How to Win Friends and Influence People
by Dan Haggard
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a self-help mega classic. It’s fame is so enormous that far more people have heard of the book than read it – as it often the way with really famous books. I came to read it because of my recent interest in the notion of intimacy and the way that concept is perceived in modern times. I wanted to know how the notion of intimacy was portrayed in one of the most influential texts on how to get along with other people. And while this book does for the most part read as innocent, common sense – it has a dark thread which is common to all texts nowadays that confuse marketing with friendship. It’s my belief that genuine friendship is beyond anyone who follows this book to the letter and I want to explain why.
At the bottom of this post you’ll find all the principles espoused in this book summarized for your convenience. As I said, it’s hard not to agree with most of it. Why shouldn’t you be genuinely interested in other people? Why wouldn’t you try to be a good listener? Especially when read in isolation, it’s hard to find fault with any of the principles listed. It’s just a common sense check list of things you can do to be a nice person.
Much of the substance of Carnegie’s writing reflects the seemingly genuine nature of his advice. He writes:
If we want to make friends, let’s put ourselves out to do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness and thoughtfulness… If you want others to like you, if you want to develop real friendships, if you want to help others at the same time as you help yourself, keep this principle in mind: Become genuinely interested in people.
Again – how could anyone argue with this? Part of the genius of this book is that you could read it cover to cover and really believe that you’ve learned principles that will help you to not just win friends – but also be a genuinely good and self-sacrificing person. And you’ll come to believe this of yourself even though in practice you’ll be nothing of the sort.
As you read further – and perhaps read certain sections multiple times, you’ll notice a profound and cynical contradiction that sits right at the heart of this book. It’s this lack of consistency that to me reveals its insincerity. For while on the one hand it’s convincing you to be a self-sacrificing and generous person that is interested in others, on the other it’s convincing you that everyone else is a vain, egotistical and selfish bastard.
For instance – near to the beginning, Carnegie writes:
…personally I had to blunder through this old world for a third of a century before it even began to dawn upon me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.
This is a deeply cynical point of view – however true it proves to be. There are plenty of other pessimistic gems scattered throughout the book. With every skill or virtue the author imparts comes the implication that people in general are not themselves possessed of it. When it advises you to study the desires of others rather than fixating selfishly on your own, it backhandedly smacks down the whole human race as being fixated on their own selfish desires. When you are advised to listen attentively to the rants of others, you learn that people in general are self-absorbed and want to rant.
And so while it tells you to genuinely like people, smile at them and show them your interest and love - it does this while simultaneously presenting people as being generally devoid of all the virtues that make them likeable. Hence the contradiction.
This book is deeply misanthropic at it’s core. So one has to ask – if Carnegie was really motivated to act in all these ways toward people even when he didn’t actually seem to really like people at all – what actually was the source of his drive? Well – when you learn that his first profession was as a salesperson, then you begin to see the answer. He wanted to control people for his own selfish benefit.
So why was this book so successful? Because it follows one of his precepts to the letter – make people feel important. How does it do this? Well – while it convinces you that everyone in the world is horrible, selfish and incapable of following through on the suggestions he offers, it also convinces you that YOU are one of the statistical few that can overcome your evolutionary heritage to ascend to a higher state of being. But of course, Carnegie didn’t believe this of the great majority of his readers – for the structure of the book itself follows the same cynical marketing principles that the book itself advocates, and those principles assume that you are just one of the statistical majority.
So what of the concept of intimacy in a book that helps you to win friends and influence people? The term isn’t used once (if a Kindle’s search functionality is accurate). Neither, for that matter, is the concept of trust. What’s more, you’re not allowed to engage in any sort of criticism of your friends according to this book – something which I’ve argued sits right at the heart of intimate relationships.
I guess it’s difficult for a salesman to understand the importance of these aspects of genuine friendship.
A Summary of Carnegie’s Principles
Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation.
- Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Six Ways to Make People Like You
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
- Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.
Win People Over to Your Way of Thinking
- The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
- If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Begin in a friendly way.
- Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
- Let the other person do a great deal of talking.
- Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
- Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
- Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
- Appeal to the nobler motives.
- Dramatize your ideas.
- Throw down a challenge .
Be a Leader
- Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
- Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
- Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing your own.
- Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
- Let the other person save face.
- Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “heartly in your approbation and lavish in your praise”.
- Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
- Use encouragement.
- Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.