How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1981, revised edition) is a classic in the self-help genre. The original edition was published in 1936, but despite the old fashioned language and entertaining but quaint anecdotes, Carnegie’s advice has proven remarkably evergreen.
If Carnegie’s ideas are to boiled down to one core idea, it can be found in a Henry Ford quote cited by the author: “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” Humans are selfish, proud and egotistical creatures. “People are not interested in you…they are interested in themselves.” Armed with this key psychological insight, Carnegie outlines a host of actionable habits that can be used to influence others and get what we want while giving others what they want in the process.
The book is structured into four parts. Part One teaches the basic techniques for interacting with others: refrain from criticism, offer sincere appreciation, and talk about the things other people are interested in. The next three parts of the book expand upon these basic concept through more specific recommendations that are presented as “principles.” For instance, in Part Two (Six Ways to Make People Like You), Carnegie emphasizes the importance of remembering a person’s name. “The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together.” When you remember a person’s name, you are sending them a powerful message: your effort to remember makes the person feel important, unique, and appreciated.
Carnegie argues that his method is a better way to get what we want. There’s a kind of irony and simplicity to Carnegie’s ideas. In practice, these are extremely hard habits to develop. Reading thoughtful works like Carnegie’s is an opportunity to reflect on our self-centered nature and improve the quality of our interactions with other people.
Pros: Fresh and relevant ideas that might seem obvious but are frequently overlooked and ignored by most of us.
Cons: Language, style and examples are old fashioned (I enjoyed this aspect of the book, but it might bother others).
Notes & Highlights
Part One: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
Principle 1: Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
- “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself.”
Dangers of criticism:
- Wounds a person’s pride.
- Injures the person’s sense of importance.
- Generates resentment.
- Hans Selye: People thirst for approval and dread condemnation.
- Consider the repercussions when you aim to criticize: Does the gain (relieving your feelings) justify the cost (hard feelings, resentment and resignation from the recipient)?
- Instead of trying to change others, first work to change and improve yourself. It is more profitable and less dangerous.
- “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.”
- Carlyle: “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.”
- Try to understand the point of view of the other person in order to foster sympathy, tolerance and kindness.
Principle 2: Give honest and sincere appreciation.
- The only way to get someone do to something is to make the person want to do it.
- Delivering something a person wants is an effective strategy.
- John Dewey: The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.
- Health and preservation of life.
- Food and sleep.
- Money and the things money buys.
- Life in the hereafter.
- Sexual gratification.
- Well-being for our children.
- A feeling of importance.
- “We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees, but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem?”
- Appreciation is sincere; flattery is not.
- “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”
- We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about ourselves.
- Expressions of appreciation should be given both to family and friends as well as to people who help, service or inform us in our daily lives.
- “Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips. You will be surprised how they will set small flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit.”
- Make an effort to identify and verbalize the good points in others.
Principle 3: Arouse in the other person an eager want.
- “The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.”
- Henry Ford: “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
- Advice to sales people: Offer and demonstrate how your product can solve other people’s problems.
- “The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking. So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.”
Part Two: Six Ways to Make People Like You
Principle 1: Become genuinely interested in other people.
- “People are not interested in you…they are interested in themselves—morning, noon and after dinner.”
- Alfred Adler: “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.”
- “One can win the attention and time and cooperation of even the most sought-after people by becoming genuinely interested in them.”
- “If we want to make friends, let’s put ourselves out to do things for other people—things that require time, energy, unselfishness and thoughtfulness.”
- Greet people with animation and enthusiasm.
- “A show of interest, as with every other principle of human relations, must be sincere. It must pay off not only for the person showing the interest, but for the person receiving the attention.”
Principle 2: Smile.
- The expression on your face is more important than the clothes you wear on your back.
- A smile communicates: “I like you, You make me happy. I am glad to see you.”
- “You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”
- Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
- “Your smile is a messenger of good will.”
Principle 3: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- “The average person is more interested in his or her own name than in all the other names on earth put together.”
- Remembering a person’s name and using it in conversation is a powerful but subtle compliment.
- “Most people don’t remember names, for the simple reason that they don’t take the time and energy necessary to concentrate and repeat and fix names indelibly in their minds. They make excuses for themselves; they are too busy.”
Technique for remembering names:
- If you do not hear the name clearly, ask for it to be repeated.
- If the name is particularly challenging, ask for it to be spelled.
- Repeat the name several times during a conversation.
- “The name sets the individual apart; it makes him or her unique among all others.”
Principle 4: Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- “Very important people have told me that they prefer good listeners to good talkers, but the ability to listen seems rarer than almost any other good trait.”
- “If you want to know how to make people shun you and laugh at you behind your back and even despise you, here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. Talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking, don’t wait for him or her to finish: bust right in and interrupt in the middle of a sentence.”
- “People who talk only of themselves think only of themselves.”
- In order to be a good conversationalist, you must be an attentive listener.
- “The people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems.”
Principle 5: Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
- Guest of Theodore Roosevelt were astonished at his range of knowledge. But he had a secret trick he used: “Whenever Roosevelt expected a visitor, he sat up late the night before, reading up on the subject in which he knew his guest was particularly interested. For Roosevelt knew, as all leaders know, that the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”
Principle 6: Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.
- In order to say something kind about another person, observe and ask yourself: “What is there about this person that I can honestly admire?”
- Strive to radiate happiness and “pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return…”
- William James: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
Simple phrases that convey respect and politeness:
- “I’m sorry to trouble you…”
- “Would you be so kind as to…”
- “Would you mind?”
- “All the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you realize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.”
Part Three: How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
Principle 1: The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- “Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him?”
- “I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument – and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes.”
- “Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.”
- “You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.”
- “Which would you rather have, an academic, theatrical victory or a person’s good will? You can seldom have both.”
- “A misunderstanding is never ended by an argument but by tact, diplomacy, conciliation and a sympathetic desire to see the other person’s viewpoint.”
Suggestions for keeping a disagreement from escalating:
- Welcome the disagreement.
- Distrust your first instinctive impression.
- Control your temper.
- Listen first.
- Look for areas of agreement.
- Be honest.
- Promise to think over your opponent’s ideas.
- Thank your opponents for their interest.
- Postpone action to think through the problem.
Principle 2: Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, ‘You’re wrong.’
- “If you can’t be sure of being right even 55% of the time, why should you tell other people they are wrong?”
- Telling people they are wrong strikes a direct blow at their “intelligence, judgement, pride and self-respect.”
- Galileo: You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.
- Phrases like “I might be wrong, but let’s examine the facts” is one way to diplomatically approach wrong ideas.
- “When we are wrong, we may admit it to ourselves. And if we are handled gently and tactfully, we may admit it to others and even take pride in our frankness and broad-mindedness. But not if someone else is trying to ram the unpalatable fact down our oesophagus.”
- Benjamin Franklin: ‘I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiment of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbade myself the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as “certainly,” “undoubtedly,” etc., and I adopted, instead of them, “I conceive,” “I apprehend,” or “I imagine” a thing to be so or so, or “it so appears to me at present.”
Principle 3: If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- “If we know we are going to be rebuked anyhow, isn’t it far better to beat the other person to it and do it ourselves? Isn’t it much easier to listen to self-criticism than to bear condemnation from alien lips?”
- “There is a certain degree of satisfaction in having the courage to admit one’s errors. It not only clears the air of guilt and defensiveness, but often helps solve the problem created by the error.”
- “When we are right, let’s try to win people gently and tactfully to our way of thinking, and when we are wrong – and that will be surprisingly often, if we are honest with ourselves – let’s admit our mistakes quickly and with enthusiasm.”
- Proverb: By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.
Principle 4: Begin in a friendly way.
- Lincoln: “It is an old and true maxim that ‘a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So with men, if you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart; which, say what you will, is the great high road to his reason.”
- Friendliness begets friendliness.
Principle 5: Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.
- Emphasize the things with which you agree and defer considering the areas in which you differ.
- Emphasize that both parties want the same goal and that any difference is one of methodology rather than purpose.
- “A ‘No’ response…is a most difficult handicap to overcome. When you have said ‘No,’ all your pride of personality demands that you remain consistent with yourself. You may later feel that the ‘No’ was ill-advised; nevertheless, there is your precious pride to consider! Once having said a thing, you feel you must stick to it.”
- Look to the Socratic method: “His whole technique…was based upon getting a ‘yes, yes’ response. He asked questions with which his opponent would have to agree…until he had an armful of yeses. He kept on asking questions until finally, almost without realizing it, his opponents found themselves embracing a conclusion they would have bitterly denied a few minutes previously.”
Principle 6: Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
- “Most people trying to win others to their way of thinking do too much talking themselves.”
- La Rouchefoucauld: If you want enemies, excel your friends; but if you want friends, let your friends excel you.
- Talk less and listen more.
Principle 7: Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
- “No one likes to feel that he or she is being sold something or told to do a thing. We much prefer to feel that we are buying of our own accord or acting on our own ideas. We like to be consulted about our wishes, our wants, our thoughts.”
- For businesses one important lesson is to get feedback from your customers on how best to solve their problem.
- Results are more important than getting credit for an idea.
- Lao-tse: ‘The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, puts himself below them; wishing to be before them, he puts himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it an injury.’
Principle 8: Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
- “There is a reason why the other man thinks and acts as he does. Ferret out that reason – and you have the key to his actions, perhaps to his personality.”
- Gerald Nirenberg: “Cooperativeness in conversation is achieved when you show that you consider the other person’s ideas and feelings as important as your own.”
Principle 9: Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
- Dale Carnegie’s “magic phrase” for stopping arguments and creating good will: “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.”
- “Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you.”
Principle 10: Appeal to the nobler motives.
- “All people you meet have a high regard for themselves and like to be fine and unselfish in their own estimation.”
- “A person usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one.”
- One strategy for changing or influencing others is to appeal to their nobler motives. Make an appeal to the person’s sense of honesty, fairness, integrity and sincerity.
Principle 11: Dramatize your ideas.
- “Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, dramatic.”
- This idea is necessary in order to earn attention and stand above your peers and competitors.
Principle 12: Throw down a challenge.
- Charles Schwab: “The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”
- Interesting, stimulating and exciting work is, in itself, a kind of motivation for people: it makes them look forward to the challenge.
- The desire to excel instills a feeling of importance in people and feeling important is one of the greatest universal desires.
Part Four: Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
Principle 1: Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
- “It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.”
- “Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain is pain-killing.”
Principle 2: Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
- Consider eliminating the word “but”: “Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word ‘but’ and ending with a critical statement.” The part after the “but” makes people question the sincerity of the initial praise.
Change the word “but” to “and.” The result is no inference of failure in the second part of the statement.
- Example with “but”: ‘We’re really proud of you, Johnnie, for raising your grades this term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would have been better.’
- Example with “and”: ‘We’re really proud of you, Johnnie, for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same conscientious efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.’
- “Calling attention to one’s mistakes indirectly works wonders with sensitive people who may resent bitterly any direct criticism.”
Principle 3: Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
- “It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticizing begins by humbly admitting that he, too, is far from impeccable.”
Principle 4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
- Asking questions gives others a chance to figure out how to do things themselves and gives them ownership and a sense of importance over the task.
- “Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable; it often stimulates the creativity of the persons whom you ask. People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.”
Principle 5: Let the other person save face.
- “We ride roughshod over the feelings of others, getting our own way, finding fault, issuing threats, criticizing a child or an employee in front of others, without even considering the hurt to the other person’s pride. Whereas a few minutes’ thought, a considerate word or two, a genuine understanding of the other person’s attitude, would go so far toward alleviating the sting!”
- “Even if we are right and the other person is definitely wrong, we only destroy ego by causing someone to lose face.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery: I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.
Principle 6: Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.’
- “You who are reading these lines possess powers of various sorts which you habitually fail to use; and one of these powers you are probably not using to the fullest extent is your magic ability to praise people and inspire them with a realization of their latent possibilities.”
- “Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.”
- Be specific in your praise: “Everybody likes to be praised, but when praise is specific, it comes across as sincere – not something the other person may be saying just to make one feel good.”
Principle 7: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
- “If you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.”
Principle 8: Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
- Emphasize the positive and be careful not to discourage through too much focus on mistakes and errors.
- The goal is to foster a desire to improve rather than foster a desire to quit.
- “Be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it – and he will practice until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.”
Principle 9: Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.
- Making the person feel important is key.
- When asking someone to perform a task that might seem undesirable, be sure to consider and articulate the benefits that align with the person’s wants.
- “It is naïve to believe you will always get a favorable reaction from other persons when you use these approaches, but the experience of most people shows that you are more likely to change attitudes this way than by not using these principles – and if you increase your successes by even a mere 10 percent, you have become 10 percent more effective as a leader than you were before – and that is your benefit.”