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Book Review: How To Win Friends And Influence People (Dale Carnegie)

Now, I know what you probably think after having glimpsed the book’s title:
Nothing in the world would get me to read that! It sounds manipulative. It is for socially awkward people. It is outdated anyways. I want nothing to do with it!
I suggest, however, that you first check out the surprisingly positive advice it has to offer concerning social interactions in this post!

The Book In Three Sentences

  1. By changing your attitude, mind-set and behavior in interactions with others you can drastically improve the quality of social experiences on both sides.
  2. There are certain universal, basic principles like genuinely being interested, listening intently or admitting your wrongdoing which allow you to do so.
  3. By adapting them you will be able to make friends easier and cooperate more effectively, win others for your way of thinking and become a better leader.

Impressions

Now, I know what you probably think after having glimpsed the book’s title: Nothing in the world would get me to read that! It sounds manipulative. It is for socially awkward people. It is outdated anyways. I want nothing to do with it!

I definitely felt very similar when I stumbled upon it. As I have read Carnegie’s “The Quick & Easy Way To Effective Speaking” – which I considered a huge addition to my life – before though, I decided to give it a try and was very much positively surprised.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, they say and especially when it comes to classics like this, I reckon we shouldn’t. Although, you might be partially correct when it comes to the manipulative aspect (more on that later). However, the answer to who should have a look at it, is a simple “everyone”.

Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you are in business. Yes, and that is also true if you are a housewife, architect or engineer.

– Dale Carnegie

We all have to deal with people on a daily basis and sadly not all of the interactions are as kind as we would want them to be.
As much as we’d like to believe it, our problems are still roughly the same as a century ago, maybe just with a slightly different makeup.
And here Carnegie comes in to play with what I consider an easy to understand, example rich manual on effectively cooperating with others.

His way of structuring the book into standalone principles enables the reader to focus on specific areas of their character which they haven’t sorted out yet. Combining that with the short summaries at the end of each chapter makes it perfect for repeated studying.

Carnegie, it seems to me, is a very strong advocate of the “Golden Rule”, a universal principle of social interactions that we can find in many philosophies and religions around the world: Treat others like you want to be treated.

He therefore very much is in favor of harmony, treating others better, and mutual benefits. His teaching isn’t based upon a collection of cheap tricks. “The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart”, he notes. Very much differing from what the title suggests.

Now, this all sounds very nice and helpful. However, as with every self-help book we should also critically pay attention to where advice seems unhealthy and leads to self-estrangement. More on that in the next section.

What To Watch Out For

Manipulation:

As mentioned before, Carnegie wants to build his principles upon mutual benefit, certainly resembling some kind of utilitarianism. Therefore, it is very well advised to avoid diving into this book with selfish and ulterior motives. Otherwise, you run at risk of becoming of running into moral mistakes.

As an example of where you could encounter problems is the following principle: “Become genuinely interested in other people.”
If you miss out on the “genuine” aspect of being interested in others and only see it as a manipulative technique to make them like you, you will quickly be frowned upon!

The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.

– Dale Carnegie

I suggest you always enter a conversation in the expectation the other person has something to say or some experience to share that you can learn from.

Now, there are also more controversial principles. One I particularly disagree with is the following: “Let the other person feel like the idea is his or hers.”

The underlying idea is that if you want to convince others of your ideas (e.g. a business plan in a group meeting), then you gently have to guide their way into coming up with your idea on their own, as people tend to be more open to things coming out of their own minds.

Simply put, I consider this as straight up manipulative and morally unjustifiable. Not only are you discrediting yourself but eventually you will create a hostile work environment if somebody finds out what you’re up to.

Personally, I wouldn’t want to build the structure of my social life on a foundation of such manipulations and lies. The much healthier alternative is the establishment of a procreative environment where employees can also contribute to business decisions and where they won’t see them as something forced onto them from above (which is also advocated for by Carnegie).

Overall, I’d suggest you always ask yourself when applying these principles whether you are committing an act of selfishness or are actually trying to serve a greater, common good. Work with cooperation instead of manipulation!

Pretending:

As stated before, Carnegie is very much advocating for harmony and a form of diplomacy that is building on common ideas and attitudes.

As an example, he sees criticism as useless:

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.

– Dale Carnegie

The problem with this and similar principles is that you might be forced into pretending to be a person which you are simply not. If there is no harmony when dealing with a certain person. Then don’t falsely act like there are no underlying problems.

Rather be yourself, create an environment where criticism is wanted, where failures and mistakes are seen as the starting point of improvement and where they can be pointed out with a mutual sense of understanding.

Same goes for “The only way to get the best out of an argument is to avoid it.” If you live in an unhappy relationship, then the worst thing is to put back your own desires in order to avoid arguments. Again, a procreative environment serves all of us best.

Overall, I can see where people might have issues with Carnegie’s teachings. I therefore suggest, when diving into this book, you put yourself into a mindset of reflection, critical thinking and a genuine effort to mutually improve your relationships with others. I you do that I am positively convinced you will be able to take away a lot of great insights.

My Top 3 Quotes

  1. 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.
  2. Any fool can try to defend his or her mistakes – and most fools do – but it raises one above the herd and gives one a feeling of nobility and exultation to admit one’s mistakes.
  3. Remember that other people may be totally wrong. But they don’t think so. Don’t condemn them. Any fool can do that. Try to understand them. Only wise, tolerant, exceptional people even try to do that. There is a reason why the other man thinks and acts as he does. Ferret out that reason – and you have the key to his actions, perhaps to his personality.
Carnegie’s Basic Principles for Improving your Social Life

Apart from the usual quotes I decided to put together a list of all the principles stated in my version of the book. Maybe you can pick out a hand full of those which are resonating with you and that aren’t part of your life yet, to study them.

How the book changed me:

Firstly, Carnegie reinforced principles and traits that I was already practicing to some extent. By redirecting my attention to habits like smiling and genuinely praising others, I could gain even more from them by more actively trying to practice what was already natural to me.

By genuinely praising the work of others (e.g. my hair stylist) and seeing how one nice comment can make someone’s day is a really nice feeling that can make your own day in turn. I think we should all spread more happiness, especially if it’s that easy! 😀

Showing more interests in others on the other hand is something that I was neglecting too much previously. I guess we’re all trapped in our own bubbles of thoughts and problems way too often to listen intently to others.

So far, my results from concentrating on this principle have been overwhelmingly positive! Not only is it very easier to connect and resonate with strangers on the train but it also makes for much better conversations with friends from which you can gain a lot of insights!

Thirdly, I am very much in favor with the principle of admitting your mistakes quickly and empathetically. It really shows character strength, makes it easier to handle regret and in the right environment can cause growth and improvement. Overall, I’d suggest we don’t condemn anyone who has the necessary morale to admit their mistakes directly and by intrinsic motivation.

None of us are natural born talents when it comes to interacting with others on a mutually beneficial basis. But as with everything else in life, we can learn to do so and I’m sure “How To Win Friends And Influence People” is a good guide on the way for many of us!


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