Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book Recommendation: How To Win Friends and Influence People

I'm finally reading How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, which has been on my list for a year now. So far, I'm completely loving it, and I understand why it has remained so popular for most of a century.

Here is how the book works. I'll use Chapter 3 as an example.

Each chapter begins with a straightforward claim about successful socialization.

The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.

It then goes through many concrete examples, some taken from famous bits of history, others from students in the author's classes or from his own experiences.

At one time I rented the grand ballroom of a certain New York hotel for twenty nights in each season in order to hold a series of lectures.
At the beginning of one season, I was suddenly informed that I should have to pay almost three times as much rent as formerly. This news reached me after the tickets had been printed and distributed and all announcements had been made. 
Naturally, I didn't want to pay the increase, but what was the use of talking to the hotel about what I wanted? They were interested only in what they wanted. So a couple of days later I went to see the manager.
'I was a bit shocked when I got your letter,' I said, 'but I don't blame you at all. If I had been in your position, I should probably have written a similar letter myself. Your duty as the manager of the hotel is to make all the profit possible. If you don't do that, you will be fired and you ought to be fired. Now, let's take a piece of paper and write down the advantages and the disadvantages that will accrue to you, if you insist on this increase in rent.'
Then I took a letterhead and ran a line through the center and headed one column 'Advantages' and the other column 'Disadvantages.' 
I wrote down under the head 'Advantages' these words: 'Ballroom free.' Then I went on to say: 'You will have the advantage of having the ballroom free to rent for dances and conventions. That is a big advantage, for affairs like that will pay you much more than you can get for a series of lectures. If I tie your ballroom up for twenty nights during the course of the season, it is sure to mean a loss of some very profitable business to you.
Now, let's consider the disadvantages. First, instead of increasing your income from me, you are going to decrease it. In fact, you are going to wipe it out because I cannot pay the rent you are asking. I shall be forced to hold these lectures at some other place.
There's another disadvantage to you also. These lectures attract crowds of educated and cultured people to your hotel. That is good advertising for you, isn't it? In fact, if you spent five thousand dollars advertising in the newspapers, you couldn't bring as many people to look at your hotel as I can bring by these lectures. That is worth a lot to a hotel, isn't it?' 
As I talked, I wrote these two 'disadvantages' under the proper heading, and handed the sheet of paper to the manager, saying: 'I wish you would carefully consider both the advantages and disadvantages that were going to accrue to you and then give me your final decision.'
I received a letter the next day, informing me that my rent would be increased only 50 percent instead of 300 percent.
Mind you, I got this reduction without saying a word about what I wanted. I talked all the time about what the other person wanted and how he could get it.
Suppose I had done the human, natural thing; suppose I had stormed into this office and said, 'What do you mean by raising my rent three hundred percent when you know the tickets have been printed and the announcements made? Three hundred percent! Ridiculous! Absurd! I won't pay it!'
What would have happened then? An argument would have begun to steam and boil and sputter--and you know how arguments end. Even if I had convinced him that he was wrong, his pride would have made it difficult for him to back down and give in.

Interspersed are actionable instructions summarizing the methods illuminated by the examples.

Tomorrow you may want to persuade somebody to do something. Before you speak, pause and ask yourself: 'How can I make this person want to do it?'

Each chapter concludes with a concise statement of the principle discussed.
Arouse in the other person an eager want.

I do have one worry about this book.

Up through my first year of college, I was mostly horrible with people, and I was proud of it. I didn't like people, I didn't want them to like me, and suggestions that being nice would make things easier offended me. I was cold and arrogant. I did seem to have a surprising amount of a certain kind of social success anyway, for I was always leading groups of various sorts, and people always insisted that my leadership was irreplaceable when I spoke of leaving. But my domain of social success was severely limited, and I was crippled by that.

I began to change when I finally concluded that my extreme arrogance would prevent me from befriending a worthy peer in the unlikely event that I might encounter one in college. I certainly didn't decide to become "good with people", but the resolution to become less arrogant, and my subsequent success (yes, believe it or not, I'm vastly less arrogant than once I was), began a success spiral that led me into a growth mindset where dramatic change seemed possible.

Toward the beginning of my second year of college, I decided to get very good at socialization. It was a time in my life when I was terribly excited to dive into Impossible Projects, and this was one. And I'm still in the midst of this one, but I've come a long way. I still have a few gaping holes in my social education. But I've taken the project seriously, and I really have learned a lot.

Recently, I began working on an essay summarizing what I've learned. The principles I've so far outlined are very nearly identical to those set forth in Carnegie's book.

Therefore, while reading this book, I respond to most of what he says with a feeling of, "Yes!!! This is so obviously right. Why didn't anyone ever explain this to me back when I needed it?"

There was a period of a few years between when I began the project and when I gained sufficient proficiency to generate these principles on my own when this book might have given me a giant boost. I might have shot ahead by as much as three years if it were perfectly timed. But before that period, it would have been useless to me. It would have been an imposition, one more person telling me the Right Way To Live as though I had any inclination to mar my personal aesthetic with their ugly morality. I wouldn't even have had the capacity to understand what "Give honest, sincere appreciation" meant.

So my worry is this. I don't know to what extent people might be able to use this book to actually grow rather than to merely feel either validated or offended.

I do suspect, however, that there exist many people in precisely the right stage of social development to benefit enormously. If you think you might be receptive to the sort of advice given above, I wholeheartedly recommend that you read How To Win Friends and Influence People, and in fact I suggest that you move it as near the top of your reading list as you can possibly stand.

These principles are powerful. When understood and practiced, they change everything, including your efficiency in accomplishing the things you'll waste a lot of time on before reading this book if you put it off. And I do think there's a good chance that reading the book will lead you to practice the principles, and thereby to understand them.

The Kindle version is $2.99, and it's a quick read. You'll know by the third chapter if it's for you.