By the time How to Win Friends and Influence People was published in 1936 and became an instant bestseller, Dale Carnegie was already a famous public speaking coach and author of five other books. Out of his 11 books, this one has proven to be his most popular, selling over five million copies throughout the author’s life and more than another ten million since then.
Having found no “practical, working handbook on human relations,” Mr. Carnegie set out to create one, researching the lives of greats from Julius Caesar to Thomas Edison and interviewing such people as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Clark Gable. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you probably know how much weight I give to the technique of interviewing the outliers to borrow their tools. This book is the application of that method to the science of human interaction.
Carnegie’s public speaking coaching empire is also alive and well today; Warren Buffett has a diploma from Dale Carnegie’s public speaking course hanging in his office, but not, interestingly, the diplomas for his B.S. in business administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and M.S. in economics from Columbia.
Buffett is only one in a long list of successful people who give the author at least partial credit for their success, and given that the book remains a bestseller even to this day, you might guess that Mr. Carnegie has a few useful insights into human relations.
Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People.
1: If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive. It is basic human nature to reject criticism and justify one’s actions. Al Capone said, “I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”
If even the most notorious gangster in U.S. history viewed himself in this light, it’s not likely that the average person is going to take criticism well. Take Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “I will speak ill of no man… and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
2: The Big Secret of Dealing with People. Of the basic human needs, Carnegie asserts, the desire to be important, or to be great, is the need that is most difficult to meet. “If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are. That determines your character.”
If you can deliver that sense of importance to your fellow man, you will have found the key to dealing with people. As Charles Schwab said, “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the men the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.”
Our natural response is to criticize what we don’t like, and remain silent about what we do. If you find it difficult to appreciate people (or certain people), take Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”
Every person on earth knows something you don’t; seek to learn that thing in every interaction, and you will make the other person feel important. This is not to suggest the practice of flattery; on the contrary, the author is advocating that you be alert for every opportunity to voice sincere appreciation when anything is done well.
3: He Who Can Do This Has the Whole World with Him. He Who Cannot Walks a Lonely Way. When you go fishing, you don’t bait the hook with the strawberries you’d like to snack on; you use what the fish prefer, worms. Yet in our interactions with people, we always barge in talking about what we want, which is a complete waste of time and effort. Instead, we should always be asking ourselves what the other person wants, and present our reasoning from their perspective. Tell them how it will get them what they want.
Henry Ford said, “If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.” (More recently, there have been a number of great books devoted to the importance of understanding incentives, such as Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics.)
It may sound obvious, but most people nevertheless persist in approaching each interaction with the desire to explain their own needs and desires. “So,” as the author puts it, “The rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.”
Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You
1: Do This and You’ll Be Welcome Anywhere. The first way to make people like you is quite simple: be interested in them. One easy application the author suggests is to record and remember people’s birthdays. (In today’s age of digital reminders, it might be more meaningful to wish people a happy birthday a day or two in advance, if it’s acceptable in your culture.)
People like to be remembered, admired, and sought after for help – so if you need something from someone, tell them that they are the only person who can help you, ask for exactly what you need from them, and make it as easy as possible for them to do it.
The author tells several stories about people who genuinely took an interest in the other person, even though that interest wasn’t remotely related to what they needed from them. You will often find that if you simply take an interest in the other person, they will often give you what you need, and frequently more, without you even asking.
Call it karma, or reaping what you sow, but the fundamental truth is that you will accomplish much more by taking an interest in people, and giving them what they want, then you will by all the best sales techniques in the world.
2: A Simple Way to Make a Good First Impression. “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, as the author bluntly puts it, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.’” An insincere smile won’t do you any good, so preface your smile by being thankful for what you have.
Happiness is a result of our inward condition, not our outward circumstance, and we have the ability to control our thoughts. William James put it this way: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”
3: If You Don’t Do This, You Are Headed for Trouble. Jim Farley was raised by a single mother around the turn of the 19th century, starting work as a bricklayer when he was 10 years old and never getting much education. He ended up as the Postmaster General of the United States, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and the man responsible for putting F.D.R. into the White House.
Farley’s secret was that he could call 50,000 people by their first name. Each time he met someone, he would ask about the person’s name, family size, profession, and political leanings, and created a mental picture of these things. (Travis Bradberry recommends a similar technique in Chapter 7 of Emotional Intelligence 2.0.) Use and remember a person’s name, and you have instant likeability.
4: An Easy Way to Become a Good Conversationalist. To put it simply, quickly find what interests the other person, encourage them to talk about themselves, and shut up. People are usually far more interested in what they are already interested in than they are in listening to you.
Most people approach a conversation by trying to find a commonality, but if you focus instead on the other person’s greatest interest and simply pay active and close attention while they discuss it, they will find you to be a great conversationalist. You don’t need to even say much at all.
It is remarkably easy to defuse an angry conversation; again, just shut up. All you have to do is listen to the other person until they have told their whole story and are satisfied that they have expressed themselves. By that time, you should be able to address the problem from their viewpoint, which often results in a change of subject and a quick resolution to the actual problem at hand.
5: How to Interest People. When Teddy Roosevelt had it on his schedule to meet someone the next day, he would stay up late to read on a subject in which the person was interested. Spend your energy to find the other person’s passion, not to prepare your own elevator speech, and begin the conversation with that subject instead of charging headlong into what you need out of the meeting. Those from Western cultures especially make this mistake, fooling themselves into thinking they are results-oriented, or efficient, or some other nonsense. You will be much more effective with this approach.
6: How to Make People Like You Instantly. Whenever you meet someone, however briefly in passing, ask yourself, “What is there about him that I can honestly admire?” Everyone wants approval, recognition, and a feeling of importance, and it doesn’t take much for you to deliver all of those things.
Practice doing this with everyone you meet – clerks at the post office as well as your business associates. Make it a habit, and together with the other practices listed above, it will greatly improve your results and relationships.
Part Three: Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
1: You Can’t Win an Argument. Even if you shoot down your opponent with your incredible wit and knowledge, he will still leave the conversation feeling resentment – so you lose either way. It’s simply not worth the time to argue. Abraham Lincoln said, “No man who is resolved to make the most of himself can spare the time for personal contention.”
The author again sees things through the lens of making people feel important – if you argue with someone, they may be getting their feeling of importance by exercising their authority to block you. If you acknowledge their importance instead, their ego has room to breathe, and you may then find they become sympathetic to your cause.
2: A Sure Way of Making Enemies – and How to Avoid It. In a similar vein, you should never waste your time trying to prove someone wrong. First of all, have some humility – we are all influenced by our own cognitive biases, and even the most fervent student of psychology falls prey to the shortcomings of the human mind on a daily basis.
Mr. Carnegie suggests this script when you believe another person is in error: “Well, now, look! I thought otherwise, but I may be wrong. I frequently am. And if I am wrong, I want to be put right. Let’s examine the facts.”
The author also recommends The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which remains a popular and often-recommended volume today. Franklin is known by history for his incredibly adroit dealings with other people, and his biography is filled with gems like this (emphasis added):
“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbade myself the use of every word… that imported a fix’d opinion, such as “certainly,” “undoubtedly,” etc… I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear’d… some difference… And to this habit… I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow citizens when I proposed new institutions…”
3: If You’re Wrong, Admit It. And do it “quickly, openly, and with enthusiasm.” Yet again, the author ties in the concept of people’s need for importance. When you condemn yourself, the only option for the other party to nourish their own self-esteem is to defend you. Even when the other party’s interests are clearly contrary to your own, it is a powerful weapon to admit your faults.
A newspaper reader once wrote in to criticize one of Elbert Hubbard’s articles. Here is the brilliant response: “Come to think it over, I don’t think I completely agree with it myself. Not everything I wrote yesterday appeals to me today. I am glad to learn what you think about the subject. The next time you are in the neighborhood you must visit us and we’ll get this subject threshed out for all time. So here is a handclasp over the miles, and I am, Yours Sincerely…”
4: The High Road to a Man’s Reason. If we respond to anger with anger, we are never going to convince the other party or engage his reason. If we instead respond to anger with friendliness, sympathy, and appreciation, we can turn an angry situation into a productive one. Woodrow Wilson put it this way:
“If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, ‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from one another, understand why it is that we differ from one another, just what the points at issue are,’ we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together.”
5: The Secret of Socrates. Never begin a conversation by immediately addressing the ways in which your opinion differs from the other person. Instead, begin – and be diligent in continuing – by emphasizing the things on which you agree. Keep reminding all parties involved that while they might differ in terms of the preferred method, they are all striving for the same purpose. A skilled influencer of people will be able to identify that common purpose.
The result of this method is that the other party begins to give his assent, in whatever small ways it might be. A person’s “pride of personality” demands that he remain consistent with himself, so whether you begin with him saying “yes” or “no,” the same response will carry on, naturally directed from the outset. A “yes” or “no” is more than a word; it is a response, and if you want to change the answer, you are going to have to change the whole response. This can be an impossible task, so it is best to get things on track before you begin. Get the other person saying, “Yes,” immediately.
6: The Safety Valve in Handling Complaints. Let people talk. When someone has a complaint, let him talk himself out. When you go for an interview, don’t talk about yourself; ask the interviewer about his early years, and get him talking about himself.
La Rochefoucauld said, “If you want enemies, excel your friends; but if you want friends, let your friends excel you.” It doesn’t win you any friends to talk of your accomplishments. Let the other person do most of the talking.
7: How to Get Cooperation. There should never be any need for you to claim credit for an idea; let the other party claim the idea as their own, and you will have a much easier time of getting their cooperation. When you need something, don’t talk about what you need. Present the other person with the available information, and ask them to tell you.
As Lao Tsze said, “The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.”
8: A Formula That Will Work Wonders for You. There is always a reason that a person thinks and acts the way he does. Leave behind the mindset of judging a person’s rightness or wrongness, and instead seek out that reason. You will then have the key to their actions and even their personality.
The author asks that if you take away nothing else from this book, you begin to make a practice of honestly trying to see other people’s points of view – not opinions, but why those opinions are held.
9: What Everybody Wants. Mr. Carnegie then gives us a magic phrase: “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I should undoubtedly feel just as you do.” Feel free to update the phrase for the 21st century, but the point is to acknowledge that you truly would have the same perspective as the other person if you had their temperament, environment, and experiences.
Among many others, Steven Covey disagrees on this point in Habit 1 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as does Charles Duhigg in chapter 9 of The Power of Habit, but Carnegie’s broader point is undoubtedly valid. While we might argue the role of environmental forces vs. personal choice, it is nevertheless important to acknowledge the validity of the other person’s emotions and opinions by declaring them reasonable given their circumstances. They probably are.
10: An Appeal That Everybody Likes. J.P. Morgan once asserted that people usually have two reasons for anything they do: one that sounds good, and the real one. Appeal to people’s nobler motives by providing them with that good reason. Speak and act in a way that assumes the best of them.
11: The Movies Do It. The Radio Does It. Why Don’t You Do It? Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made “vivid, interesting, dramatic.” A demonstration is far more striking and memorable than words, so show people your ideas rather than telling them.
12: When Nothing Else Works, Try This. Charles Schwab once had a mill manager whose workers weren’t meeting their production quotas. The mill manager had tried everything, with no success. Schwab simply asked how many heats the mill’s day shift had made, and wrote the number in chalk on the mill floor.
When the night shift came into work they asked what the number meant, then proceeded to make one more than the day shift had managed and write that number on the floor. Not wanting to be shown up, the day shift came back with even more, and so on until that mill was the most productive in the entire plant.
The principle here is not to set people against each other; it is to issue a challenge to excel. The love of the game and the chance to prove self-worth is one of the most powerful motivators – so introduce some competition when you need to inspire others.
Part Four: Nine Ways to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
1: If You Must Find Fault, This Is the Way to Begin. Before you point out a fault in another person’s action, begin with honest appreciation for what they have done well or correctly. After doing so, you might even find that the other person points out their own fault and volunteers to correct it.
2: How to Criticize – and Not Be Hated for It. When Wanamaker’s department store president John Wanamaker was on his daily rounds through the flagship store, he noticed a customer waiting at the counter unattended as store staff stood talking and laughing among themselves at the other end of the counter.
Wanamaker slipped behind the counter, served the customer himself, and handed the package to the staff to be wrapped as he continued on his way. Without saying a word, he had clearly communicated to the (probably mortified) staff what was expected of them.
When you must criticize, try to find a way to do so indirectly.
3: Talk About Your Own Mistakes First. Criticism is much easier to take when the other person first talks about their own faults. When you need to directly criticize, first mention how you made similar mistakes, or have deficiencies in other areas. “Well, I’m awful at A and I couldn’t B to save my life, but one thing I do know is…”
4: No One Likes to Take Orders. By asking questions instead of giving direct orders, you save people’s pride and preserve their feeling of importance. As Charles Duhigg points out in Chapter 5 of The Power of Habit, a person’s effectiveness is greatly diminished when they are taking orders instead of understanding the purpose of an action and choosing to do it.
5: Let the Other Man Save His Face. General Electric once had to replace the head of one of its departments – a genius in electricity who, it turned out, wasn’t cut out to be a department head. Instead of demoting him, General Electric gave him the new title of Consulting Engineer of the General Electric Company.
We usually don’t take the time to think about helping others save face, but if we do, it usually doesn’t take much effort.
6: How to Spur Men on to Success. You’ll get much better results by praising people for any slight improvement or small thing done right than by criticizing when they come up short.
7: Give the Dog a Good Name. A truth of human nature is that people will be compelled to live up to whatever reputation you attribute to them. Tell a person that you think or you have heard that they are honest, or industrious, or any other variety of virtue, and they will usually live up to it – even if their previous actions had indicated otherwise.
8: Make the Fault Seem Easy to Correct. The author tells of how he once declined to play a game of bridge with a friend, stating that the game was too complicated for him. His friend replied, “Why, Dale, it is no trick at all. There is nothing to bridge except memory and judgment. You once wrote a chapter on memory. Bridge will be in a cinch for you. It is right up your alley.”
By telling people that some goal is easily within their grasp or some fault can be corrected with only a minor adjustment, you will give them the confidence to reach the goal or correct the fault.
9: Making People Glad to Do What You Want. The key to making people glad to do what you want, yet again, is to make them feel important. Give them recognition as the best person for a job or authority to oversee a matter, and they will embrace the role you have laid out for them.
When Napoleon Bonaparte created the Legion of Honor, he gave out 1,500 crosses to his soldiers, named 18 of his generals “Marshals of France,” and christened the troops “the Grand Army.” When criticized for giving out “toys,” he responded, “Men are ruled by toys.”
Part Five: Letters That Produced Miraculous Results
The next two parts of the book were in the original 1936 edition, but were excluded from the updated 1981 edition. I think the publisher may have missed the point of this chapter, because it might be the most brilliant part of the entire book.
The author writes of a quirk of human nature that can significantly increase your effectiveness in obtaining what you ask. Here are a few phrases from the letters Carnegie uses as examples:
“I wonder if you mind helping me out of a little difficulty?” Instead of stating, “Please do this thing I want you to do,” begin by asking for help.
“Naturally, I must come to you to help me answer…” If it sounds like a generic message you’re sending to multiple people, the request for help won’t be compelling. The other person needs to feel that you genuinely and specifically need their help to solve your problem.
“Thank you for kindness in giving me this information.” Present your request as a need for kindness. It subtly implies that it would be unkind to ignore your request, and appeals to the person’s better nature. There is a part of human nature that is hardwired to help others, so tap into that proclivity by thanking them in advance for their goodwill.
Part Six: Seven Rules for Making Your Home Life Happier
I can understand why the publisher excluded Part Six of the book from the 1981 publication; it is a bit repetitive, and most of it could probably be summed up by saying all of the principles above apply just as much to home life as they do to business. Some of the perspectives and wording could be construed as sexist, though I would say it could be far worse for a book published in 1936.
Regardless, the author does have some good things to say about the application of these principles to romantic relationships. Here are a few gems:
- As Leland Foster Wood said, “Success in marriage is much more than a matter of finding the right person; it is also a matter of being the right person.” Don’t try to change your partner; it probably won’t happen, and will only lead to resentment. Just focus on being the best person you can be.
- Most relationship failures come not from a singular tragedy, but from the lack of little attention that shows the other person they are important. Practice trivial kindnesses.
- Beyond kindness, another quality is essential: courtesy. Henry Clay Risner said, “Courtesy is that quality of heart that overlooks the broken gate and calls attention to the flowers in the yard beyond the gate.”
- Before you walk through your door after a long day, take a moment to mentally leave the day at the doorstep. There is no need to carry the stresses of the day into your home and burden your family with them.
While there are several legitimately brilliant insights in this book, most of the content will register as common sense. Most concepts are simply a different iteration of, “Be nice to people instead of criticizing them.” The book’s value lies both in its reminder of what we know we should already be doing, and in its illustration of the nuances of kindness toward others.
Mr. Carnegie advocates an approach to human relations that is analytical and proactive, going a step beyond the requirements of civility by thinking in advance about the other person. It seems simple because it is; effective relationships come simply from having the ability to put other people first. This book’s reminders and insights about how to do so practically in everyday life are what have earned it a reputation as one of the most useful relationship books of all time.
A final note: it is interesting to go back and compare each of the author’s points with the perspectives in The 48 Laws of Power. The two books come from radically different angles, but make many of the same points. Combining the two provides a much better picture of what each one is trying to explain.
What did you learn from this book? What was your favorite takeaway? Is there an important insight that we missed? Comment below or tweet to us @storyshots.