How to Win Friends and Influence People: Q&A #3
By Bryan Caplan
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Both of these types of comments beg the question that the book is something that can be prescribed and blindly adhered to, and is not user-dependent. My assumption is that the majority of people who seek out this book on their own and follow its advice are conscientious introverts who are relatively open and agreeable – they are the people who want to be effective in their personal and professional lives but may lack the intuitive sociability of an extrovert, and are willing to seek counsel. Other personality types will probably either not seek out the book, or reject it a priori. This may not be true, but should be a testable hypothesis.
Maybe, but I really doubt it. I’ve long been highly extroverted; for as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to the center of attention, surrounded by a spell-bound audience hanging on my every word. Impulsively pursuing this goal, however, led me to violate almost all of Carnegie’s principles. Instead of praising others and talking about my own mistakes, I praised myself and lambasted the mistakes of others. Bad!
If there is a personality connection in Carnegie, it’s more about leveraging high conscientiousness. In the real world, highly conscientious people focus on “making the trains run on time.” They rarely apply their self-control to social interaction; even the conscientious impulsively criticize, withhold praise, and blab about their own desires. Carnegie is trying to get such people to take human relationships as seriously and thoughtfully as they take time tables and deadlines. Of course, people low in conscientiousness should do the same, but they’re probably too impulsive to adopt and apply a set of principles.
With that in mind, some of the social benefits could be a form of placebo. If a conscientious person walks into a situation feeling ill prepared, they will often become anxious/ill-at-ease, which makes social interactions more challenging – their focus is on their own internal experience of anxiety rather in the interaction itself. Even if the strategies themselves are ineffective, just having a manual/algorithm alone going into a social interaction can reduce anxiety. Which is Carnegie’s initial offer: get out of a rut.
If so, wouldn’t examining your social behavior for compliance with Carnegie’s rules just lead to more anxiety?
On “if everyone acted that way, there would no longer be any advantage,” the same is true of adopting any technological innovation. The winners in the long run are the consumers–or the potential business partners for whom being treated with dignity, value, and respect becomes the new equilibrium.
Or to be more precise: In equilibrium, other people would benefit from your improved social skills, but you benefit from their improved social skills. So the winners in the long-run are basically everyone. (Misanthropes excepted!)
I’m curious how you apply the principles discussed so far to when it comes to social/political disagreements (the kind that has, personally, no effect on you). Especially since, like you, I have many unconventional views.
Suppose during a dinner discussion someone mentions that immigrants take too many jobs. Do you voice disagreement? Do you inquire why they think this? Do you not engage? Divert the conversation to other topics?
If I was talking to a random American at dinner, I would definitely not engage. When I was younger, I routinely did the opposite – and it got me nowhere. Actually, it got me to worse than nowhere, because it made me and the other person unhappy. Nowadays, I’d try to get the other person talking about their hobbies or kids – something positive.
When would I engage? If the other person had a good combination of intelligence, curiosity, cheerfulness, and youth. Alternately, if the other person signaled that they accepted me as an authority.
How would your response change depending on how close you are to the person. Someone close, vs someone you see 2-3 times a year, vs someone you probably won’t see again?
Frequency of interaction makes little difference. More contact increases the gains of sharing my ideas, but also raises the costs of alienating the other person.
The question of the importance of motivation behind actions is a key question one for every system of philosophical thought. Let’s say we waited the importance of motivation behind actions on a scale of 0 to 100 with 0 meaning motivations behind actions don’t matter at all and 100 saying they’re all encompassing.
If someone held a view of 0, they would agree with the following statement “Someone who accidentally killed another person should face the same penalty as a planned murder since the victim is just as dead.”
If someone held a view of 100, they would agree with the following statement : “A student who only does their homework because they want to get a degree and a good job and not out of a general love of learning should be given an F.”
Almost no one would agree with either statement. Everyone is somewhere in the middle. I’d put main-line Christianity and reform Judaism at about an 80 on this scale, secular leftism at a 70, Calvinist Christianity and Orthodox Judaism at a 50, and secular libertarianism at a 25…
Reflecting on what you wrote, I suspect Carnegie would get agreement from many on the left (“Of course you should try to remember people’s names!”) but most would be unlikely to read the book because Carnegie doesn’t emphasize pure motivation behind actions. If we are to have dialogue across philosophical thoughts, we need to discuss why or why not people value motivations behind actions.
Ideological leftists might find Carnegie’s focus on business and sales a bit off-putting. Overall, though I think that almost any political activist would resent his opposition to conflict and criticism. If we took Carnegie to heart, what would happen to liberals’ and conservatives’ never-ending Outrage of the Day duel?
I wonder why principle 3 doesn’t seem to apply to politicians, a profession which relies on getting many people to like them. It is difficult to think of examples of any contemporary politicians who admit they are wrong. This behavior seems so universal that politicians’ incentives are to do just that. Why would this be? Does this also apply to business leaders? If so, why would this be good advice for most people?
I’d say that politicians do use Carnegiean techniques on their own followers. They even occasionally admit they were wrong… for compromising with the other side! Bill Clinton, for example, candidly regrets “Don’t ask, don’t tell” – though he admittedly blames Congress for forcing his hand. Successful politicians primarily treat the other side poorly – in order to score points with their friends.
It seems like this all stems from Carnegie’s heartfelt condition that other people matter, and not in an abstract, lumpen sense of “The People.” Rather, it appears that Carnegie is arguing that to Win Friends and Influence People, you must first understand and know in your heart of hearts that the actual, flesh-and-blood human beings you meet every day are important and independent moral agents. Or even if you don’t believe this, behaving as if you do makes it more likely that you will.
I fully agree.
Many of the negative reviews of Carnegie’s book (that I could find, that is) argue more or less that the whole text is for inauthentic salespeople to dupe customers (or for politicians to dupe voters, or for “people who need X from unsuspecting saps to get more X from said saps”). That was my impression of the book through young adulthood, and sometimes, in individual examples Carnegie draws upon, it still is.
But in reading parts 2 and 3, it seems to me that the “influence” he talks about is best described as “helping people see this mutually beneficial trade for what it is.” That is, few of his examples are about getting people to think differently about their values, or about their political beliefs. They are all (nearly all?) about “person X went to sell Something to person Y. Person Y was not initially predisposed to buy from X, despite needing some Something, but person X overcame that predisposition by being a decent person, and then Y bought some Something from her.”
I’d say two-thirds of Carnegie’s examples fit this mold. The other one-third are about making your family and other personal relationships more harmonious.
In other words, it seems to me that the principles of influence in part 3 do not map as well to changing the sorts of ideas that you care to change in others as they do about changing behavior because his focus is largely on market exchanges where there really is a mutually beneficial exchange to be had if the two parties can get along long enough to find it. Does that seem right to you?
Not exactly. Even in Carnegie’s business examples, it’s far from clear that the salesmen are actually offering a better product for a lower price than the competition. His model, rather, is that if the options are pretty similar, people use friendship as a “tie-breaker.” Or maybe even more than a tie-breaker.
That is, perhaps these are still good behaviors, but they will not help you influence people (in an “idea” sense) so much as they will help you avoid influencing people… to disagree with you? Is that fair?
Yes. I’d add, though, that being friendly helps you get a hearing. A seat at the table.
Also, then, I have some follow-up questions:
1. having now read the book, I think the “winning friends” advice is considerably more valuable (both from a self-improvement-for-others standpoint and making oneself more friends) than the “influencing others” standpoint (especially given the way, say, academics want to influence others). Do you find both sets of principles equally valuable, and/or do you even find this distinction meaningful?
Well, who is most likely to influence you – a friend, a stranger, or an enemy? I’d say Carnegie’s model is: make friends first. Then, they’re ready to be influenced. (Don’t push too hard, though; the friendship is primary).
2. going back to critical reviews of the text, I found a couple that go something like this: “I tried these, and oh man, did I have friends. ‘Friends’ who talked nonstop about themselves, whose constant focus was on them, who would mechanistically do things I could ‘influence’ them to do, but had no real interest in me whatsoever.” Would you say that this is a critique with merit, or just that the person failed to understand that the principles are for widening one’s social circle so they can then *choose* friends? How would you augment Carnegie’s advice so these readers could have gotten more out of it?
These criticisms make good sense. But you anticipate my answer well: People with many friends have many choices. Instead of complaining that you’re collecting low-quality friends, why not be happy that you’ve improved your odds of finding high-quality friends?
3. from your comments, it seems like you think the book in its entirety is quite valuable. But with your own children, given that one cannot teach all things with equal emphasis all the time, which principle (or perhaps two principles) from this Part of the book do you emphasize most (either explicitly or through your behavior)? Which do you hope they’ll emulate most as adults, that is?
By far, the easiest principle to implement is: smile. So I definitely push that. The most important, however, is to criticize others with extreme caution. In my family, we often characterize someone we meet as a “cool guy, positive person” in a Tommy Wiseau voice. I teach my kids to be the kind of positive person we’re delighted to meet. That’s no easy goal, but aim high, kids!