Brendan Walsh revisits Dale Carnegie’s best-selling ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ which, he argues, continues to hold relevance for today’s business leaders despite the fact it was first published almost 80 years ago
Dale Carnegie is something of a legend in the world of self-help and business advice. His book How to Win Friends and Influence People was originally published in 1936, so can lay claim to be not only one of the first self-improvement books to be published, but to give rise to a global industry.
The book began as a collection of Carnegie’s teachings, talks and lectures, given through his Dale Carnegie Training company. Today that business has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, with more than 2,700 instructors delivering courses across all US states and in over 80 countries.
How to Win Friends and Influence People is based on the simple assumption that “dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face”. Over 30 chapters organised into four parts, Carnegie breaks down this problem and maps a way in which you can get people to engage with you.
In modern parlance this is, of course, known as Emotional Intelligence but, in fact, Carnegie’s thinking is part Freudian, in that he believes that people are motivated to do things by the urge to feel important. We are all too obsessed with our own interests, he argues.
So, he tells us to take ‘I’ out of the equation and focus more on other people. His rationale? “You can win more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.”
DEALING WITH OTHERS
Part one is titled ‘Fundamental Techniques in Handling People’. In it, Carnegie argues that criticising, condemning or complaining will never achieve a desired result when dealing with other people, but that by offering appreciation, which is honest and sincere, you will get so much more out of them. Moreover, he wants us to “arouse an eager want” in other people to do what we would like them to. We should be articulating why something would benefit them, instead of why it would help ourselves.
In part two – ‘Six Ways to Make People Like You’ – Carnegie reminds us of the positive impact some of the easiest human interactions can achieve. Offering a smile, remembering someone’s name, or taking the time to listen to someone, may not sound like tactics that will turn a company around but Carnegie argues that it could have a transformative effect on both business and personal relationships.
In part three, ‘How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking’, Carnegie arms us with 12 ways to confront challenges without damaging relationships. They range from straightforward tactics, such as avoiding arguments and encouraging readers to let the other person feel an idea is theirs, to what I perceive as questionable practice – the ‘yes, yes’ method, wherein one asks questions in which your ‘opponent’ will have to agree until you reach a point at which they have been won around to your way of thinking.
This is far too calculating and manipulative. However, don’t skip part three altogether as there are some genuine nuggets of wisdom to be found here too.
Finally, part four teaches us how “to change people without giving offence or resentment”. It is also entitled ‘Be a Leader’ and these rules have come to define the accepted view of good leadership. Encourage and don’t berate, allow the other person to save face, praise every improvement and highlight your own mistakes.
Carnegie’s rules may now seem to be standard rather than revolutionary, however the simplest of his ideas are all too often forgotten. A major challenge for today’s leaders is how this works for the digital age. Social media demands that we share information about ourselves constantly and our interactions with other people are becoming increasingly distant. But in this age of rapid and sometimes vacuous communication, it has never been more important to remember the power human relationships can have in achieving what we want. This book is a very useful and valid reminder of this unassailable fact.
Brendan Walsh is Executive Vice President, American Express Global Corporate Payments