According to Goodreads (the Facebook for the reading geeks), I started reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie on the 10th of June and I finished it on the 21st of October. No, I didn’t read a page per day, nor did I read it alongside other books. I simply decided to start reading it on the 10th of June and then I gave up. I decided to start reading it several times afterwards and again I gave up after opening it on my Kindle and seeing the first page. What made this book so repulsive to me was the title and the caption below it. How to Win Friends and Influence People sounded to me more like How to Manipulate People into Liking you and How to Manipulate Them into Doing Whatever You Want. Definitely not the type of skill I am looking for in life. I rather not manipulate people into being my friends, I would rather for them to like me for who I am (however difficult that might be). And also, I definitely don’t feel like manipulating people into doing what I want. I would prefer if they do it because I manage to convince them using logic, intelligence, charm, or…well other purely feminine skills :). Secondly, the caption is a quote from Warren Buffet: “[Carnegie] changed my life”. As much as I admire Mr. Buffet and as much as I enjoy reading his interviews, stories about his life, and memorable quotations, my strong contempt for self-help books is stronger. I have expressed numerous times the view that the self-help authors of the sort of Jorge Bucay, Andy Andrews, etc. do harm people rather than help them. The well digested wisdom of positive thinking and positive affirmations, and the idea of looking at life through pink-coloured glasses doesn’t in any way alter people’s attitude towards that same life. It just teaches them how to focus on changing outward actions instead of inward thoughts.
So you would understand my utter unwillingness to read How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book has been recommended to me by one of my best friends for quite a long time and only this recommendation did actually make me finally read it this month. As I have said, books have that special power of finding you exactly when you need them the most. If I had read How to Win Friends and Influence People months back, I doubt I would have been as much impressed by Carnegie as I am now.
I am slowly getting to the point that Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is not about how to manipulate people. It is rather about how to change your approach towards people and how to understand and fight the natural flaws of the human character, and most importantly of the human ego. Initially, Carnegie started teaching seminars to business people on how to more efficiently deal with their colleagues, on how to tackle conflicts in the working space and on how to win people over to their thinking. These seminars eventually translated into How to Win Friends and Influence People, which lessons can be applied not only with colleagues, but with friends, family, and even with random people you get in contact with.
Carnegie divides the book into four main sections: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, Six Ways to Make People Like You, How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking and How to Change People without Giving Offence or Arousing Resentment. I wouldn’t go into detail about each of them, as this review is going to hit 5,000 words. Instead, I would focus on the advice that affected me the most.
We (and I believe I speak for the majority part of humanity) erroneously believe we are treating people well. After reading How to Win Friends and Influence People, I was ashamed to see the little mistakes I made every single day. When Carnegie puts them into words and examples, this advice seem so common sense, but come to think about it, I don’t really follow it daily.
Criticism. We love to criticise. It’s an inherent human trait that gives immense pleasure. Pointing to someone else’s mistakes makes us feel better about ourselves, makes us justify our own mistakes and it makes it so much easier to excuse our wrong decisions. But bad-form criticism will take you no where:
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.
Every time we openly criticise someone or clearly point out their mistakes, we inevitably forego the opportunity for some agreement. By criticising you have hurt the other person’s ego and you have immediately put him on the defensive – he would do anything to protect himself and his opinion. Agreeing with you is out of the question – he would have to admit he was wrong and you were right, he would have to compromise his ego, and eventually he would feel humiliated:
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
Dale Carnegie doesn’t advocate refraining from criticism whatsoever. He doesn’t advocate fake praise either. What he attempts to show is that telling people they are wrong wouldn’t make them agree with you. Hurting their feelings wouldn’t either. Instead, as the author insists, you should try to gently guide them to your point-of-view. You shouldn’t demonstrate you are right and you shouldn’t openly show them their mistakes. You should rather place yourself in their shoes (however banal this might sound) and you should attempt to give appreciation and praise. Honest appreciation and honest praise. Seeing the good in people shouldn’t be that difficult. In fact, changing one’s perspective from seeing the bad in people to seeing the good in them makes a tremendous difference.
How to accept criticism. This is by far the best advice I got out from Dale Carnegie. And it came at just the right time (going back to my point that books tend to find you when you need them the most). While reading How to Win Friends and Influence People I was subjected to a rather harsh criticism on-line. I have never prided myself on being a book critic, nor have I seen this blog as a guide to must-read books. I have always done it for myself and secretly hoping that it might induce someone to read a book or two. So when I posted a review a few days back about a contemporary Bulgarian author, and I friend of mine reposted it on Facebook, I was faced with a lot of criticism. Some of it was straight to the point, I must admit. My blog posts indeed have some errors and I am not proud of those. But mostly, the criticism was aggressive and hurtful. My first reaction was to cry. I am not ashamed to admit, but I did cry. My second reaction was to defend myself. One of the major flaws of human character that Carnegie identifies. I came up with a variety of reasons to justify myself. My excuses included: “I am not a literature major, I haven’t studied literature or journalism, and I don’t claim to be a literature critic”, “I actually study finance, go to lectures, do homework, and I write this blog in my free time for pure pleasure”, “English is not my native language and even though I have studied in English for 10 years and I started learning it in first grade, I would never write like a native speaker”, and so on and so on. I came up with so many excuses and I was just on the verge of writing that bitter response when I remembered what I was reading in How to Win Friends and Influence People the same day. Admitting your mistakes is difficult and the urge to defend your ego is irresistible. And yet, coming up with excuses, attacking other people when they have hurt you, or embarrassed you, is pointless. Admitting you are wrong is actually painful. And yet that is what you have to do. Instead of trying to justify your mistake (even if you believe you didn’t make one or even if you believe there are circumstances that excuse you), you might as well admit it. Admit you were wrong, admit you are trying to change, and wait to see how the same people who criticise you suddenly begin to appreciate your honesty. You will get to make mistakes, monthly, weekly, daily. As the Bible put it (and I am not even a believer), let the one who has never sinned throw the stone towards the one who has.
How to Win Friends. The part of Carnegie’s book I was mostly inclined to hate. I never thought you would have to win your friends. My most striking example comes from high school. I entered high-school at the age of 14 with three best friends and I graduated from high school at the age of 19 with five best friends. Only one name appears in both lists. I never intended that to happen and I distinctly remember (and have written proof of that) that two of my best friends despised me in the beginning. They literary hated my guts (though they wouldn’t admit it). So How to Win Friends seemed like a rather waste of time. You either click with people or you don’t. Trying to be friends with someone almost always ends with you not being friends with them.
In that sense the How to Win Friends is a bit misleading. I doubt the techniques mentioned will win you any extra friends, but they will most probably help you keep the ones you already have and get random people at school or at the working place to like you more.
One of the general mistakes nearly every human being makes is trying to get other people interested in his life, demonstrating value, intellect, sense of humour, etc. As Carnegie puts it:
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.
It is a normal human trait – of course we care the most about ourselves and of course we love to talk about ourselves. We can spend hours doing that (most probably that is why therapy is so popular; you pay other people to listen to your constant complaining). And yet somehow we forget that the person sitting opposite us is the same. He also loves talking about himself. So if we both succumb to that desire, we would rather be engaged in endless monologues, rather than in conversations:
We are interested in others when they are interested in us.
Sounds fairly simple but now honestly, how often are you really interested in what the other party is saying and how often do you simply wait for them to finish so you can start talking about yourself? Yes, we are egocentric egoists, but a sincere and honest interest in other people, as well as the ability to be a good listener would take you further than telling them your life story:
It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.
Smile. Another obvious advice. And yet going through the day we somehow forget to smile. Smile honestly and not just a grimace. Smile emphatically with others and at others.
Forget the urge to be constantly right and to shove that into other people’s faces. Forget the desire to show them you stand above them and know more:
Here lies the body of William Jay,
Who died maintaining his right of way –
He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.
Show appreciation for people and their accomplishments. Forget the insincere praise and the unnecessary compliments – one can feel them as one can feel a fake smile. Remember the last time someone told you you were doing a good job – and how that made you feel not only about yourself but about that other person. And if you really and absolutely feel the urge to judge then abide by the following:
I judge people by their own principles – not by my own.
Likeable people succeed not only in their personal relationships; they tend to me more successful at the workplace as well. I have seen this from experience. When I was an intern at an investment bank, I was definitely not the best and the brightest intern. I know I did a good job, but I also made mistakes. Nevertheless, I aspired to stay positive, to smile and talk to people outside the work requirements and to form relationships with the other colleagues. At the end of the internship I was given a job offer and another intern who I believed had far better technical skills than me didn’t. He was rather angry about it and he approached the human resources team for explanation. They told him he did a good job, but he didn’t talk to the other team members and he never approached them. In investment banking, especially, it is important than you not only have the skills (and the stamina to work 16 hours), but that you are a friendly person. After all, when you end up at 2.am on a Friday in the office, you want to be together with a likeable character.
In a nutshell, I was pleasantly surprised by How to Win Friends and Influence People. Rather than a book on manipulation (such as the famous The Game, which I read as a favour to a friend of mine and ended up discovering that my boyfriend at the time used the exact same lines from the book to hit on me), How to Win Friends and Influence People offers useful techniques on how to suppress your ego, how to evaluate situations and how to refrain from acting spontaneously. It also shows, through examples from successful leaders’ lives such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, that diplomacy and tact will take you further than resentment, anger and bitterness.
This has been one cheesy and optimistic post (something entirely unusual for me) and to end it on an even more cheesy note:
It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.
Other quotes I liked:
God himself, sir, does not propose to judge man until the end of his days.
…the deepest urge in human nature is ‘the desire to be important.’
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.
‘I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people,” said Schwab, ‘the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.’
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.
‘If there is any secret of success,’ said Henry Ford, ‘it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.’
‘There is nothing either good or bad,’ said Shakespeare, ‘but thinking makes it so.’
Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.
…a person usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one.
Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person.