Reviewed in the United States on November 26, 2017
I would like to begin the review by stating I have always found the title of this book incredibly off-putting. I understand that it is meant to draw a customer’s attention, but the title, to me, does not at all represent the product. This book is not a self-help book for people who want to make friends. It is a book that reiterates the basic tenants of leadership in a work environment. Point being, don’t let the kitsch title keep you from giving this book a chance, there is good information here.
My father handed this book to me when I was a young adult and I was about to make the leap into the working world. He told me that it held the keys to effective leadership. I bucked against reading it for a while before finally relenting (I was a precocious teenager and obviously already knew everything the world had to offer), and again, the title of the book seriously repelled me. Since initially relenting, I have now read this book multiple times throughout the years, and it never fails to pull me back into reality.
From time to time I even find myself subconsciously summarizing Carnegie while hosting leadership training or while mentoring my workers. This almost always prompts me to pick the book back up again. (I really enjoy reading through all of the notes I've scribbled in the margins over the years. It's always an interesting dive into your own subconscious through the ability to see such a time capsule: what is basically a time-stamped example of opinions and the ever-changing priorities of your own ideals. That is neither here nor there though; my love for actual physical books as well as my preference for writing my responses and opinions all over the pages is not really relevant to this review. Just a tangent.)
What I find so intriguing about Carnegie's concepts are that they are so obviously all just common sense. There are absolutely *zero* revelations here. You will learn nothing new about interpersonal relationships, leadership, or mentorship; every new chapter that you embark on is so 'in-your-face' obvious that you almost want to smack your own forehead like an over-dramatic soap opera star; stating "OF COURSE".
Despite this fact; (I personally feel) it really is important to read all of these *truths* of life... ironically enough, exactly because they are such common sense statements:
** The "well, duh" aspect of Carnegie's "rules" is the very same trait that allows us to breeze right on past them in our daily life. **
Because every single one of these "rules" is a statement that we all assume to be an innate and universally understood fact of human life, they are never actually in the forefront of our minds. This means that they become almost immediately forgettable because we already understand them to be true - and therefore we assume that they already inform our behavior; but in reality, we have simply acknowledged them as truth and stuffed them into a tiny little corner of our memory.
Reading Carnegie's book shines a spotlight onto that corner, blows the mounds of dust off these ideas, and prompts us to compare our recent behaviors against these "known" truths.
This is the reason why I have read Carnegie's book so many times. For me, it almost feels like re-orienting your personal compass. No matter how many times I pull these rules to the forefront of my consciousness, because of their nature as such obvious truths, they always subtly begin to slip back into the recesses of my mind. I like to pull out this book every so often and give my brain a nice jolt. There is no need to even sit down and read the entire book at once, it is organized as a list that is already categorized into sections relative to specific sub-tasks involved in interpersonal communication.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” is one of Warren Buffett’s favorite books, so if you’re a working professional that’s probably enough to pique your interest. It was originally written in 1937 and draws key wisdom from the lives of Abraham Lincoln and contemporary psychology of the time, namely the works of Sigmund Freud. Despite this, the information remains relevant - which I find to be quite a feat. Many of the statements Carnegie makes are actually reminiscent of Skinner’s operant conditioning, although I don’t believe he ever outright states this.
To give a brief summary, the book is broken into segments titled: “techniques in handling people”, “ways to make people like you”, “win people to your way of thinking”, and “be a leader: how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment”. Each of these segments includes chapters that explain the subsequent “rules” and provide interesting examples. Again, I would like to point out that this is not a book for people looking to make friends; despite one of some of the segment titles, such as: “ways to make people like you”, it does not preach methods of fostering friendships - instead this particular segment is pertinent to leadership because of Carnegie’s statement earlier on that: people will never do anything unless they actually *want* to do so. This is a truth of life; you can use your position of power to compel (force) a person into completing a task, but unless you create an actual want or desire within that person, they will cease their actions as soon as that power is removed (or you turn your back). Thus, the segment about making people like you provides rules that are geared toward earning your worker’s trust and respect so that they actually want to work for you, vice using your position of power to essentially strong-arm them into doing your bidding.
Here are the segments and rules:
Techniques in Handling People:
Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
Give honest and sincere appreciation.
Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Six Ways to Make People Like You:
Become genuinely interested in other people.
Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.
Win People to Your Way of Thinking:
The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “you’re wrong”.
If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
Begin in a friendly way.
Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
Appeal to the nobler motives.
Dramatize your ideas.
Throw down a challenge.
Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment:
Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
Let the other person save face.
Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.
Again, this all seems like common sense when you read it, but in practice it does become much more difficult to stick to - especially when you personally are put-off (or simply just dislike) one or some of the people that you work with on a daily basis. It’s also difficult to remember that you are not always the person in the position of power; often you are on the other end of these situations and must give up the controlling position in the conversation - let them lead.
It’s key to keep in mind (and Carnegie reiterates this) that no matter what situation you walk into, whether you are the person who is leading the change, or whether you are the person who needs to undergo change, the person with whom you are conversing ALWAYS believes that they are superior to you in some way. It does not matter how exceptional or horrible their work performance may be, they truly and sincerely believe that they are the superior person even if they do not state this, and even if they pander to you as if you are someone they look up to.
Carnegie also emphasizes how important it is to avoid arguments. He states that even if you “win” an argument you are still the loser. The results are all negative. You never want to humiliate a person, you will loose the trust and respect that you’ve worked to build. He quotes and old saying “A man convinced against his will/Is of the same opinion still”; meaning they may relent in the moment, but in actuality you may have solidified their original opinion by putting them in a position to defend it. Its quite difficult to avoid arguments because it’s human nature to meet aggression with aggression - we have to consciously make the choice to sit back and let a person release their ill-will without meeting them there. Take that verbal beating!
The biggest point I always get from reading this book is how paramount and fragile the human ego is. It’s the driving factor behind the opinions and actions of every human on earth. At the end of the way, everyone is concerned with themselves. There are no truly selfless acts, someone is always “getting something” (fulfilling some need) from their actions, even if it is simply a feeling of importance or happiness. Every single person on earth is starved for attention and/or recognition in some way. They want to be seen, no matter if they are willing to admit this to others (or even to themselves). If you can fulfill that need for them, you’ve got them. It is so key to simply make it known that “I see you”.
Anyway, I know this is a long and winding review, but my points are thus: if you are looking for a self-help book that will provide teachings on how to make friends, this is not for you. If you are a working professional who is, or may be placed into, a position of leadership - this book is definitely for you. Even if you do not think you need any advice (because you’ve obviously already the best!), this book is priceless. It not only provides you insight into your own actions, but gives you a window into the actions and choices of those you work with/for. As stated, we are not always the main player in a situation, sometimes we are the person that this book talks about dealing with. Sitting back and letting the other person take charge (while understanding where they are coming from) also makes us better workers. Everyone is both a subordinate and a leader; everyone has someone else they answer to. A full birds-eye view of the situation can only provide us with more tools for our toolbox!