How to Win Friends and Influence People Book Club, Part 2
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.
Apr 8 2020 at 10:50am
I can practically hear malcontents sneering. On one hand, there are leftists who I suspect would (and likely have) denounced Carnegie’s whole project as what’s wrong with bourgeois, commercial civilization: it encourages us to sacrifice “authenticity”–whatever that is–in the name of persuading (or duping) people into helping us along our soul-deadening acquisitive journeys.
On the other, though, there are people who, I think, read too much into Atlas Shrugged. I recall a Will Wilkinson essay once in which he pointed out that most of us are most emphatically not John Galt, Dagny Taggart, and Francisco d’Anconia. At best, we’re Eddie Willers: people of great integrity but of no superlative talent.
In reading the book, and the section on making people like you in particular, I think you can summarize Carnegie’s overall message as follows: “if you wish to flourish, live as if other people matter and do not exist for you.” It’s a point Edward Feser makes about libertarianism generally, and it is, I think, one of the core messages in Adam Smith.
And yet it is still hard to remember what seem like super-obvious bits of advice, like “smile.” Within my family I’m famous as someone who is horrible at smiling on command, and every time I’ve done TV I’ve watched and winced at my tendency to give the camera a furrowed-brow glare of death.
This segment I did on Stossel in 2015 is a perfect example of the contrast. Ann Coulter, though wrong, wrong, wrong about immigration, is smiling and winsome. I, though right, right, right about immigration, am severe and super-serious and probably off-putting. I’d like to think that the lesson might be “as an intellectual, be like me. As a TV talking head, be like Ann Coulter.”
Apr 10 2020 at 10:37am
You might have the same ‘condition’ I have: I always look like I’m smiling ~50% less than I feel like I am. My emotionally neutral expression looks like an angry frown. An ordinary smile looks emotionally neutral. I’m always surprised at this phenomenon when I see pictures of myself.
Apr 8 2020 at 12:05pm
I wonder what you think the “signalling/human capital” split is for the benefits of some of the techniques the Carnegie is discussing here. It’s seems clear to me that following Carnegie’s advice makes a person more pleasant to be around in an absolute sense, but if everyone started smiling more or memorizing names, to what extent would those techniques lose their value as ways to make friends and influence people? Remembering a person’s name and interests is less expensive for you if you do have that crucial genuine interest in them and is easily observable to the other person, which makes it a good signal.
Apr 8 2020 at 12:17pm
I don’t know if I’d classify his anecdotal approach as a weakness here given what he seems to be trying to accomplish. I get the sense the book is written for people who have little to no experience or drive (or at least success) with respect to approaching social interactions explicitly strategically. In that light, I’d guess his anecdotes are intended as proofs of concept more than knockdown arguments, or, worded differently, as cherry-picked bait to entice people into testing out his techniques.
It’s true his anecdotal approach conceals the fact his techniques can’t guarantee success in all possible social interactions, but that objection feels similar to signposting a magician’s sleight of hand because you already know how the trick works. Carnegie’s approach may in truth be a good performative proof of his social aptitude: he knows people are instinctively enthralled by stories, so he dangles tales of success like carrots at each successive step. It’s not epistemically virtuous, but I think vice is often instrumentally valuable (and ultimately undamaging to boot) if used judiciously. Just get them to do the thing first, and worry about mental refinement once they’ve actually changed their behavior.
I admit I may just be engaging in needless apologetics on his behalf–it wouldn’t have been that hard to put the caveats you mentioned in an addendum at the end of the book–but I think his approach is a little more virtuous than you suppose.
Apr 8 2020 at 1:03pm
A fascinating thread in nearly all your work is that you are espousing Judeo-Christian values even though you are not writing from a religious perspective. As a Christian and (mostly) a libertarian, I think it’s wonderful that the rigorous use of math and logic leads to the result of showing the strengths of Judeo-Christian values.
Dale Carnegie himself was a Christian. Biblical principles emphasize that pride is a sin and humble service toward others is a virtue. Modern secular values place some emphasis on service to others (as we see in volunteer requirements for high school graduation) but far more emphasis on ideas of self-actualization and self-expression. These ideas usually lead to selfishness and away from the idea’s Carnegie is advocating. Even though modern libertarianism arose out of the secular movement, it’s fascinating that the application of libertarian thought combined with economic thinking leads right back to Judeo-Christian values.
We see this in your other works. You acknowledge in “Open Borders” that charity toward all is a biblical value. “The Case Against Education” asks people to think whether all the titles and credentials we hand out really do us any good. We see parallels in the Biblical teaching against vanity. And of course, “Selfish Reasons to Have More Children” makes the case to “be fruitful and multiply.”
I think you’ve brought a welcome new maturity to the libertarian movement. Too many libertarians I’ve met use their libertarian beliefs as an excuse for self-centered behavior. (Admittedly, people of other political beliefs often do the same.) You’ve made the point in many ways that taking responsibility for one’s life does not mean becoming self-centered. In fact, taking responsibility for one’s life is a first step toward being a better and more caring human being.
Apr 11 2020 at 10:31am
I find this conversation fascinating; thank you Bryan, for initiating. I’ve read Dale Carnegie’s book several times. I have also been through formal programs from Dale Carnegie Training. The most influential boss I’ve had was a Dale Carnegie trainer, who knew and lived the material quite well. He kept the Dale Carnegie Golden Book in his pocket and referenced it daily. I was given a copy of that golden book by him, which I look upon as I write this.
Dale Carnegie’s wisdom has had a tremendously positive influence on my life. However, I do have a critique which I’m posting under this particular comment because it provides perspective that allows me to keep my criticism brief (And yes, I am being intentional using the word “criticism”).
I will lead into my criticism of Dale Carnegie’s book with Bryan’s response to the above comment:
“I can see why you’d read Carnegie this way. But his book really is one of the founding texts of the self-help movement, which seems almost synonymous with “self-actualization.” I take Carnegie as primarily an apostle of enlightened self-interest: If you treat people better, you will profit personally and materially. At least half of his examples involve getting ahead in business, after all.”
I believe Bryan is correct here but that is precisely my concern with Dale Carnegies work; the premise is inherently selfish. There is much good to what Dale Carnegie preaches and this wisdom should be learned and practiced. However, one must be very careful with the intent it which this wisdom is applied. The book would likely be more suitably titled, “How to Get People to Like You”, which is different than making a friend. As with much of society in general, the term “friend” in Dale’s book is used far too lightly.
Would you really consider someone a friend if they were never able to offer constructive criticism that you would benefit from? If someone’s ability to make you feel important is based entirely on their own “self-interest” does that really make them a friend? Does appealing to another’s pride really help them?
Apr 8 2020 at 1:47pm
Re: Cody’s comment: shouldn’t it go without saying that no method is absolutely foolproof?
Apr 8 2020 at 2:39pm
Maybe, but still it should be said. One should offer *realistic* advice, which requires admitting that giving up and withdrawing may occasionally be the best course.
Apr 8 2020 at 6:02pm
Dale Carnegie’s advice boils down to: Show that you care about your interlocutors (even if they don’t care back). Do so by smiling, showing that you know their names, listening, and so on. Unilateral cooperation in games of etiquette. Love thy neighbor, lite.
Bryan Caplan, channeling Blaise Pascal, adds that you can fake it till you mean it.
It sounds like a signaling game. If everyone follows Carnegie’s advice, then the signal provides no advantage. Then, presumably, you would have to invest more heavily in showing that you care. Then personality differentiates who can, and who can’t, achieve the more assiduous signal (unless everyone takes Pascal’s train to the end of the line). After the signaling game ratchets up, we’re back to ‘personality is destiny.’ Question: Does this signaling game have externalities?
PS: “In practice the difference between pretending to smile and trying to smile genuinely is subtle.” Both differ from spontaneously, genuinely smiling. Aren’t interlocutors attuned to the real thing?
Apr 9 2020 at 7:54am
Re: “I hate to hear someone explain something I already understand.”
I realize that in his first bookclub post, Bryan already addressed the idea that individual efforts at politeness won’t pay off if everyone makes the effort:
My point is that if ‘trying to show that you care’ is a signaling game to get ahead (“to win friends and influence people”), then we should inquire about (a) ‘ability bias’ (personality advantage) in the pattern of individual returns to ‘trying to show that you care’ and (b) differences between individual returns and social returns to ‘trying to show that you care.’
Apr 8 2020 at 7:56pm
1. Bryan this is an excellent idea; thank you for the series!
You bring Carnegian optimism in all of your public appearances, and so this feels fitting!
2. Carnegie promises these things –
– let’s say we could create a credible way of measuring some or all of those things (some of them are already easy to measure – earnings – others might be harder – “arousing enthusiasm,” but let’s imagine we came up with something).
Then let’s say we proposed an RCT.
Find 1500 people interested in Carnegian improvement.
Group A: Randomly assign 500 of them to read the book and to participate in an AA-like group discussions. They read the book. They discuss the principles. They meet 2 times per month over 3 months of “treatment.” Cost is – the books; the group facilitators; renting the space to meet; some admin stuff.
Group B: Randomly assign 500 of them to receive the book, and, I don’t know, some light-touch check-in on whether they read it. Cost per participant is basically the book + 10% of admin.
Group C: Control.
a. Would you bet that, say, a year later, Group A would outperform the control group on the indexed measure?
b. What about Group B?
c. What about 5 years later, same q for both groups?
Apr 9 2020 at 5:05am
I wonder how accurate point 4 is: Be a good listener.
One thing I’m increasingly struck by as I get older – so maybe it’s a feature of older people – is how people talk themselves up into a rage. Sometimes the more you listen, the more emotional and locked into a position people get.
The value of agreement is clear: sometimes agreeing with someone can take the wind out of their sales and prompt some softening and meeting in the middle. But at this point, I’m on the fence about whether letting someone talk will in general soften or harden their position.
I do think that the point about smiling is excellent.
Apr 9 2020 at 7:53am
Make others feel important. Be a good listener. Simple but difficult!
Listening to someone’s concerns when you don’t fully agree and staying focused on the other person… how do you keep your brain from constantly critiquing… from thinking one or two steps ahead… from formulating responses in your mind… from trying to ‘win’… ?
That would seem to be the big key.
Apr 9 2020 at 8:45am
A worthy experiment is to pick a person you’d like to get to know, pick one of the principles of how to be a friendlier person (if you choose “smile” pick a second one to go with it), and try it out. Give yourself two weeks for the assignment, tell a friend or colleague you’re doing this, and then give a progress report at the end of the two weeks.
Apr 12 2020 at 9:15am
He shares that weakness with Machiavelli’s Prince. For all it’s supposed cynicism, the book is very idealistic when it comes to believe in itself.
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