How To Win Friends

I recently read Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic How To Win Friends and Influence People. I had long heard of it, and long had a vaguely negative impression. I think I presumed the book was to help insincere salespeople and glad-handlers manipulate folks. Since I was sincere, it didn’t apply to me.

Reading the book itself, however, I find that it is well-written, and quite valid, general, and sincere. It gives sound advice on how to actually make people really like you. Furthermore I notice: there is little in the book that most people don’t already know. Winning friends is obvious: be nice, pay attention, figure out what they want and get it for them. People are pretty self-centered, so you mostly win them by making them feel important and good about themselves.

I’ll also bet that reading the book actually helps people win more friends, even when they already know it all. Because we usually make up comforting excuses about why people don’t like us. Others feel jealous of us, are rivals to us for something, have been biased by slander from rivals, etc. And it is comforting to assume that folks who succeed must be insincere manipulators. Reading the book reminds us that winning friends is straightforward, but takes a lot of work, work that we just don’t usually put in.

One story in the book was about a US president who won over someone by spending lots of time on them, in part by making the Federal Reserve Board wait an extra thirty minutes. Which makes clear that there is a budget constraint: you can’t lavish all that attention on everyone.

The book gives lots of examples of folks who succeeded by using his principles to make particular others like them. But a bigger key to their success, I suspect, is knowing who exactly to woo when. Invest a lot in winning the wrong friends and you won’t have much to show for it. And since part of what people want from friends is status, if you don’t have enough to offer, you might just be out of luck.

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  • It’s the #1 selling self-help book for a reason. It’s basically right on the mark.

    Warren Buffett attributes much of his success to reading the book in his younger years and always applying the principles throughout his life.

    • Poelmo

      Don’t fall for it. Just ask yourself how many publishers and editors would be interested in publishing the stories of the 9999 people who also read the book but ended up as regular joes? As to Warren Buffett, he’s one part bright and one part f*cking lucky, like most rich people. He might as well have attributed his financial success to his lucky underwear.

      • All what you said is probably true but that does not mean that he would have been as successful with reading the book.

  • Hamish MacEwan

    Invest a lot in winning the wrong friends and you won’t have much to show for it.

    A better definition of insincere manipulation I have yet to see.

    • John David Galt

      What’s insincere about it? Everyone chooses his friends by what he expects to gain out of knowing them. The only difference between people in this regard are (1) what counts as “gain” for each person and (2) whether each of us is honest with himself about the fact of his own selfishness.

  • Ah – but that’s how you get status. Win high-status friends by giving them other things (anything from good ideas to sex…), and their status rubs off on you.

  • John Maxwell

    I think the basic idea of focusing on what actually makes you likable is a good one, but I also think that people have become more sophisticated in their social interactions since the book was written, so you really have to mentally rewrite it for the modern era.

  • Simone Simonini

    As a contrarian, you might be interested in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People which is now out in a new paperback edition.

  • S

    I found this book in second hand book stall at a school fundraising fete when I was about ten. At the time I was the kid in my year that nobody liked and everybody called a rude name that I really hated.
    One of the chapters in the book is about going to the trouble to remember people’s names and making an effort to use them. I noticed that most of the kisd at school used nicknames for each other, not necesarily derogative, just not their given name. So I took the advice and started to say hello to everyone in my year by name.
    By the end of the year I had gotten everyone in my class to use my name instead of the rude name, and by the end of the next year the rude name had pretty much disappeared. In high school walking from class to class I would say hello to everyone by name. After a couple of years everyone would be saying hello to me, even if I wasn’t saying hello that day, and even if they said hello to nobody else.
    By the end of high school I was voted onto the School Representative Council and became the vice president (overcoming the football captain’s popularity to be president was a than I could manage).
    That book is the most useful book that I have ever read.

    • lemmy caution

      Thanks for your story. This is a good book, but I never thought of giving it to my kids to read. That might be a good idea.

      The book has a remarkable combination of a clear-eyed view of how people are, there rationalizations and weaknesses, along with real optimism and sympathy for others.

  • I think your point in the last paragraph is generally incorrect.

    As a specific point, and for a specific goal in mind, obviously you use a targeted approach. If you sell equipment to electrical contractors, you go talk to electrical contractors.

    But as a general life approach, I think Taleb in the Black Swan has the better point. If you go out and meet interesting people, and you meet enough of them , you will get the unexpected (positive black swan) opportunity that you would not be able to anticipate.

    The other important point he made was to seize the opportunities that you were offered – truly good fortune is rarer than people expect.

  • Lord

    If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything at all. How easy to learn and hard to follow.

  • Thanatos Savehn

    Years ago my law firm paid for all the new associates including me to attend the Dale Carnegie course. I assumed it was lame as did the rest of my peers. We figured the book was written for Fuller Brush salesmen-in-waiting drones. We had to go if we wanted to get our bonuses so we went. And we read the book. Otherwise “no $1,000 for you!!!”.

    To this day I credit it with being able to speak forcefully in public and with being able to remember names. I can still see in my mind’s eye BARBara RoseIn(en)Bloom and the others in the class. My fellow 1L, who was then like a mouse, always hugging the walls when he walked the halls, has long since walked tall – the “Daisy Mae! Oh Daisy Mae! I just wanna squeeeeeez ya Daisy Mae!!! exercise having exorcised his fear of public speaking.

    Anyway, I thought it was corny going in and for years never said much about it for fear of being thought a grasping clown; but somehow, some way, it gave me a voice I didn’t know I had. I’d guess it added about 8 figures to my lifetime earnings.

    • jc

      @Thanatos: Yeah, I agree that the course is good. Even though folks probably do pretty much already know most of what’s in the book before reading it (at least intuitively), there’s a difference b/w merely knowing or having read about something and continually applying it. Reading about playing the piano and actually practicing the techniques you read about are different things, the combination being far more effective than the former alone.

      @Robin: Btw, since I don’t know where else to put it, have you seen this? Someday far away we may refer to it when discussing the rights of ems. (Ok, here’s the tie-in to this post: Carnegie’s principles may be programmed into their brains.)!

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  • Capt. Craig

    Many years ago I took my seat on an airliner and a minute or so later a well dressed man of about my own age, mid thirties, place his bag in the overhead bin and took his seat next to me with “The book” in his hand. Noticing the title I decided to remain quiet, I am normally very friendly and am the first one to strike up a conversation.
    After two hours of silent flying we landed and my fellow traveler who had spent the whole time engrossed with Dale’s bon mots even to the point of highlighting certain passages, rose and as we departed I said to him, ” I can’t believe how powerful that book is, you have influenced me profoundly and you can count on me as a friend for life.”
    The look on his face was priceless. I turned, walked away, wondering how large and useless his self help library was.

    • lemmy caution

      You sure made him feel bad about himself.

    • Young Money

      Good job

  • Young Money

    If being nice and caring about people matters so much, then how come all of the coolest people in history with the most women were complete jerks?

  • Bruno Coelho

    It’s assume we have social skills to discover what people want.

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