I’ve been re-reading Dale Carnegie’s most well-known book lately. If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have, do it again. As a geek, I’m still always a bit embarrassed by the overtly sales-y title (I won’t bother explaining the geeky aversion to such things, but I think it’s fair to state that we’re bothered by that sort of thing more than most) but the content is really just a bunch of different reminders to put other people first.
As a child, many of Carnegie’s ideas were taught to me in condensed form as the Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated. The problem for me, which I am only now beginning to understand, is that not everyone wants to literally be treated the same way I want to be treated. Even if we all want the same things in the end (“the desire to be important”, according to Dr. John Dewey) we envision them differently and we approach them differently. So I’ve been trying to treat people the way they want to be treated, and How to Win Friends… is a really good starting point for figuring that out.
The second half of the title is just as important. Again, for a geek like me, “influencing people” feels dishonest. I think it’s because geeks have a tendency to think in terms of deterministic systems, and if we somehow use our own actions to change the actions of others then we must have somehow co-opted their free will. Carnegie’s phraseology behind the covers is much more comfortable: “How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking”. It’s not a contest, nor is any deception involved; influencing people is about winning them over. The old legal description of a contract as “a meeting of the minds” applies here—talented influencers are merely making sure that the meeting takes place closer to their own end of the table.
The benefit of approaching personal interactions mindfully has been enormous for me. Besides helping me to meet interesting people and make a few sales, it’s also saved me a great deal of stress. Giving “sincere and honest appreciation” stands out so much that people really do remember it the next time they’re tempted to be upset with you, and they find a gentler way of expressing themselves.