I once heard Bob Burg, as a guest on The Jordan Harbinger Show, say that the essence of influence is pull, not push. This is the crux of How to Win Friends and Influence People; everyone acts out of his or her own desires. You can try to bend people to your will, but they will only yield to your demands for so long. To have real, lasting influence, you always need to consider the other person’s perspective.
My main issue with some of Carnegie’s advice is that it tends to be overly simplistic and can encourage insincerity. Much of How to Win Friends and Influence People can be a bit Pollyanna-ish. I’d look elsewhere for guidance in navigating the discomfort and deep work that can be required when life gets real.
Also, while Carnegie’s book certainly gives advice on winning friends, it’s really also a book about how to get what you want from people, hence the “influence” part of it. Some of his suggestions can edge towards manipulative.
For me, How to Win Friends and Influence People wasn’t a life-changing read, but perhaps Carnegie’s ideas were more revolutionary in 1936 than they are today. His advice is somewhat intuitive and common sense, but his book does serve as a useful reminder of some basic and simple principles to keep in mind in our interpersonal relationships.
The book can be a little repetitive and many of Carnegie’s points all boil down to the same fundamental principles, which I will summarize below. I have also included the full list of his chapters/ideas if you’re interested, but again, you’ll probably notice some of the same basic points being repeated throughout.
The number one thing to remember is that people are not perfectly rational, logical beings. We are creatures of emotion, bias, pride, vanity, etc. It will serve you well to keep these facts in mind when dealing with people. Everything you do or say should take into consideration how the other person will filter and perceive it.
The only true way to influence others is to align your goals with the desires of others. No one will ever do anything unless she wants to on some level. Criticism won’t get you anywhere. It puts people on the defensive and deteriorates goodwill. Instead, use positive reinforcement.
Part I: Fundamental Techniques of Handling People
1. “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain”
Criticism can provoke defensiveness and resentfulness, people respond much better to positive reinforcement. Humans are not always rational, we’re emotional and prideful beings. Even if your criticisms are accurate, they will not win you any friends and are unlikely to bring about lasting changes.
2. “Give honest and sincere appreciation”
People love praise, but they can tell the difference between cheap flattery and a genuine, thoughtful compliment.
3. “Arouse in the other person an eager want”
If you can make them want something, they will do it. If not, they won’t. No one ever does anything he or she doesn’t have some reason/desire to do. Imposing your desires on others will not get you anywhere unless you can get them to desire it as well.
Part II: 6 Ways to Make People Like You
1. “Become genuinely interested in other people”
Listen and show genuine interest. “You can win more friends in two months by becoming interested in others than you can in two years by trying to make others interested in you.”
It’s easy and costs you nothing.
3. “Remember that a persons name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”
Remembering someone’s name will win you favor, just as forgetting or misspelling it won’t help your case.
4. “Be a good listener, encourage others to talk about themselves”
People are most interested in what they have to say and love to talk about themselves. If you can be an attentive listener, you’re already a step ahead of the rest.
5. “Talk in terms of the other persons interests”
This one goes along with the earlier idea of creating desire and eagerness in the other person. To get others interested in what you have to say, get them invested.
6. “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely”
There’s little that people crave more than feeling important. Find someone’s unique worth and make him or her feel appreciated for it.
Part III: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
1. “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it”
Either you lose the argument, or you lose goodwill in the relationship and breed resentment. There’s no winning here.
2. “Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say ‘you’re wrong’”
People never like to feel embarrassed or be told that they’re wrong, even if it’s true. Do yourself a favor and don’t be the one to point it out. You probably aren’t telling them anything new, and you’ll earn yourself some resentment in the process.
3. ” If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically”
Take responsibility for your mistakes. They happen to everyone and it’s always nice to see someone who can own them instead of attempting to excuse them away or blame others.
4. “Begin in a friendly way”
I’ll quote Lincoln as Carnegie did in saying “a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.”
You can try and impose your will upon others, but remember that no one will truly do something against their will.
5. “Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately”
Lead with questions that will get people to answer in the affirmative, it doesn’t really matter what the questions are so much as the answers. Get people to say yes before they ever get the chance to reject you. It’s easier to win someone over coming off the heels of a previous agreement than a rejection.
6. “Let the other person do a great deal of the talking”
The main idea idea here is that people don’t like to be outshone. If your goal is to be liked, let your friends take the limelight. Avoid boasting about your achievements all the time.
7. “Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers”
We all like to feel that we are making decisions of our own accord. We don’t like to feel coerced, forced, or tricked.
(Interesting side note: Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, has mentioned in his interviews that willpower is more readily conserved when people perceive that they hold some degree of control and influence over their environments and situations.)
8. “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view”
Not only is empathy a nice thing to practice in a general sense, but understanding where another person is coming from also puts you in a much better place to reach them. You have to meet people where they’re at, and having a sense of another person’s perspective allows you to communicate with them in the most effective manner possible.
9. “Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires”
Pretty self explanatory and familiar from Carnegie’s earlier advice: appeal to other’s desires.
10. “Appeal to the nobler motives”
Carnegie credits J.P. Morgan with the observation that people usually have two reasons for doing something, “one that sounds good and a real one.” It doesn’t really matter what the real one is. The point is, if you can appeal to the nobler motive, people will generally try live up to it.
This is also an important point in Robert Cialdini’s Influence. People like to be seen as consistent. They tend to give you what you expect of them, so expect the best. Appeal to their higher motives.
11. “Dramatize your ideas”
Tends to be more persuasive.
12. “Throw down a challenge”
Competition can be healthy in moderation. Inspire a drive to excel and succeed.
Part IV: Be a Leader – How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
1. “Begin with praise and honest appreciation”
Carnegie compares this to the Novocain that dentists will give to patients before they proceed to drill into their mouths.
2. “Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly”
Refrain from directly attacking someone’s mistakes. Most of the time people know when they’ve messed up, and would probably appreciate a tactful suggestion in place of a blunt reprimand.
This tactic does depend in large part on the other person. He/she may not pick up on an indirect hint, or may misinterpret your politeness as a lack of real urgency about the issue. Use this one at your discretion, it probably works better for some people than for others.
3. “Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person”
Everyone makes mistakes. Speaking about your own not only makes you more relatable, it demonstrates maturity and responsibility. Acknowledging your mistakes also helps others to not feel completely attacked when you offer constructive criticism.
4. “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders”
I think there’s a lot of wisdom behind this one, and it’s not just because I’m a person who doesn’t particularly like being told what to do.
People appreciate being given a voice, they’ll be much more invested if they’re included in the process. Asking questions also gives you the opportunity to get free advice from others. Win-win.
5. “Let the other person save face”
Humiliating or disgracing someone in public will never get you cooperation, let alone goodwill. People are much more likely to acquiesce if they perceive that you did them a favor and let them save face.
6. “Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement”
Can’t really put it better than Carnegie did himself, “abilities wither under criticism, they blossom under encouragement.”
7. “Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to”
Similar to the idea of appealing to a person’s nobler motives, people will want to remain consistent to the image that you create of them.
8. “Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.”
Let people know that you have faith in their abilities.
9. “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest”
Try your best to make the best of the situation for the other person.
Have you read How to Win Friends and Influence People? What were your takeaways?
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