How to win friends and influence people

The very same title kept me from reading How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnagie for a long time. The idea that friends can be won and people influenced was something I just could not digest. People (and friends alike) would love me not because of some weird subterfuge, but certainly because of who I was and how I behaved.

The fact is, this book is a must read for everybody who wants to know how to make a relationship work. Any type of relationship, though Carnagie focuses mainly on business relationships.

The message is as simple and commonsensical as it is difficult to put into practice: if you want to have meaningful and satisfying relationships in your life, just forget about yourself.

This does not mean you have to obliterate yourself in the presence of others, or that others can do anything to you and you should just accept it and be greatful for their consideration.

It means that the next time you are talking to somebody, you should stop thinking about what’s the next smart thing you are going to say as soon as they make a pause; you should stop wondering about the fallacies of their argument to counter them with your infallible logic; you should stop telling about how wonderful you are and how they should change to match your worldview.

Instead, you could open to the other person in the conversation, do that genuinely and from the heart, focus on what they are telling you and make sure they walk out of the dialogue with a higher self-esteem they had before joining it.

Few points from the book that really resonated with me. And to some extent changed my approach to relationships.

People are not “creatures of logic”, they are “creatures of emotions”. If we really think that by proving the validity of our argument we will win their hearts, their minds and their actions, we are delusional. In this sense, Carnagie says, “any fool can criticize, condemn and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving”. That’s where true power lies.

Avoid interrupting others, even if it is to share an incredible idea you just had while they were talking. Leave them space to talk about themselves, and be sure you are interested and listening. At some point in my career, I realised how I had stopped asking people how they were when meeting them, probably because at some unconscious level I was not interested in knowing that. I have changed course, also thanks to this recommendation. Now, when I get asked “how are you?”, I try to keep my answer as short and to the point as possible, and then ask back “and what about you instead?”. And I listen to the answer, carefully.

I have mentioned this next point already once in my blog, and I consider it my personal key take away from reading How to win friends and influence people.

You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it.

Have you ever been so passionately and unconditionally convinced by somebody else who just proved you wrong, to go as far as changing your mind, and actually liking the person? Of course not, and others as well do not appreciate being told they are wrong. Again, this does not mean you should abandon all your opinions and ideas. It just means that it’s not by arguing that you will have other people’s goodwill. Finding common ground and moving forward together is a much better and more sensitive approach.

And finally, give praise to others. Not generic “good job”. Tell them that for sure, and also why they did a good job, what you were impressed with, why, why it is important and what would that mean to you if they would do it again. We love to be praised, and yet we find it so difficult to praise others. Make it a daily habit, if needed, and get used to it so much so that it becomes natural and genuine.

Being wrong

There is a beautiful Ted Talk by Kathryn Schultz about being wrong.

The most interesting part starts at 3:54. It is about what being wrong feels like. There is first a significant distinction between “being wrong” and “realising to be wrong”. Then Kathryn Schultz ends the argument by saying that, while after the realisation we might feel “embarassed”, “dreadful”, and completely down, in the very moment we are wrong, the feeling is very much different.

It does feel like something to be wrong; it feels like being right.

Kathryn Schultz

We are all confident we are right about many different aspects of life, and the funny thing is the more we are, the more we try to convince others of our view. Others that, from their perspective, are absolutely right about everything.

It is an endless fight, one with no winners. To paraphrase Dale Carnagie, there is only one possible outcome to any argument. If you lose it, you lose it. If you win it, you lose it.

Nobody will ever look at you as a saviour, the one who came enlighten their path that was previously dark and full of terror. Approaching life and business from an oppositional perspective (right vs. wrong) is preparing us for a lonely and frankly boring journey.

Leaders know they don’t know, and know that the little they know today might be completely wrong by tomorrow. Finding new ways, exploring new stories, embracing the unknown, and accompanying people along, is the work of leaders.