One of the things I really struggled with in my career, especially when first starting out, was figuring out how to handle all of the different personalities and communication styles. It took me a long time to learn that the only person I could control was me, and that often I was part of the problem. (Unbelievable!)
Realizing that I was not as lovable and easy to deal with as I thought led me to search for a way to change my prognosis. Learning to think more strategically about my interactions changed the game for me. Almost everything I learned came from one of the best-selling self-help books of all time, thanks to the practical and easy-to-apply advice.
Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" was originally published in 1936, and I've been amazed at how effective the advice is eight decades later. After testing it out for myself over the past year, I've been equally amazed at how every step in this book seems to be "common sense," yet so few people seem to take those steps (myself included, prior to reading it).
You know that old adage that 80% of success in a job is your ability to deal with people? Applying the tips from this book proved to me it's true not just for the workplace, but for life in general. For those of you who don't sit in airports with your Kindle for several hours every week, I've synthesized Carnegie's tips below.
#1 Be genuinely interested in other people
If you want others to enjoy your company, you must enjoy theirs. This means develop real friendships. Ask questions. Get to know people. Remember their names! Encourage others to talk about themselves. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. This one was a struggle for me, so I started focusing on asking continued follow up questions and it's amazing how much you can get to know about someone when you just ask. My friend Jocelyn told me that when she first started interviewing, her dad told her: "If you walk out of there and they did most of the talking, you've got it." It's so true!
#2 Give people honest appreciation
Sigmund Freud argued that almost everything that we do stems from a desire to be important. Instilling in others a feeling of being appreciated is the fastest way to feed that desire to be important, and most people are starving for that feeling.
Carnegie notes that giving honest appreciation should not be confused with flattery, which is insincere. Genuine appreciation is specific, and true. The person receiving it can sense the difference.
#3 Talk in terms of the other person's interests
With the exception of your friends and family, most people don't really care what you want. They care about their own interests, what they want and need. Re-frame your interactions to consider what the other person wants, and figure out how to tie up what you want with what they want. This is sort of Sales 101 but works in so many different settings, because it makes the other person happy to do what you suggest.
#4 Give people a fine reputation to live up to
In addition to some of the basics of making people feel like they matter (such as learning and remembering their names), Carnegie suggests that you make the effort to give people a fine reputation to live up to, meaning that you treat them according to their ideal reputation. When someone makes you feel like you're the best-of-the-best, you feel the need to prove them right.
When I was in eighth grade, my language arts teacher pulled me aside after class to talk. She must have sensed how awkward I felt, too skinny with big feet, a bowl cut, glasses, and braces; entrenched in decidedly uncool hobbies that required me to lug around a violin case and a toolbox of all my paint supplies. She told me that I was smart, and someday that would be cool - and told me she would place me in the advanced language arts track for high school if I committed to continuing to work as hard as I did in her class. That conversation that she probably doesn't remember kept me going for years.
#5 Begin all conversations in a friendly way
Even when those are tough conversations or discussions. As Lincoln said, "A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall." I've personally tested this one on tough clients and even at the airport.
Once, I mistakenly booked my return flight from Nice to Chicago for the wrong day (!) and realized it at the airport. British Airways was in the middle of a strike, and the line at the check-in counter was filled with angry travelers. I approached the counter of an extremely agitated agent, and said to him in Kindergarten-level French: "Hello! I need to change my flight. It is all my fault, I booked for the wrong day. You have so many other concerns right now, and I am so sorry to be another bother to you! If it will take too much of your time to fix my mistake, I understand."
Beaming, he replied in English: "No problem at all! Let me see what I can do for you!" I flew home an hour later, in first class. (And wrote to British Airways thanking that agent by name.)
#6 Don't criticize, condemn or complain
At least when at work, or in public. When something isn't going your way, pause instead of allowing your negative impulses to take over. Make an honest attempt to understand where the other person is coming from, and why they do what they do. Finding a way to see things from the other person's point of view helps to diagnose their bad behavior and potentially resolve the problem. Remember that criticism, condemnation, and complaints are essentially unproductive - nothing kills ambition to change faster than these three.
#7 Assume positive intent
In contrast to criticizing, condemning or complaining, assuming positive intent and appealing to nobler motives will never, ever fail. This is one of the hardest to do, but one of the most effective. Carnegie gives so many examples of daily interactions we can improve by drilling this assumption into our subconscious minds.
#8 Understand that you can never, ever "win" an argument
The only way to win one is to avoid it entirely. When someone disagrees with you, don't argue. Instead, follow Dale's tried-and-true steps based on Socrates' 'yes' method:
- Welcome the disagreement
Express thanks that it was brought to your attention. Acknowledge that the disagreement may be an opportunity for you to prevent or correct a serious mistake.
- Distrust your instinctive first impression
Which is to become defensive. This is another area that I struggled with for far too long. Be careful, control your temper, stay calm, and quiet your first reaction. They say you can measure the size of a person by what makes him angry.
- Listen first
Give whomever is disagreeing with you a chance to speak, and let them finish. Don't interrupt, resist or defend yourself as this just builds further disagreement. Remember that you're trying to build a bridge of understanding
- Look for areas of agreement, and be honest
After you've heard the person out, actually say out loud the points that he or she mentioned with which you agree. Look for opportunities to admit your own error and apologize. It will disarm the other person.
- Promise to think over the other person's ideas
And mean it, because they may be right. It's a lot easier to think over their points than to ignore them and then realize they were right down the road.
- Thank the other person sincerely
Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things that you are interested in. Thinking of them as people that want to help you makes things easier.
- Postpone action to give both of you a chance to think things through
Suggest a follow up meeting the next day, and prepare for it by asking yourself hard questions.
#9 Show respect for other people's opinions and ideas
Even if they are terrible ideas, never say "you're wrong." Instead, be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and figure out how to get them to say yes to what you both agree on. Begin with praise, and call attention to mistakes indirectly and privately where possible to let the other person save face. Use encouragement, and make any fault seem very easy to correct.
Calling attention to your own flaws and mistakes before calling attention to other's is also effective in demonstrating respect. One of the best nuggets of wisdom I've gotten from my mom was to consider what Wes has to put up with about me before I judge or criticize him. Hard pill to swallow, but it works.
#10 Admit when you are wrong
And do it quickly and emphatically. Pride does not make you likable or influential, quite the opposite.
Once, I was late submitting a critical report because I was waiting on a (higher-ranking) colleague who didn't give me his inputs despite repeated reminders. I was FURIOUS, then entirely shocked that he admitted fault, cc'ing our boss to admit the blame was on him. Proof enough for me that honesty is disarming; I'll follow him anywhere because of that!
#11 Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers
I once heard an expression that you can accomplish anything on Earth if you don't care who gets the credit. This has been proven to be true over and over again in my career! Carnegie provided a great example in the book, about a colonel named Edward House who is famous for having enormous influence over President Woodrow Wilson.
The method House used on the president was simple:
"After I got to know the President," said House, "I learned the best way to convert him to an idea was to plant it in his mind casually, but so as to interest him in it - so as to get him thinking of it on his own account. The first time this worked was an accident. I had been visiting him at the White House and urged a policy on him which he appeared to disapprove. But several days later, at the dinner table, I was amazed to hear him trot out my suggestion as his own."
#12 Ask questions instead of giving direct orders
Instead of pushing people to accelerate their work and rush to accomplish your objectives, ask them questions: "Is there anything we can do to handle this in a faster way?" or "Can anyone think of a different process that would make this simpler and easier?"
One of my high school best friends, Michelle, has worked as a reporter for years. She once told me a story about this proud but cranky old cameraman who refused to take suggestions from reporters on anything related to the video, which is a huge problem if you want to do a fresh angle or a creative shot.
Michelle approached this cameraman, and asked him for advice: "I know you've been doing this a really long time, and one of the best in the business so I'm hoping you'll give me your perspective. I'm not sure if we have the ability to do the shot this way, but thought you could tell me if it's possible"
His response? "Of course it's possible! Here's what we need to do…"
If you've made it all the way through this post, congratulations and thank you so much for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this list of tips, examples of what's worked well for you when it comes to winning friends and influencing people, or other great books on the topic. Let me know in the comments, or feel free to shoot me an email.