How to Win Friends and Influence People Book Club, Part 1
[Note: Please leave questions and comments below, and I will respond in later posts.]
Today’s the first day of the How to Win Friends and Influence People Book Club. We’ll start by walking through Part One, entitled “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People.”
In the opening chapter, Carnegie explains that almost everyone thinks they’re wonderful specimens of humanity. They’re firmly convince of their own moral excellence and superlative skill. Even the infamous exude self-approval. Thus, Carnegie shares the tale of “Two Gun” Crowley:
When Crowley was captured, Police Commissioner E. P. Mulrooney declared that the two-gun desperado was one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. “He will kill,” said the Commissioner, “at the drop of a feather.”
But how did “Two Gun” Crowley regard himself? We know, because while the police were firing into his apartment, he wrote a letter addressed “To whom it may concern, ” And, as he wrote, the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In this letter Crowley said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.”
Crowley was sentenced to the electric chair. When he arrived at the death house in Sing Sing, did he say, “This is what I get for killing people”? No, he said: “This is what I get for defending myself.”
Carnegie’s claim: this self-serving bias is so ingrained in human nature that you must, at minimum, tiptoe around it. If you can’t hail someone’s excellences, at least don’t denounce their flaws.
If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism-no matter how certain we are that it is justified.
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
Carnegie gives many mighty anecdotes along these lines, then quotes in its entirety a short essay on parenthood. If this letter from a father to his child doesn’t move you, what will?
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
Carnegie ends the chapter, as he always does, with a maxim: “Principle 1 – Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.”
Now that Carnegie’s taught you how to make fewer enemies, chapter 2 tells you how to make full-blown friends. The big picture:
What do you want? Not many things, but the few that you do wish, you crave with an insistence that will not be denied. Some of the things most people want include:
1. Health and the preservation of life. 2. Food. 3. Sleep. 4. Money and the things money will buy. 5. Life in the hereafter. 6. Sexual gratification. 7. The well-being of our children. 8. A feeling of importance.
Almost all these wants are usually gratified – all except one.
The exception Carnegie has in mind, of course, is “a feeling of importance.” This is amazing when you realize how cheap it is to satisfy this want! The only catch is that you need other human beings to satisfy it for you – and they’re usually too focused on their own feelings of importance to lend you a hand. Carnegie’s advice: Start giving everyone around you the feeling of importance they crave – and they will be ever-so-grateful. Make the first move.
Carnegie insists that he is not recommending dishonesty. Instead, he tells you to make an effort to see the good in others, then heartily acknowledge the genuine good you find.
Emerson said: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”
If that was true of Emerson, isn’t it likely to be a thousand times more true of you and me? Let’s cease thinking of our accomplishments, our wants. Let’s try to figure out the other person’s good points. Then forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation.
In chapter 3, Carnegie begins with an appeal to introspection.
Why talk about what we want? That is childish. Absurd. Of course, you are interested in what you want. You are eternally interested in it. But no one else is. The rest of us are just like you: we are interested in what we want.
So the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.
Discovering exactly what other people want can obviously be challenging. But the first step in the discovery process is to put your impulsive egomania aside. He illustrates this point with many more gripping yet folksy anecdotes:
Andrew Carnegie, the poverty-stricken Scotch lad who started to work at two cents an hour and finally gave away $365 million, learned early in life that the only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants. He attended school only four years; yet he learned how to handle people.
To illustrate: His sister-in-law was worried sick over her two boys. They were at Yale, and they were so busy with their own affairs that they neglected to write home and paid no attention whatever to their mother’s frantic letters.
Then Carnegie offered to wager a hundred dollars that he could get an answer by return mail, without even asking for it. Someone called his bet; so he wrote his nephews a chatty letter, mentioning casually in a post-script that he was sending each one a five-dollar bill.
He neglected, however, to enclose the money.
Back came replies by return mail thanking “Dear Uncle Andrew” for his kind note and you can finish the sentence yourself.
I suspect that high-IQ readers will find Carnegie repetitive, but even high-IQ readers need this repetition. This is a dead horse worth beating into the ground, and he does it with gusto:
If out of reading this book you get just one thing – an increased tendency to think always in terms of other people’s point of view, and see things from their angle – if you get that one thing out of this book, it may easily prove to be one of the building blocks of your career.
The closing maxim: “Principle 3 – Arouse in the other person an eager want.”
1. When you read Carnegie’s maxims, they seem painfully obvious. When you closely read Carnegie’s chapters, however, you realize that almost all of us live in near-total denial of the painfully obvious. We routinely treat other people as we ourselves would not like to be treated. We blurt out criticism when a moment’s reflection reveals the futility of our negativity. And we withhold kind words from others even though we have the reusable power to costlessly make their day. Good readers, please use your reusable power freely!
2. I first read Carnegie when I was seventeen. He made sense, but at the time I did not revise my behavior in the slightest. It took me over a decade to start reinventing Carnegie’s wheel, and I still struggle to hew to his teachings. Still, I pat myself on the back for openly praising appeasement as a social strategy. Even Carnegie didn’t go that far – but he should have.
3. Carnegie’s fundamental lesson, I aver, is that our social impulses are wrong. Our impulses are to criticize others, withhold praise, and talk about our desires. The wise approach, in contrast, is to withhold criticism, praise freely, and talk about other people’s desires. Basic economics lurks in the background: Since the supply of wise social behavior is low, the rewards for the self-aware few are sky high. So be one of the few suppliers on the market.
4. You could retort, “This is self-defeating advice. If everyone followed it, the Carnegie formula wouldn’t work anymore.” But give the man some credit: Carnegie’s own model of human behavior directly implies that most people won’t listen to him! Why? Because they’re too obsessed with talking about their own desires to systematically empathize with others. How to Win Friends and Influence People is a huge best-seller, but only a tiny fraction of humans will ever read it, and only a tiny fraction of those will follow through. Join this tiny fraction and profit.
5. I suspect some readers are thinking, “Carnegie is only useful for Aspies. The rest of us already know this stuff.” While I doubt that many consciously grasp Carnegie’s principles, I concede that most people recognize his wisdom when they hear it. That hardly means, however, that neurotypicals take his principles to heart. How many people do you personally know who habitually refrain from criticism, lavish praise, and talk about other people’s desires? Is even one such person in your life?!
6. At this point, I can hear Robin Hanson in my head, asking, “Why, though, have human beings evolved to be so ‘socially dysfunctional’?” One story is that when we criticize others, withhold praise, and blab about our own wants, we aren’t trying to influence the person we’re actually talking to; we’re trying to raise our status in the eyes of a broader audience. High-status people are hard-to-please and self-absorbed, so one good way to signal status is to emulate them. Fake it till you make it!
On reflection, this is a weak story. We criticize others, withhold praise, and blab about our own wants even when we know there is no audience around. And in any case, high-status people seem more Carnegiean than low-status people, though there’s ample variance.
7. Don’t many high-status people flout Carnegie’s advice? Sure. Part of the explanation is that people’s social skills are so poor that even absolutely cloddish people can still be well above average. Yet the bigger picture is that multiple factors matter in social interaction. A beautiful, super-smart, wildly creative, or ultra-rich person can do well despite their poor behavior. The even bigger picture is that many objectively successful people still suffer through life because their family and “friends” don’t actually like them. If these objectively successful people heeded Carnegie’s maxims, their inner life would not so mock their outer life.
8. You could object, “Maybe impulsive social behavior worked well in primitive tribes.” I’ve made an analogous argument about self-consciousness; worrying about strangers’ opinions makes little sense in a modern anonymous society, but made a lot of sense long ago. For self-help purposes, however, what’s important to know is not where your instincts come from, but that your instincts are wrong.
Your instincts are wrong.
I know this well, because my instincts are especially wrong.
9. Straussian question: Should we trust Carnegie when he admonishes us to avoid dishonesty? Or is he a thinly-veiled preacher of deception? My answer: It’s complicated. Carnegie actively fosters confirmation bias; he wants us to look for the good in others until we find it. While this isn’t a good way to accurately assess another person, it’s a good way to make friends and influence people.
10. Challenge: How could Carnegie explain the tremendous social success of Stalin or Hitler or John Gotti or even a common criminal with four girlfriends? As far as I can tell, the question never dawns on him; he paints every Great Man he invokes as a fine fellow. But if I were Dale, I would concede that brutality and fear are a viable alternative path to social influence. However, reliance on brutality and fear is an ultra-risky strategy with a trivial long-run success rate. Almost everyone who acts like Stalin or Hitler ends up alone and hated, if not jailed or dead. So while the Dark Side may fascinate social scientists, it’s irrelevant for self-help.
11. Further challenge: I’ve built my whole career on tenaciously defending unpopular views. Lots of intellectuals do. So how can Carnegie be right? Answer: I’m only successful because a notable minority of people likes hearing my unpopular views. And as Carnegie would advise, I strive to treat these people well. The same goes for the world’s leading politicians – and the internet’s top trolls. They make friends by making enemies, but it is their friends, not their enemies, that push them to the apex of their social pyramids.
Personally, I’ve also gained a great deal from the many people who plausibly could hate me, but don’t. When you go out of your way to be friendly, potential enemies often treat you with bemused tolerance instead of hostility. A big improvement!
12. Does Carnegiean behavior undermine the search for truth? Far from clear. As we continue with the book, we’ll see that he doesn’t literally oppose all criticism. Instead, he preaches tact and generosity toward others. Carnegie also urges us to monitor our own behavior to avoid giving others reasons to dislike us. While we can easily picture scenarios where this advice hinders the search for truth (“I won’t openly challenge this fool because he’ll seek revenge”), it is at least as easy to picture scenarios where this advice speeds the search for truth (“What makes me so sure I’m not the fool? I should carefully re-read people that seem wrong before I try to expose their alleged errors.”)
13. Final thought: When I was young, I probably would have sneered, “I don’t want to make friends or influence people. This is who I am; take me or leave me.” If I could go back in time, I would cheerfully reply, “There is an enormous payoff to small compromises. The world is full of people who would make great friends and speed your success, but you’ll locate them a lot faster if you go out of your way to be pleasant to everyone. We both know you have a lot to offer, but hardly anyone else on Earth does. Help your future friends help you.” Sure, I could have told my younger self, “In time you’ll learn not to be such an arrogant jerk,” but Carnegie taught me to (a) avoid criticism, and (b) arouse in the other person an eager want. Even if the other person happens to be my younger self.
Apr 6 2020 at 9:50am
Carnegie’s third principle: “arouse in the other person an eager want”, sounds an awful lot like “incentives matter”. And he gives plenty of examples which boil down to changing the incentives of the situation to achieve the social outcome you desire (e.g. have your child make their own meal so they have skin in the game and thus a greater incentive to eat it).
Thoughts? Bryan, has your reinvention of Carnegie’s wheel at all been based in your own learning of economics? Or has it mostly been learning psychology and personal experience?
Apr 6 2020 at 10:04am
I first read Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People about 6 months ago and upon reading wished I had read it 20 years ago. Like you, I had painfully learned many of the principles through experience, re-inventing them as it were. Thank you for doing this “book club” on it, I was already thinking I should re-read it.
Apr 6 2020 at 11:40am
Often we are so quick to criticize others that our negative comments come out almost immediately after the supposed offense of the other person. Even non-verbal cues of exasperation such as sighs, grunts, and rolled eyes are liable to sneak out. What advice do you have for making sure to hold one’s tongue during instinctual bouts of annoyance?
Apr 6 2020 at 12:09pm
Carnegie’s advice in this section seems so correct to me that I’m struggling to find any fault in it.
I do wonder about certain contexts where you might benefit from going against this advice. For example, do you think these principles apply in the political realm? Carnegie’s principles in this section seem ideal for one’s in-group, but if you’re after votes or attention, are you rewarded for lambasting the out-group?
It seems like a lot of popular social media pages are focused on out-group hatred, and a few years ago it seemed like I would get more responses and likes for my cattier comments. Do you think social media tends to reward those who focus on hating the out-group?
Apr 6 2020 at 12:27pm
You have often praised your GMU colleagues for engaging in vigorous debate with you and each other, even stating that when talking with them, “Once we agree, it is time to change the subject.” Is this solely a reflection of GMU faculty being unusually open to criticism and disagreement, or are there specific things you and your colleagues do to keep friendly debate from devolving into heated argument?
Apr 6 2020 at 12:28pm
Re: Point 11.
Do you discuss issues differently when you are talking to people 1 on 1?
Apr 6 2020 at 2:00pm
Have you done anything to help you remember these practices in your daily life? It takes a while to form good habits, and I was curious about how you approach habit-building.
Apr 6 2020 at 2:12pm
How do you think Carnegie’s principles in these chapters relate to social desirability bias? You seem skeptical that average people have internalized Carnegie’s advice to avoid criticism and lavish praise, but you also point out how common it is for people to mask uncomfortable truths to avoid “kicking the beehive”. Telling someone “I’ll do everything I can to help you” is almost always a lie, but it does foster that crucial feeling of importance in the other person. Similarly, Carnegie would recommend telling a drug addict “your addiction isn’t your fault, it’s a disease” rather than “it’s clear that you prefer Heroin to working”, even if acknowledging the truth of the latter could help them more. Does winning friends and influencing people require a “soft head” and a “soft heart”, a la Alan Blinder, while making policy requires the opposite?
Apr 6 2020 at 2:35pm
I agree that Carnegie’s advice is painfully obvious and (should be) painfully chastening to anyone who has ever been a teenager or young adult.
I wonder why we seem to have such a strong preference for self-absorbed misery even in the face of what seems like a pretty easy, lower-cost set of ways to make things better.
Apr 6 2020 at 2:49pm
at 6. /8.: in “primitive tribes” – and in a lot contemporary non-western societies, Carnegies theories seem more practised than in ours. A hunter often must not boast about his catch or his role in it. ” I got a little sth. Do me the honor of taking a bite.” or “Lucky me to be with such a group of great hunters! Was it my arrow? Dunno, no matter” is appreciated. “Look, I shot this mighty bison. Me, best hunter of all!” is frowned upon and those boaster are cut to size promptly (as Dr. Nigel Barley found when he presented a buffalo to the “Toraja” in Indonesia). Egalitarian, maybe. And all those books about the Do’s and Don’ts in Vietnam, Japan, Arabia … repeat ad nauseam: Save face! (yours and others), do not openly critizise, do praise the good things and do not mention the bad ones. As that is what people do there.
So the West may indeed go against evolution. Esp. West-Germans: We even have to learn that the US/UK-manager’s “Thank you for this fine/interesting presentation” may not actually mean genuine praise. :/ (“Nicht gemeckert ist genug gelobt” – Not having niggled is praise enough.) – The creative destruction of traditional social networks cause for this aberration? (I wished my English was better. And me brain bigger.)
On the other hand, really seeing things from the other’s perspective is quite a feat (the locals never really got N. Barley’s motivation). So humans may try to evolve sth. like that, but we are far from perfect. Esp. with people from another clan. – Brains with an average capability of IQ/EQ of 180+ might find the birth-tract simply to tight.
Apr 13 2020 at 1:23am
Don’t think non-West Germans are any better.
Apr 6 2020 at 4:06pm
I read this many years ago and remember thinking Carnegie didn’t do nearly enough to bridge from winning friends to influencing people.
I’m a small, young-looking woman with naturally warm, ingratiating manners. I praise and validate people, listen admiringly to their opinions and empathize with their point of view all day long. I’ve found that although people enjoy this and are delighted to suck up as much emotional energy as I can put out, it doesn’t make them respect or listen to me, nor are they likelier to choose me when doling out influence, authority or status.
I can see how I could conceivably use that kind of flattery to arouse an eager want for a widget I was selling, but not how I’d use it to get my well-evidenced concerns incorporated into a planning process, to get myself appointed to an influential committee, or to persuade someone to accept an important piece of data that didn’t already accord with their worldview. I’m a little afraid that the missing ingredient might just be maleness, so if anyone has ideas about the gender component here, I’d be especially interested to hear those.
Apr 6 2020 at 10:32pm
I had a very similar question to Art’s: why, if incentives matter and non-Carnegian behavior is costly (or carries less benefits than Carnegian behavior), do so few people choose to act differently?
I suppose one might suggest an answer along the lines of imperfect information relative to mechanics and payoff, or psychological/neurological bottlenecks affecting behavioral self-modification. But as you noted above, “How to Win Friends and Influence People is a huge best-seller, but only a tiny fraction of humans will ever read it, and only a tiny fraction of those will follow through.” So, for those who have read it, imperfect info and personality difficulties seem less reasonable excuses.
I wonder if there is simply a misperception as to how difficult it is to change one’s own behavior (or maybe it really is difficult for some or most people) making it difficult for people to harbor a willingness.
Is it that some people simply don’t recognize a need to change, even among those who have read Carnegie? Is it like that group of people who are incapable of internal dialogue or visualization? This line of thought seems all too Heideggerian to me…
I have now thought myself into a bit of a corner.
Apr 6 2020 at 10:33pm
Like with many other books full to the brim with good ideas, how does one implement them? How do you “upgrade your firmware” to incorporate Carnegie’s principles?
Apr 6 2020 at 10:38pm
The advice does seem very obviously right, so I’ve been wondering exactly why I and so many other people seem to ignore it. I think one of the reasons might be that we often need things from people, or interact on a fairly transactional basis, and completing those complex transactions is difficult enough that we don’t have the mental energy to focus on the interpersonal relationship.
So, for example, it seems like quite a lot of the encounters that Carnegie describes are quite low-stakes. I was struck by one where he wanted a positive interaction with a post office clerk. No outcome was desired; just the positive personal affect. He was able to achieve it. But if he also needed to carry out a complex negotiation or postal transaction, would he have managed? Would I?
I’ve been interacting lately with my children’s teachers, and I don’t always get that right. I could almost certainly improve by paying *more* attention to Carnegie’s advice. But I do try to keep conversations positive, anyway. The problem is that I have difficult and complex messages to convey, and I don’t fully understand the motivations of the people that I’m talking to, so I get caught up in the cognitive side of the problem, and forget the affective side. I wonder if Prof Caplan thinks that this is a part of the mystery around why Carnegie’s advice is not universally followed.
Of course, this doesn’t invalidate the advice, because we all also have lots of casual encounters, and we could all be sunnier in those.
Apr 7 2020 at 9:18am
What’s a good way to install these habits of mind? The first time I read it, I corrected my thoughts whenever I noticed the old impulses, but I found it hard to commit to once my mind had moved on to other ideas.
Re-reading the book regularly? Snapping my wrist with an elastic band? Taking a puff of e-cig when having a skillful thought?
Apr 7 2020 at 10:10am
Somewhat counter-intuitively, Dale Carnegie’s greatest influence did not came from the bestselling book, but from the course “Effective Speaking and Human Relations” which millions of people have taken in large measure because they were inspired by the book. Carnegie was reluctant to publish the book because he thought it would cannibalize the course which generated much more money. His experience was that group dynamics (his course, group therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Smoke-Enders, Weight Watchers….) have a much better chance of changing an individual’s behavior than the reading of a book, no matter how persuasively written.
Apr 7 2020 at 3:59pm
I reread this book of trivially obvious rules every few years, because somehow I keep forgetting them.
Apr 8 2020 at 9:04am
“How could Carnegie explain the tremendous social success of Stalin or Hitler or John Gotti or even a common criminal with four girlfriends?”
I suggest that violent environments are probably not good places to attempt Carnegie’s approach. Even in my own adolescent school days, gentle attempts to praise classmates and show interest and admiration in their pursuits would meet only contempt or aggression. In that rough environment, it was strongly in everyone’s interests to exploit any weakness shown by neighbours, in order to direct the ever-present mockery away from one’s self.
“When I was young, I probably would have sneered, “I don’t want to make friends or influence people. This is who I am; take me or leave me.””
Ditto! And I now regret it and think I should have shmoozed more!
Apr 8 2020 at 9:09am
I had heard and read many references to this book and had put it on a mental list of ‘must reads’ but never followed through. Then, years ago, I read Frank Bettger’s How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling which changed my life – in particular the Chapter titled: “How to Make People Want to do Business with You”. As it turns out, later in his career Frank Bettger had traveled and lectured with Dale Carnegie and became a sort of Carnegie disciple, and Bettger had written his book upon urging from Carnegie. Carnegie endorsed Bettger’s book as “The most helpful and inspiring book on salesmanship that I have ever read!” After knowing this, I finally prompted myself to read Carnegie’s classic, and of course, greatly regretted not reading it years earlier.
Carnegie teaches a methodology to get people to like you and win them over to your way of thinking.
Bettger focused that into: “The most important secret of salesmanship is to find out what the other fellow wants, then help him find the best way to get it.”
Joseph E Munson
Apr 9 2020 at 12:11pm
This only works as long as enough people don’t follow the advice…
Imagine a world where everyone has read Carnegie, and everyone compliments everyone over everything. Nobody will know what to believe anymore, they’ll assume your trying to create an “eager want” in them when you compliment them. His advice will stop working.
Part of Canargie’s shtick is to search really closely and only give honest compliments, but I’m skeptical, considering dishonest flattery will outcompete honest flattery, and anyway, I’m not sure if compliments are truly honest if you have to use confirmation bias to get them.
Apr 9 2020 at 12:43pm
Is there any research on how Carnegie’s recommended behaviors perform based on gender dynamics?
I read this book and took it to heart. Finding the good and unique brilliance in others is intrinsically satisfying. Cultivating vicarious enthusiasm for others’ potential & achievements is also a joy, not to mention critical for keeping up the energy to manage people day-to-day.
But I’ve not found this to be a conduit for winning friends and influencing people, at least as a woman to men. By expressing (sincere) interest in the ideas, knowledge and aspirations of men, I believe I’ve inadvertently given the impression of romantic interest. This leads to a range of outcomes. If he’s in a committed relationship, then it makes him wary. If not, the response is one of confusion and/or irritation when they discover that romance was never on the table. In net, rarely does it often yield the intellectual or entrepreneurial connection I’m looking for.
My inference may be off here – while I’ve had some direct confirmation of this dynamic, I’m generally reading between the lines and thus may have reached a biased conclusion. Maybe I’m not doing it right (e.g. I need to mention $5 bills more often…) and this is a just self-indulgent story of why it hasn’t worked. I’d be interested in any research or feedback on this subject.
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