Today we take a last look at Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (DC). It’s been 11 weeks since I started writing about this book, and I’m frankly happy to come to the end of it. DC has several interesting points to make, but it makes them at perhaps too great a length, and in too repetitive a fashion. I’m nevertheless glad to have read it, and today I summarize what I consider to be the most significant features of and ideas in the book.
DC in Three Paragraphs
If you want to win friends, you must work to become the sort of person another man would want as his friend. That is, it is more a question of “being” than “doing”, inasmuch as insincerity is (except for, perhaps, a very few, very gifted con men) unsustainable and poisonous to friendship. What sort of person attracts others? One who takes an interest in them and their concerns, who is sympathetic with their viewpoints, who sincerely appreciates their unique virtues, and who honestly enjoys their company.
If you wish to prosper in general, and persuade men in particular, you must give up the vice of enhancing your self-regard at the expense of others, whether though self-aggrandizement, criticism, argument, or the imposition of your will. These things may bring pleasure in the short-term, but the resentment and hostility they arouse in others are long-term costs that will prove corrosive to whatever you try to build in your life.
Persuasion is the art of causing a man to feel that a particular course of action will be to his overall benefit. The word “feel” is very important here; persuasion is not primarily an intellectual process, and certainly not a matter of overpowering the other man’s reasoned objections. It helps to have the facts on your side, but the facts alone rarely carry the day.
Stylistically, DC begins as an entertaining read, and ends as a bit of a slog. I think this is due to its format: Each chapter is basically a collection of illustrative anecdotes wrapped around a bullet-point of an idea. At first, the anecdotes are amusing, but this does not last.
The problem is that, over 30 chapters, one sees perhaps 100 such anecdotes, and they’re all the same. Some dude has a problem, he applies the recommended technique, and the problem is solved. There’s no drama; there are no reverses or surprises. The techniques never fail, and no one ever has to regroup and try something else.
DC’s greatest failing (or perhaps “omission” would be better) is that it does not address the limitations or costs of the strategies it outlines. In the first place, some people are just not going to be persuaded of some things, no matter what approach you take; any theory of human relations that overlooks this is, at best, incomplete. In the second place, to put it bluntly: some people are abusive boors. It seems undesirable to humor them; even if confrontation is unnecessary and ungentlemanly, they are best avoided. DC does not discuss the question of which friends are worth winning, or which people worth persuading, or even acknowledge that such a question could arise.
In the end, why should you care about DC? Well, if you’re in business, this is why (if you’ll permit me to quote myself):
There are a lot of good ideas out there, but many of them go unheard in the tumult of modern life. The value of DC is in getting people to stop and listen to the story you have to tell. It’s up to you to tell a good story at that point, and to show the other man how trade or co-operation will help you both.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Book Club resumes on Wednesday.