How to Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends and Influence People

As the youngest of seven kids growing up in rural Wisconsin my memory was that we had a lot of some things (strife, bickering, togetherness, chores, beets) and not enough of others (money, harmony, bikes, free time). My dad, who wanted to be George Jefferson but was trapped in the mindset of Archie Bunker was a big fan of the self help/self improvement books, which in the 70s, were just then developing as a full-fledged, if not fully respected genre.

Every day at 6 am breakfast my dad would slam his hand down on the table and say “Dale Carnegie said “every man is just about as happy as he made up his mind he's going to be.” I am pretty sure that wasn't a Dale Carnegie quote, and it was lost on the groggy under ten set, but was consistent with his ardor: this was an every morning tradition.

We were highly encouraged to read Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People as soon as we were cognitively able. My dad would also institute what he called “Dale Carnegie Days” usually on rainy Sundays when our bickering got to be too much. On Dale Carnegie Days if said anything that wouldn't fall under his suggestion of “winning friends” and/or “influencing people” (ie name calling, being critical, talking ill of another person who was not present etc) we had to go to bed 15 minutes early for each of the incidents. I can recall going to bed as early as 4.15 once.

Anyway, nostalgia aside, I think one of the things that How to Win Friends and Influence People taught me was the basic skills needed to get along with people in a positive way. The most common criticism of the book is that Carnegie merely provided a set of manipulation guidelines on how to get people to do what you want. Coupled with Carnegie's reputation as a person likely to lose friends and annoy people, one can draw the conclusion that these pretty basic “techniques” (although it's overstating a bit to call basic people skills techniques) like remembering peoples' names, asking them about themselves, etc. were merely means to an end for him. However, since they are indeed tools, they can be used however the person reading the book wants to. Although human motivation is naturally always mixed, if you employ good people skills for altruistic reasons, that will become eventually obvious. And even if you employ them to get what you want, it doesn't usually hurt people to be treated well.