Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people” was one of the earliest books based on interpersonal skills. It became a huge hit as soon as it was published in 1937 and sold over 15 million copies. Many famous and successful people have attributed their success – both professional and personal – to this book containing the time-tested advice of Dale Carnegie. The success of this book almost made Dale Carnegie an icon of 20th century America. His simple, yet effective, techniques for winning friends and influencing people have proven enduring and become part of the American culture. The author, Dale Carnegie and his publishers, Simon and Schuster did not expect this book to be such a huge success. They had initially released only 5000 copies of the book. But when the big became a sensational success, they had to print more and more copies. The book soon founds its place in publishing history as one of the all-time international best-sellers. Because of this resounding success, the phrase “How to Win Friends and Influence People” became much quoted, paraphrased and parodied, and used in many cartoons and novels. The simple truths in the book were relevant to all generations and hence the book is of universal appeal. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” tapped into the insatiable hunger for self-improvement and success in the American psyche. The book is informative, authoritative, conversational, and entertaining.
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Popularity of the Book
Dale Carnegie came from a poor background. However, he achieved great fame during his lifetime for his book ‘How to win friends and influence people’. He faced many ups and downs in his career. But after attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, he became a great motivational speaker in America who also offered training programs in public speaking. Carnegie’s success as a trainer made him expand his subject to human relationships and leadership. He sought to provide a text to his popular course. How to Win Friends and Influence People was to be that text. In this book, Carnegie lays out a few rules to maximize the benefits of the book: “read every chapter twice before going to the next one”; “underscore each important idea”; “review the book each month”; “keep notes in the back of this book showing how and when you applied these principles.” All of these helped in making the book very popular with the masses who desperately wanted to achieve success.
One the main factors that contributed to the success of the book was that Dale Carnegie had a deep understanding of human nature.. The core values of Dale Carnegie as evinced in the book are well described by two of his most famous maxims: “Believe that you will succeed, and you will,” and “Learn to love, respect and enjoy other people.” He appealed to the nobler motives of the people whom he addressed. He wanted them to be sincere in their relationships. His words were practical without being preachy. In this book he points to the fact that even among technical people such as engineers, the highest paid were those who had along with technical knowledge, the ability to express their ideas, assume leadership and influence people. Carnegie attributed financial success of professionals to 15 percent to professional knowledge and 85 percent to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.” Dale Carnegie analyzes common inadequacies that people face in real life and elicits various principles that might be used to overcome such inadequacies through simple maxims and techniques. According to Carnegie, by following simple strategies, success may be achieved in both the professional and personal levels. He explains the why of human behavior and motivates the readers to use their own understanding to improve their interpersonal skills and self-esteem. The underlying principle of Dale Carnegie’s book is that people should be made to feel important and appreciated. He also emphasizes fundamental techniques for handling people without making them feel manipulated.
The book is written in a casual breezy style that is intensively exuberant, colloquial and conversational. It has colorful illustrative stories and simple well phrased rules. In the book, Dale Carnegie encourages people to learn the six ways to make people like you, the twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking, etc The book is structured and has four sections: ‘Fundamental Techniques in Handling People’; ‘Six ways to make people like you’; ‘Win people to your way of thinking”; and Be a Leader: How to Change People without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment’ (Carnegie, 1937).
According to Carnegie, the fundamental techniques of handling people involve avoiding criticism and complaints and utilizing sincere appreciation and encouragement. Carnegie feels that to become likeable and popular, one must acquire a genuine interest in people, smile, address people by their names; listen well, and allow them to voice their views. To win people over, Carnegie suggests avoiding arguments, respecting other person’s opinions, admitting faults, being friendly, getting the other person to agree, allowing the other person to express and being dramatic and empathetic. He also suggests appealing to nobler motives. Initiating change is often a part of the leader’s job and Carnegie says that to initiate change, the person must begin with praise and appreciation. Only by using tactful persuasion skills, a person can be made to change. They should be made aware of their mistakes in a subtle manner and every improvement towards change should be appreciated and encouraged. Using such tactics can make the other person happy about the changes. Carnegie says you can make someone want to do what you want them to by seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view and “arousing in the other person an eager want.” Carnegie uses plenty of anecdotes of historical figures, leaders of the business world, and everyday folks to justify and explain his arguments. This book offered the public a framework for being objective. In simple, yet powerful words, Carnegies said: “Remember, happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think” (Carnegie, 1937). He encouraged positive thinking: “Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition, is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have” (Carnegie, 1937). He was practical: “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep”. He offered encouragement and hope: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all” (Carnegie, 1937). He motivated them to take risks in life: “Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes the furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare” (Carnegie, 1937). It was his common sense approach that appealed to the masses.
The book was not without its critics. Many critics felt that the maxims of Dale Carnegie were aimed at manipulating people. The book taught that friendship can be achieved and people can be changed in desirable ways through certain manipulative techniques. Some people felt that such techniques are inherently degrading because to use them in a planned fashion means that you are treating other people as a means to get what you want rather. Good people naturally use the methods taught by Dale Carnegie. They are naturally empathetic, sympathetic, remember names and have a genuine interest in people. However, teaching these techniques to people and making them act according to these principles is a means to an end and sounds selfish. Maurice R. Berube accuses the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as one that simplifies the complexities of leadership and the dynamics of human potential thereby causing more disservice than a service (Berube, 2000). Berube further criticizes Carnegie for not including mention of character or moral compass in his advice for making friends. Carnegie’s proposition that a leader should be one who knows “how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment” is seen as emphasis on self-effacement (Berube, 2000).
Despite these criticisms, people loved reading his book, because it fulfilled a certain need – a need to be trained in the fine art of getting along with people in everyday business and social contacts. Carnegie rightly said: ‘dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face, especially if you are in business. Yes, and that is also true if you are a housewife, architect or engineer” (Carnegie, 1937). According to a survey by the University of Chicago and the United Y.M.C.A. Schools conducted it was found that health is of prime concern to people and their second concern was regarding people – how to understand and get along with people, how to make people like you and how to influence them to one’s way of thinking (Carnegie, 1937). Dale Carnegie based his research on various resources such as newspaper columns, magazine articles, records of the family courts, the writings of the old philosophers, the new psychologists, biographies of great leaders like Julius Caesar and Theodore Roosevelt, and interviews of successful people like Marconi, Edison, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Owen D. Young, Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, etc. (Carnegie, 1937). Due to the extensive research this book can be considered an inspirational personal development guide that addresses the evolving needs of an ever-growing public.
Carnegie’s techniques may be considered old fashioned as it was published in the 1930s. When the world and the people in the world are facing many changes on their personal front and in their professional front, how can a book written in the 1930s be relevant? Carnegie’s book was based on study of human nature and hence the findings will be true as long as human nature remains the same. Today, in the modern world, the consumer is the king as he is loaded with information. There is a great deal of competition in marketing to capture the interest of the consumer. Dale Carnegie’s beliefs and sales models continue to capture the mainstream audience for sales professionals. The seller’s job is to influence, convince, or persuade the buyer to buy the seller’s product. Only by careful information positioning – appropriate pitches, presentations, ads, campaigns, marketing strategies, layouts, commercials – a buyer will recognize that they need a product. Robb K. White, territory manager for W. W. Grainger, Inc., Knoxville, Tennessee, who had the sales class in 1994, said: “First and foremost, the Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends & Influence People, has been a massive benefit to my selling career. I am currently averaging a ‘reread’ of it once a year” (Plum, 2000). Thus the need for interpersonal communication has only increased the world over.
Even the medical fraternity is paying increasing importance to the art of doctor-patient communication. Hewlett-Packard is a successful company of recent times that is run on the foundation of “11 simple rules from David Packard”. These eleven rules include thinking of the other person first, building up the other person’s sense of importance, respecting the other person’s views, appreciating, avoiding criticism, appealing to nobler motives, understanding the other person, paying attention to small things such as smiling, greeting people, remembering names, etc and finally, developing a genuine interest in people. These rules are strikingly similar to the principles of Dale Carnegie. Hence his views cannot be considered old fashioned (Biggin, 2007). His major arguments such as one should avoid arguments whenever possible, cannot be refuted. The command that one should listen to others and let them talk about themselves is crucial to being liked. These simple views are based on human nature and hence he is relevant even today.
Founded in 1912, Dale Carnegie Training operates successfully from offices worldwide (DCT, 2006). It is a performance based training company. Dale Carnegie Training offers programs to business people to help sharpen their interpersonal skills and improve their performances. Over seven million people have taken Dale Carnegie Training courses and are conducted in 75 countries and 29 languages (DCT, 2006). With over 30 million copies of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ sold around the globe, the success of this book is sufficient proof that Dale Carnegie’s principles for understanding and explaining human nature are still relevant today as they were in 1936. Many corporations are benefiting from the in-depth corporate training courses offered by Dale Carnegie Training Institute. Jim Kessler, HR Director of Weis Markets, Inc., a large regional grocery chain with diverse employees, reports that the company is having a very solid year due to Dale Carnegie’s Training programs. “Dale Carnegie helped us to institute the understanding that the better we take care of our internal customer, the better we’ll take care of our external customer. The impact of the training shows on our bottom line” (DCT, 2006). Dale Carnegie Training’s corporate specialists help in designing solutions to maximize employees’ potential. The Dale Carnegie principles also offer public training classes, seminars in leadership, communication, sales and presentations to improve soft skills the world over (DCT, 2006).
The world today values people skills as never before. The significance of working relationships in the context of a company’s success has been widely discussed for the past many years. However, it is more deeply realized today. In the words of Peter Handal, chairman, president and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, “It has been made overwhelmingly apparent that the words of Mr. Dale Carnegie are universal, inventive and applicable, even 70 years later. With all my travels from business meetings in China to sales conferences in India, I have found that ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ still maintains international recognition and impact”. This is proof enough that the book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie is definitely not outdated and does not encourage manipulation of people.
Biggin, R. (2007). Dale Carnegie’s first ten tips from “How to win Friends and influence people”. Dancing in the Rain. Issue 10.
DCT (Dale Carnegie Training) (2006). “How To Win Friends and Influence People” Celebrates 70th Anniversary.
Carnegie, D. (1937). How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon and Schuster. Rev Sub edition 1981.
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Berube, B. M. (2000). Eminent Educators: Studies in Intellectual Influence. Greenwood Press. Westport, CT. 2000.
Plum, L.S. (2000). Underwriting 101: Selling College Radio. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, NJ. 2000. Page Number: 49.