The Art of Relating

By Keith Varnum

I cringed at every loaded word in the title of Dale Carnegie’s celebrated book, How to Win Friends and Influence People! My mother—God bless her!—made me take the Dale Carnegie Training forty years ago when I was in junior high school. The idea that I had to change myself to “win” friends and “influence” people felt manipulative and distasteful to an idealistic teenager. But once I absorbed the authentic attitude of Carnegie’s way of connecting with people, I heartily embraced his approach. He encourages us to “learn to love, respect and enjoy other people.” He emphasizes methods for interacting with people without making them feel manipulated.

The essence of the Dale Carnegie can be captured in this revealing statement:

“Wouldn’t you like to have a magic phrase that would stop argument, eliminate ill feeling, create good will, and make the other person listen attentively? Yes? All right. Here it is. Begin by saying: ‘I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I should undoubtedly feel just as you do.’”

I only now realize how profoundly my life has been molded by those evenings spent with Carnegie’s spirit. I see now that I did assimilate his wisdom on a deep level and have since used his insights every step of my path to success and happiness.

Carnegie’s book might be more accurately entitled “The Art of Relating.”

Awareness of self and awareness of others are his two guiding principles. His sense of “influence” is not about getting our own way. Influence to him is an art. Influence is about seeing a mutually harmonious way to achieve a desired outcome. The heart of Carnegie’s work is about getting excited about others. Carnegie encourages us to see other people as wonderful tapestries adorned with luxurious threads of experiences. At this point techniques cease to be techniques and begin to become a genuine, natural aspect of how we relate to each other.

How was it that Carnegie, son of poor farmers, came to write the ultimate Western advice book?

Dale Carnegie was a pioneer in public speaking and personality development. He became famous by successfully showing others how to become successful. He was born in 1888 in Missouri and educated at a small state teachers college. As a salesman and aspiring actor, he traveled to New York and began teaching communications classes to adults at the YMCA. In 1912, the world-famous Dale Carnegie Course was born. He wrote his now-renowned book How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. His work was an overnight hit and has sold more than 15 million copies. Carnegie had an understanding of human nature that will never be outdated. Carnegie’s tome to people skills is every bit as relevant today as it was when he first wrote this gem. Currently, there are over 2,700 professional instructors that offer the Dale Carnegie Training in more than 75 countries in 25 languages.

Dale Carnegie teaches that life achievement is due to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.” The Carnegie Institute of Technology conducted investigations that found about 15 percent of a person’s financial success is due to technical knowledge; 85 percent is due to skill in human engineering—the ability to lead people. He teaches these skills through underlying principles of dealing with people so that they feel important and appreciated.

For example, if you have employees, co-workers or family members who aren’t doing their duties responsibly, you have many options available to you. You can scold them or hound them. Those of us who have tried this approach find that it rarely works, especially in the long term. Dale explains what techniques do work reliably in these situations. The book expands your roster of options, so that when you hit life challenges, you have a variety of pragmatic, effective tools to apply.

Carnegie is also a master of communication skills.

You feel a human being is talking directly to you. You know that a heartful person wrote this book. He has a crisp, lively style that keeps you involved. He initially engages you in each chapter with practical questions and relevant stories. He’ll first explain the issue, and then give real life examples of how handling the issue properly helped a real person in a real world situation. He illustrates his points with anecdotes of historical figures, leaders of the business world, and everyday folks. His suggestions are all straightforward, simple, doable tactics. Once you practice and master them, they can make a powerful difference in how others interact with you.

How to Win Friends and Influence People! covers several essential areas of everyday life such as arousing enthusiasm among your associates, learning to make friends easily, cultivating positive emotions, being tactful, solving problems, and learning to speak effectively. For over 70 years the rock-solid, time-tested advice in this book has carried thousands of now famous people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives.

The book offers these three “fundamental techniques in handling people” and for building harmonious personal and professional relationships:

1. “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.”

Carnegie emphasizes that criticism is seldom welcome. Criticism puts others on the defensive, hurts self-esteem and builds resentment. Most people don’t respond very well to condemnation or complaint. Positive reinforcement works better. For example, reprimanding soldiers for not wearing their helmets is less effective than reminding them that the hats, although uncomfortable, are designed for their protection.

2. “Give honest and sincere appreciation.”

Give people a feeling of importance. Speak encouragingly of others every chance you get. Think of a few positive things to say about each person you know and then reference those positive attributes when you can.

3. “Arouse in the other person an eager want.”

Get the other person to do what you want them to by arousing their desires. Make the other person interested in you by starting with the qualities that are useful to them. Take a cover letter, for example. Don’t lead with “I want this job.” Instead, begin with something stating your most attractive ability for that job.

Carnegie offers 6 winning “ways to make people like you.”

1. “Become genuinely interested in other people … you’ll be welcome anywhere!”

People are most interested in themselves. If you share that interest, they’ll respond. If you talk to people about themselves, they will keep listening.

2. “Smile. A Simple Way to Make a Good First Impression!”

Greet others with enthusiasm and animation. A smile tells others that you like them and are glad to see them.

3. “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

4. “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

Give others your exclusive attention. Ask pointed questions. Listen to their concerns, and you’ll ease tension and build relationships. Be eager to hear from those who may harbor criticisms about you, however inaccurate those complaints may be. Thank them for bringing up their concerns.

5. “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.”

Translate what you hear into speaking about subjects that appeal to the person talking. Listen for topics that interest them that you know something about. Then go in that direction as a train of conversation. If you know nothing of their interests, try to ask intelligent questions about their interests. Perhaps ask for the story of how they developed those interests.

6. “Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.”

Continually recognizing someone’s expertise and capabilities will make them feel important. They’ll want to demonstrate their expertise by helping you. For instance, give others clear authority over a part of a larger project and help them understand their tangible contributions. They’ll become more committed to the success of the project.

Carnegie suggests that you consciously create a space for cooperation. He presents 12 effective ways to “Win people to your way of thinking.”

1. “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”

Avoid arguments: you can only lose. Most arguments end with each person more certain of his or her opinions and less willing to change them. Even if you win, you hurt the pride of the loser and the loser may resent you for it.

2. “Show respect for the other person’s opinions.”

Carnegie warns that the easiest way to make enemies is to tell people that they‘re wrong. People don’t like to admit even to themselves they may be wrong. Telling others they’re wrong often pushes them to defend—and further embrace—their positions. Instead, say something like, “I never thought of it that way before.” And ask questions—whether or not you feel the position has merit or not.

3. “If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”

Admitting your errors clears guilt and frees everyone to move toward solutions more quickly. Don’t try to hide behind sulking or arrogance because, ultimately, those behaviors don’t lead to the outcome you want.

4. “Begin in a friendly way.”

Often, you have to deliver some unwelcome news. Start off with the positives. In Carnegie’s words: “A Drop of Honey.” Opening conversations with sincere praise, appreciation and/or sympathy will disarm the listener. Beginning with a friendly tone will free the others to be more open-minded. For example, if you have terrible service at an otherwise good restaurant, don’t shout at the manager. Rather tell him the things you did like first, then point out that some service problems may be tarnishing the reputation of the restaurant.

5. “Get the other person saying ‘yes, yes’ immediately.”

Carnegie calls this approach: “The Secret of Socrates.” First emphasize points all parties already agree on. Win one concession after another until, without realizing it, your listener is open to a perspective that he or she would have otherwise fiercely rejected. In today’s information overload, we actively seek to reject information and proposals. Getting others to say yes immediately drives momentum in the direction of acceptance.

6. “Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.”

When people come to you to complain about something, don’t interject or interrupt, or start an argument. Let them blow off their steam. Ask questions to encourage them to speak even more. This will often cause them to vent off most or all of their issue. Others won’t pay attention to you, anyway, until they’ve had their own say.

7. “Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.”

People are more committed to their own ideas. Listen to what they have to say. Then try to incorporate their concepts in your response. In the end, they will feel like the idea is theirs and will come out of the conversation feeling quite positive. It may be in your best interest not to claim any credit.

8. “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.”

Understanding another’s motivation is the key to understanding their decisions and personality. Ask yourself: Why would this person feel this way about the situation?

9. “Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.”

Sometimes someone will come to you with an untenable idea or desire that you simply can’t agree with. In that case, at least show acceptance of the feelings and thoughts that brought the suggestion to bear. Most people hunger for empathy. Empathize truthfully: “If I were you, I’d feel the same way under your circumstances.”

10. “Appeal to the nobler motives.”

Regardless of whether or not you feel a claim is legitimate or not, frame your response in such a way that evokes the person’s fundamental sense of right and wrong, and of fair play.

11. “Dramatize your ideas.”

It helps to make a visual, visceral demonstration of your ideas. If you have a great idea, think of how to incorporate it into a story. Relate it directly to a human experience and tell that story as you’re trying to tell your idea. Connecting the concept to a tale will always make it work. That’s the reason fables stay around for thousands of years.

12. “Throw down a challenge.”

Challenge people’s capabilities and self-perceptions. Get their competitive spirit going. This draws more of their spirit into completing the objective. To a body builder: “Are you strong enough to get the job done?”

The book proposes 9 powerful ways to “Be a Leader:

How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.”

1. “Begin with praise and honest appreciation.”

Mention activities done well before calling attention to failings. Follow up sincere praise with an “and” rather than a “but” before delivering criticism. Otherwise, your praise may seem contrived and artificial. Rather than: “We’re proud of your grades, son, but if you’d tried better in algebra, your grades would be a lot better” try: “We’re proud of your grades, son, and if you keep it up your algebra grades will be even better next semester.”

2. “Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.”

Direct, harsh criticism can destroy incentive to improve. Make suggestions indirectly. For example, rather than pointing out a sales clerk’s inattentiveness toward customers, you might help out customers in full view of the inattentive sales clerk.

3. “Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”

The pain of criticism is easier to bear when you first share your own shortcomings.

4. “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.”

If you involve them in the solution by asking questions, not only will they make the changes, they’ll feel more committed to the solution. For example: “Would it make sense to organize these alphabetically?” instead of direct orders to organize alphabetically.

5. “Let the other person save face.

By not giving the others a chance to avoid embarrassment, they may become defensive and avoid admitting their failings. Damaging someone’s ego builds resentment in the long run. Always try to give criticism in private, not in front of peers. For instance, you might first privately give people the opportunity to correct their mistakes—if they can—before you take action.

6. “Praise the slightest improvement. Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement.”

Praise will reinforce the growth of desired behavior, and bad habits “will atrophy due to lack of attention.”

7. “Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.”

Showing others that you respect their capabilities in some capacity is empowering and earns you their commitment. For example: “Matt, you’ve been such a capable producer in the past, and your recent projects haven’t been up to your old standards.”

8. “Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.”

9. “Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.”

When you ask others to take some action, make sure that they see the connection to things that they pride themselves on. Put the request in a context of bigger goals. Let them see that you see even their simple pieces as a vital part of the success of the whole.

 What is the principal message of this book?

Live the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” How do you do this? Through empathy. Take an interest in other people. Understand their concerns and motives. Give them praise, encouragement and appreciation. Understand that one of the greatest human needs is to feel important and appreciated.

Dale Carnegie’s concept of valuing humanity works as many wonders today as it did in his day. How to Win Friends and Influence People! is a book to be contemplated and practiced. It’s a book that keeps on giving. It’s a book that makes us more compassionate and successful human beings.