Originally published in 1936, How to Win Friends and Influence People was the first best-selling self-improvement book and it’s one of the definitive books on the subject.
Dale Carnegie wrote it in a very different time (and not to mention, a very different world), yet it’s amazing how relevant the lessons in this book remain today.
Since the book is so old and relatively short in length, it’s easy to take it for granted, but it holds dozens of nuggets of wisdom and has had an immeasurable cultural impact. (It's even spawned a film and written parody called, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.)
In How to Win Friends, Carnegie does a brilliant job covering the subjects of communication, psychology, sales, and self-improvement all in one book.
However, the area where I feel this book especially shines is leadership, so that’s going to be the primary focus of this summary.
As outlined by Dale Carnegie, here are the twelve things you'll gain from this book:
- Get you out of a mental rut, give you new thoughts, new visions, new ambitions.
- Enable you to make friends quickly and easily.
- Increase your popularity.
- Help you to win people to your way of thinking.
- Increase your influence, your prestige, your ability to get things done.
- Enable you to win new clients, new customers.
- Increase your earning power.
- Make you a better salesman, a better executive.
- Help you to handle complaints, avoid arguments, keep your human contacts smooth and pleasant.
- Make you a better speaker, a more entertaining conversationalist.
- Make the principles of psychology easy for you to apply in your daily contacts.
- Help you to arouse enthusiasm among your associates.
Carnegie lists nine principles to being a great leader -- or in his words, how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment.
Thousands of books have been written on the subject of leadership since Carnegie published this book, but I gotta say, I think he had it figured out before everyone else.
Let's go through the 9 principles in more detail.
Principle #1: Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
No one likes to hear negative feedback, but critical feedback is necessary for improvement -- especially in the workplace.
The best way to soften the blow is to lead with a compliment before delivering your critique.
For example, let’s say you’re working with a designer to create a new website for your brand and what they’ve presented you with looks a little generic.
You could first compliment the elements that you love and draw attention to everything good about it. Then let them know that you’re looking for something that stands out more and offer specific examples of what you mean.
Since you led with compliments, they won’t feel discouraged and will have a positive attitude when doing revisions.
Although not mentioned in the book, this is where you should consider using the “sandwich technique,” where you sandwich the criticism between two compliments. So you open the conversation with a compliment, drop in the critical message, and close the conversation with a compliment.
The sandwich technique is one of the simplest ways to avoid resentment from colleagues and employees.
Principle #2: Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
Most of us are ineffective when we critique people, even if we do implement the sandwich technique from principle #1. What do we do?
“You’ve been doing a great job this week on closing sales, but a couple of customers have complained that you were too pushy.”
We all hate hearing that “but”, yet that doesn’t stop us from saying it to others.
As soon as we hear the word “but” we immediately recognize the praise as an opener for criticism. Carnegie suggests changing the “but” to “and” to change criticism into encouragement.
Take a look at the difference:
“You’ve been doing a great job this week on closing sales, and if you can manage to soften your approach a bit you’re going to be killing it without getting any complaints.”
Which one would you rather hear?
Principle #3: Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
This is something I’ve always been bad about. (See what I did there?)
Seriously though, after seeing this principle applied, I’ve noticed a big difference in the way people respond to criticism.
No one likes to be lectured or preached at. We are much more susceptible to criticism when we the person giving it isn’t sitting on a pedestal.
Carnegie mentions an example in his book where he had hired his niece to be his secretary and then found himself extremely frustrated with the amount of mistakes she made.
But then, he realized that he was expecting her to have the same judgments he had, despite the fact that he had decades more of business experience than she did.
He assured her that her mistakes were no worse than mistakes he had made and then asked what she had learned.
When we allow ourselves to be empathetic, we take on more of a mentor role than a “boss” role and have a positive influence on our employees.
Principle #4: Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
The same way that no one likes criticism, most of us naturally don’t like taking orders. Asking someone to do something is more effective because it gives them a choice.
Your team is not just a group of task-takers after all; they're experts themselves.
Consider this example: "Get this done by five" vs "Can you have this done by five?"
The first sounds cold and rigid, the second gives your employee an opportunity to give their input on the project and timeline.
Instead of telling someone not to do something, ask them if they’ve considered the better option.
This allows them to feel that they helped come up with the solution, even if you were urging them in a particular direction.
It’s a subtle change, but it makes a big difference.
Principle #5: Let the other person save face.
“I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Just because we disagree with someone doesn’t mean it’s okay to belittle them.
When you’re going to deliver criticism, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself, how would you like to be approached in this situation?
Avoid delivering bad news publicly or humiliating the person in any way.
Not only is this just a terrible thing to do, but it will negatively impact how others perceive you. This sort of behavior can ruin a company culture.
Regardless of what the person is being approached about, you want to show respect for them.
Principle #6: Praise every improvement.
Offering praise is one of the simplest ways to have a positive influence on people, yet we often overlook it.
It’s easy to find fault in others and take their good qualities for granted. However, good leadership brings out the best in everyone around you.
Offering lavish praise encourages people to keep improving and it makes them feel good about themselves.
Allowing your team to feel great about their successes keeps them motivated and makes them want to accomplish more.
The key here is that your praise needs to be genuine.
Fake compliments are weak. Be sincere and specific and avoid offering advice or criticism at the same time.
While the sandwich technique is effective, it has a time and a place. Sometimes it's best to offer praise and let your team enjoy the moment.
The last thing you want to do is rain on someone's parade or belittle their achievement.
Principle #7: Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
This is one of my absolute favorite lessons in this book.
As a leader, treat people as if they were already the person you want them to be. In other words, if you want someone to be a manager, show them the trust you would one of your managers.
You will be amazed at how people respond when you show them respect and speak highly of them.
Just think about it from your own perspective. What if your boss told everyone that you never let him down and you’re one of the most reliable people he’s ever met?
All of a sudden you’ve got a reputation to live up to. You're not only flattered, but you're also inspired to keep and even improve that perspective.
Principle #8: Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
"Be liberal with your encouragement, make the thing seem easy to do, let the other person know that you have faith in his ability to do it, that he has an undeveloped flair for it - and he will practice until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel." -- Dale Carnegie
It’s one thing to tell someone that they’re a failure; it’s another to relay the message that there's always room for improvement.
As Carnegie explains, criticism is discouraging when we feel that our efforts are hopeless. Let people know that even if they have a shortcoming, there are ways to turn it around.
As you earn the respect of your peers, you also earn a great power.
The more others respect you, the more your encouragement means to them, and the more your faith in them helps them push through challenges.
Principle #9: Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.
The final key to being a leader and helping people change willingly is to make the person happy about doing what we want them to do.
Offering incentives, praise, and authority are great ways to make people happy about doing what you suggest.
Carnegie suggests we keep these guidelines in mind:
- Be sincere. Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.
- Know exactly what you want the other person to do.
- Be empathetic. Ask yourself what it is the other person really wants.
- Consider the benefits that person will receive from doing what you suggest.
- Match those benefits to the person’s wants.
- When you make your request, put it in a form that will convey to the other person the idea that he personally will benefit.
There’s a reason why these principles have stood the test of time. As you implement these 9 principles into your daily life, they’ll eventually become second-nature. You'll not only become a better leader, but you'll find yourself being considered a better friend and person as a whole.