Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Book Review (#21 of 2014) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends & Influence People is still one of the Top 40 Amazon Bestsellers for a reason. Dale Carnegie wrote this book in 1936 because no one was aware of anything like it in existence. All recent works I've read on the Great Depression marveled at its importance. Carnegie taught public speaking and became such a popular lecturer that eventually he turned his lectures into this book and updated it throughout his life with real-life illustrations that his students sent to him.
(The edition I read was revised in 1981 and has been updated by the editors with some 1970s examples, making the book slightly odd). More than 8 million people in 80 countries have taken his training course.
"Dale Carnegie would tell you that he made a living all these years, not by teaching public speaking-- that was incidental. His main job was to help people conquer their fears and develop courage."

Carnegie was scholarly beast in studying people, having read hundreds of biographies and critiqued something like 150,000 speeches.

What Carnegie writes jives with recent articles on what Google is looking for in an employee--  how to be someone who leads with confidence. The importance of humility and personal ownership of your own mistakes, while emphasizing others' achievements. Expertise is the least-important to Google and to Carnegie:
"15 percent of one's financial success is due to one's technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering-- to personality and the ability to lead people." (p. 22-23)

This is a book that probably been little improved on by other self-help books of the same genre, only the details remain-- for which you can find in psychology books. Carnegie gets his point across with probably a couple hundred stories, ranging from tales of Presidents (Lincoln, Taft, Hoover, TR, FDR) and titans of industry (Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller, Schwab) to various lecture attendees who wrote Carnegie over the years (the index is impressive). Some of these stories--particularly those of Lincoln-- make the point stick in my mind quite vividly. The American history in the book is great. There are also oft-overlooked biblical references, much of what Carnegie is saying is strongly encouraged in the New Testament.You can read an outline of the chapters on wikipedia.

I have read many works on pop psychology, and even though I'm aware of my own cognitive biases I still am quite susceptible. A smile from a person makes me like them more-- makes me assume other positive attributes about the person.

"'People who smile, tend to manage, teach and sell more effectively, and to raise happier children. That's why encouragement is a much more effective teaching device than punishment'" (quoting a psychologist, pg. 204).

I am often around politicians in hallways and have noticed that they tend to greet strangers with a warm smile, hold the door open for people far behind them, and perform other people-pleasing gestures. It's central to their core. Carnegie gives several examples of politicians and industry leaders in this book who do exactly the same thing-- it's central to their personalities and helps explain their success. People like them just because they seem warm and friendly. I need to smile more. I need to remember more names and call people by their names. All the time.

This week I had a rather critical email written to someone, with a complete rational argument. I felt it was my duty, conviction to correct the person's error. I then shelved it. I am going to re-write tactfully Carnegie style. I may still never send it.

One of the more powerful points Carnegie makes is that "You can't win an argument." (One of his principles is to "never criticize," but he later has a chapter entitled "How to Criticize--and Not Be Hated for It.")

"Why prove to a man he is wrong? Why not let him save his face? He didn't ask for your opinion. He didn't want it. Why argue with him?... What price will I have to pay if I win?" (p. 312, 326)
It demeans people when you set out to prove them wrong, it says "I'm smarter than you and here's why."
"It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem which is threatened" (338) when someone challenges us. "Two thousand years ago, Jesus said: 'Agree with thine adversary quickly'" (356).

"(A)s Charles Schwab put it, 'hearty in their approbation and lavish in their praise.' All of us want that. So let's obey the Golden Rule and give unto others (lavish praise) what we would have others give unto us.  How? When? Where? All the time, everywhere."

Owning up to one's owns faults is important, especially before entering into a critique of another or in an argument.
"When we are right, let's try winning people gently and tactfully to our way of thinking, and when we are wrong--and that will be surprisingly often...let's admit our mistakes quickly and with enthusiasm" (376).  
"Almost all people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance..." (290).

So, encourage others to talk about themselves, talk in terms of their interests, and make them feel important.

Criticism in the absence of an understanding of total love and/or respect is going to be harmful. I can scold my son or criticize my wife for something only if they know that they are 100% secure in my unconditional love. I should draw attention to their mistakes "indirectly," and ask questions rather than giving orders-- for which Carnegie gives several examples. An important point in all cultures I've lived in is to "let the other person save face" (556).

Carnegie has reinforced much of my belief in positive reinforcement of my son-- a cornerstone of ABA therapy for autism. There's principle of "Make the fault seem easy to correct"(590) and this is crucial in dealing with my son-- the example in the book is one of a mentally challenged child who overcomes by gradually building his strength and confidence in certain tasks.

He ends the book on ways to encourage people toward success-- namely focus on the process and small improvements. "Give a dog a good name" (579).  Put the seed in the other person's mind that they are greater than what they realize-- the results will follow as they become that person.

Fantastic, classic book. I give it 5 stars.

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