they’re all easy and that they can do it. Making the suggestions for correcting the fault seem difficult makes the person think that it’s going to be very hard and they’re doomed to failure – not an easy road to follow.
9. Making People Glad to Do What You Want
Once you know a person, you know where their points of pride are. When you ask them for something, make sure that they see the connection to things that they pride themselves on, and also be sure to compliment them on those points of pride. Put it in a context of the bigger goals and let them see that you see even their simple piece as a vital part of the puzzle. Doing these things will make people much happier to follow your requests with happiness.
Buy or Don’t Buy
If you’re introverted like I am and sometimes have difficulty communicating with other people or carrying on conversations, buy How to Win Friends and Influence People now, not later. Spend some time practicing every single one of the tips. You’ll soon find yourself actually conversing with people instead of being nervous or uncomfortable, simply because you have several good ideas on how to start and how to keep it going. Don’t worry about it being dated; the fundamentals of human interaction are timeless and the reason this book has been in print for seventy years is because it works. It worked for me, at least.
On the other hand, if you have no problem conversing with others and speaking in public, this book probably won’t help too much; instead, I’d read Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone (read my detailed review). It basically takes the fundamentals here and builds them even further, showing you how to assemble a wide group of friends and associates and have healthy relationships with all of them; a really fantastic book.
One thing I would suggest, however, is checking for How to Win Friends and Influence People at a used book store or on PaperBackSwap for free. This book has been steadily in print for seventy years, most of that time in paperback form, so it’s pretty easy to find a used copy of it on the cheap.