How to Win Friends and Influence People Book Club, Part 2
By Bryan Caplan
In Part Two of How To Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie moves from general principles to specific techniques of making people like you. As we’ll see, his techniques vary dramatically in their cost.
Carnegie shares six strategies.
1. “Become genuinely interested in other people.” Carnegie urges us to emulate the family dog:
Did you ever stop to think that a dog is the only animal that doesn’t have to work for a living? A hen has to lay eggs, a cow has to give
milk, and a canary has to sing. But a dog makes his living by giving you nothing but love…
[Tippy the dog] knew by some divine instinct that you can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
He then provides a wealth of examples, such as:
Charles R. Walters, of one of the large banks in New York City, was assigned to prepare a confidential report on a certain corporation. He knew of only one person who possessed the facts he needed so urgently. As Mr. Walters was ushered into the president’s office, a young woman stuck her head through a door and told the president that she didn’t have any stamps for him that day. “I am collecting stamps for my twelve-year-old son,” the president explained to Mr. Walters.
Mr. Walters stated his mission and began asking questions. The president was vague, general, nebulous. He didn’t want to talk, and
apparently nothing could persuade him to talk. The interview was brief and barren.
“Frankly, I didn’t know what to do,” Mr. Walters said as he related the story to the class. “Then I remembered what his secretary had said to him – stamps, twelve-year-old son. . . And I also recalled that the foreign department of our bank collected stamps – stamps taken from letters pouring in from every continent washed by the seven seas.
“The next afternoon I called on this man and sent in word that I had some stamps for his boy. Was I ushered in with enthusiasm? Yes sir, he couldn’t have shaken my hand with more enthusiasm if he had been running for Congress. He radiated smiles and good will. ‘My George will love this one,’ he kept saying as he fondled the stamps. ‘And look at this! This is a treasure.’
2. “Smile.” He then hastens to add:
An insincere grin? No. That doesn’t fool anybody. We know it is mechanical and we resent it. I am talking about a real smile, a heartwarming smile, a smile that comes from within, the kind of smile that will bring a good price in the marketplace.
How, though, are you supposed to sincerely smile if you’re not happy? Swallow your pride and make an effort!
You don’t feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing. Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy.
Carnegie approvingly quotes Elbert Hubbard:
Whenever you go out-of-doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every handclasp. Do not fear being misunderstood and do not waste a minute thinking about your enemies.
3. “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” So learn people’s names and use them liberally.
[T]he average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together. Remember that name and call it easily, and you have paid a subtle and very effective compliment.
Carnegie then introduces readers to a bunch of high-rollers who devoted their lives to memorizing names. Such as:
Napoleon the Third, Emperor of France and nephew of the great Napoleon, boasted that in spite of all his royal duties he could remember the name of every person he met. His technique? Simple. If he didn’t hear the name distinctly, he said, “So sorry. I didn’t get the name clearly.” Then, if it was an unusual name, he would say, “How is it spelled?”
During the conversation, he took the trouble to repeat the name several times, and tried to associate it in his mind with the person’s features, expression and general appearance. If the person was someone of importance, Napoleon went to even further pains. As soon as His Royal Highness was alone, he wrote the name down on a piece of paper, looked at it, concentrated on it, fixed it securely in his mind, and then tore up the paper. In this way, he gained an eye impression of the name as well as an ear impression.
4. “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” One example among many:
The chronic kicker, even the most violent critic, will frequently soften and be subdued in the presence of a patient, sympathetic listener – a listener who will he silent while the irate fault-finder dilates like a king cobra and spews the poison out of his system. To illustrate: The New York Telephone Company discovered a few years ago that it had to deal with one of the most vicious customers who ever cursed a customer service representative. And he did curse. He raved… He wrote letters to the newspapers. He filed innumerable complaints with the Public Service Commission, and he started several suits against the telephone company.
At last, one of the company’s most skillful “trouble-shooters” was sent to interview this stormy petrel. This “troubleshooter” listened and let the cantankerous customer enjoy himself pouring out his tirade…
“I listened and sympathized with him on every point that he made during these interviews. He had never had a telephone representative talk with him that way before, and he became almost friendly. The point on which I went to see him was not even mentioned on the first visit, nor was it mentioned on the second or third, but upon the fourth interview, I closed the case completely, he paid all his bills in full, and for the first time in the history of his difficulties with the telephone company he voluntarily withdrew his complaints from the Public Service Commission.”
We often try to crush negativity. Carnegie advises you to elicit negativity to the point of exhaustion.
5. Carnegie’s last two strategies basically repeat what he said in Part One: “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests” and “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” But you should still savor his illuminating examples. Carnegie is undeniably repetitive, but almost all of us need this repetition and then some. And then some.
1. Truth be told, Carnegie only introduces four novel principles in Part Two. The easiest, by far, is: “Smile.” When I see people talking to others, I am amazed by how often they look glum – if not hostile. They even introduce themselves to new contacts without enthusiasm or curiosity. You could object, “Carnegie said not to fake your smile, and I don’t know how to smile sincerely most of the time.” What Carnegie’s really advising, however, is to try to smile sincerely. That you can do, especially if you start to see the humor in your own negativity: “Oh poor me, I have nothing to be happy about, except my youth, health, ample food, shelter, a family that loves me, the Internet, ice cream…” In my family, self-pity often prompts us to to quote Wotan in Die Walküre when the very king of the gods cries, “I am the most miserable of all creatures.”
2. “Encourage others to talk about themselves” is also pretty easy. Just start asking questions and see where they go. Remember: Since most people ask zero questions, you only need to ask two or three to stand out.
3. “Become genuinely interested in other people” is a burden, at least for me. But I’ve improved so much since my teens, when everyone who wasn’t an economics, philosophy, or gaming nerd bored me. Now, I tell myself, “Anyone is interesting for five minutes.” When the other party is less than thrilling, take charge by crafting questions about them that seem relatively interesting to you. Whenever someone tells me they like X, I rush to ask, “Well, what’s your favorite X?” or “What’s the best X for a beginner?” Then I request details. Key point: Most people are too flattered by your curiosity to object to your specific line of questioning.
4. I have no doubt that learning thousands of names advances your social standing. Yet for most people, including me, the time investment is far too high. A cheap substitute: When you have someone’s name right in front of you (on a name tag, or in their email), work it into the conversation. Per Carnegie, you have paid them a subtle and very effective compliment without, like Napoleon III, spending your nights reviewing flashcards of names.
5. Part Two underscores my earlier question: Is Carnegie a Straussian preacher of deception? On my reading, he’s like Pascal, who advised religious skeptics to go through the motions of religious practice until their belief becomes sincere. If you can’t smile genuinely, try to do so and see what happens. If you aren’t genuinely interested in another person, try to be interested and see what happens. In practice, the difference between pretending to smile and trying to smile genuinely is subtle. Eventually, though, the subtle difference blossoms. Or at least so Carnegie would have you believe.
6. Carnegie never uses the phrase “option value,” but it’s totally on point. If you flatly insist, “Why should I smile at people who don’t make me happy? Why should I encourage boring people to talk? Why should I try to become genuinely interested in boring people?,” my preferred answer is, “Fair question; I feel the same way. Still, I follow Carnegie’s advice because I seek to expand my options. If I treat everyone well, I don’t end friendships before they start.” If there’s a 3% chance a person will ultimately be fun or helpful, why not ingratiate yourself to them? The odds someone becomes a stalker because you gave them false hope is trivial.
7. Carnegie’s big picture: Stop demanding reciprocation from others. Unilaterally smile. Unilaterally show interest. Unilaterally encourage others to talk about themselves. Rather than fret about the unfairness, rejoice in the arbitrage. Since the supply of people willing to endure unfairness is low, the wage of those of us willing to look the other way is high.
8. Ugly confession: I’ve been arrogant for as long as I can remember. On a gut level, I feel like almost everyone should shut up and heed my words. When I was a teenager, I said this to people’s faces – and as a result, almost no one listened to me. Even today, I hate to hear someone explain something I already understand. Now, rather than cut them off, I emphatically agree – then encourage them to upgrade the conversation. Yes yes, I understand the elementary theory of public goods, but maybe Social Desirability Bias explains the real world better?
9. One of Carnegie’s main weaknesses as an intellectual: His anecdotes support his claims without fail. I wish he acknowledged, “Many social quandaries are sadly intractable. My strategies, for all their flaws, have the lowest failure rate.” Similarly, he should have said, “If my techniques repeatedly fail with a particular person, don’t confront them. Just keep your distance.” Despite my defense of appeasement, there are a few folks I no longer appease because they’ve disappointed me so many times.
10. An old adage says, “Better to have but not need, than to need but not have.” If you’re inclined to say, “I don’t need people to like me,” I similarly say, “It is better to have friends you don’t need, than to need friends you don’t have.” In short: If you must hoard something, hoard friends.
Carnegie would agree.