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Book Review: How To Win Friends And Influence People

If you're looking to improve your social skills, you've probably heard about "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Find out in this review if it's worth your time to read.
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First Impressions

When I picked up “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” I was skeptical. But chapter one is a fun read, packed full of interesting stories demonstrating the first principle: “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.” In my experience, this advice is overlooked by many (most) people, so from there, I was hooked.

I’d avoided this book for so long because the title sounds icky, like a soap salesman. After all, I don’t want to “win friends” and “influence people”—I want healthy, authentic relationships! Many reviews say this book simply teaches you how to be a people pleaser. While I can see this as one interpretation, I think that ignores the key advice Carnegie says over and over: be genuine and honest in your interactions.

The main takeaway of the book is that if you treat others well and respect them as individuals, then people will like you. If you’re mean and force people to do things your way, then you’re going to damage your relationships.

Background Context

Author Bio:

Dale Carnegie grew up on a farm in Missouri and, after becoming a salesman and a brief stint in theater, started teaching courses on self-improvement, public speaking, and human relations.

Publish Date:

1981 revised edition, originally published in 1936

When Carnegie wrote this book, he was teaching courses on public speaking when he realized his students “needed more training in the fine art of getting along with people”. After looking for a textbook on human relations to supplement his lessons, he found nada. 

So after hundreds of hours of research: reading biographies, psychology books, and newspaper articles; interviewing successful people; and teaching and revising these methods in his courses, he developed the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

"How to Win Friends and Influence People" Review

The pros

First of all, the book comes with instructions on how to make the best use of the book. This is helpful because, like most books that focus on self-improvement, it’s not enough to read it once. This is about learning techniques to improve social relations, implementing them in your life, and refining them over time. Like most books, there’s a lot to learn.

My favorite part about “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is the wide selection of stories that it draws on. Famous people, personal anecdotes, and from the everyday lives of Carnegie’s students, exemplifies how accessible and effective each of his strategies is. The stories are both relatable and flexible enough for a variety of situations.

Carnegie’s writing style is engaging and easy to understand since he writes in a conversational voice, no doubt because this book is derived from years of lectures on the topic. In fact, I got so drawn into reading this book that I would read it instead of a science fiction novel I’d just started. Despite it being in written format, his charisma shines through the pages, building trust and rapport with the reader. By using historical figures, like Abraham Lincoln to Al Capone, every point is strikingly illustrated and illuminating to read.

The book is organized and broken down into easy-to-digest pieces so you can quickly find what you’re looking for on a second or third read. There are four parts: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People; Six Ways to Make People Like You; How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking; and Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.

Every chapter that makes focuses on one, specific principle as if it were a lecture itself and follows the basic format: introduction, explanation, and review. Each of these principles is then summarized in one sentence at the end of the chapter for your benefit, proving Carnegie’s expertise at teaching. And following each part, there’s a list of every point covered.

Carnegie provides great entertainment and educational material that anyone can understand.

the Cons

As I mentioned, the title was a big turn off for me since it sounds so salesman-life. I ended up avoided this book for years, but I wish I (and many others) had learned to behave this way from elementary school.

When I told people what I was reading, they all looked at me with a bemused expression. I realized that many people I know don’t pick up this book for the same reason. Let’s be honest, for a lot of us “How to Win Friends and Influence People” doesn’t sound like it fits our needs. I recently told a friend that the book should be called, “How to Treat People With Respect and Common Decency.” Because, in my opinion, both of those seem to be in short supply nowadays.

That being said, there are some chapters that ring a little too manipulative to me, especially in part three, “How to Win Others to Your Way of Thinking.” Specifically, the chapters on letting someone think the idea is his or her own, getting people to agree with you first and then leading them to your solution, and finally, appealing to “nobler motives.” However, most of the advice in the book is insightful, even if it’s a little simplistic (smile more).

In the hands of the wrong person, much of this advice could be used to manipulate people. Like all knowledge though, this book is only as good as the person who uses it. Carnegie repeatedly stresses the importance of authenticity in your actions. He talks about honesty and being genuine, which I think are great policies for everyone to follow all the time.

So I don’t think his intention was for someone to go and exploit others—but this knowledge very well could be used for those ends. In fact, Charles Manson used these techniques to get women to murder people for him, specifically he let the women think it was their own idea. However, I think if anything, this means that more people should read it (especially those who are too trusting) so they can be aware of when others are trying to manipulate them.

The book gets a little repetitive, especially towards the end. Each chapter provides many examples, which is helpful I think, but some of the later chapters are similar or overlap with earlier ones. For example, the principles, “Give honest and sincere appreciation,” “Begin with praise and honest appreciation,” and “Praise every improvement” all have similar themes.

At first, I got a little irritated that he repeated some themes as I progressed through the book, but I realized 1) these must be important for him to put it in there more than once 2) these principles are similar but each has a slightly different purpose 3) since I’m trying to learn, it’s okay to be told over and over again. By expecting each chapter to be groundbreaking, you’ll be let down.

Many of the ideas you’ve probably heard before—in fact, maybe all of them. But the point of the book is to provide concrete courses of action you can implement and follow to improve your social relations. In that respect, it does a great job, and if you’re planning on reading the book more than once, being exposed to the information repeatedly is a way to remember the advice.

Lastly, I will address the tone. Written in 1936, this book is dated and the language reflects that. While the advice is sound, it’s definitely white-male-oriented. Of course, there are anecdotes from women, but they tend to be portrayed as wives, mothers, or secretaries. There is at least one cross-cultural example, but it’s only one. I don’t think this is a reason to avoid the book, and it’s just my personal preference, but I do wish that there was more diversity.

Favorite Quotes From "How to Win Friends and Influence People"

Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.

Isaac F. Marcosson, a journalist who interviewed hundreds of celebrities, declared that many people fail to make a favorable impression because they don’t listen attentively. ‘They have been so much concerned with what they are going to say next that they do not keep their ears open … Very important people have told me that they prefer good listeners to good talkers, but the ability to listen seems rarer than almost any other good trait.

You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words—and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.

The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely.
Remember what [Ralph Waldo] Emerson said: ‘Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.’

Other Questions and Advice

Why Did I Read?

I picked up “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie because I’ve always been on the socially awkward side. I’ve come a long way since then, having spent many years as a teacher, but I saw this as an area I still needed to improve as better social skills will improve my life overall.

This was my first book exploring this topic, but since it’s a classic I decided it’s as good a place to start as any. I understand that Carnegie is a somewhat controversial figure, however, I did enjoy this book and I will say I haven’t read any of his other works.

Overall, I found his insight into human relationships helpful and backed up by evidence from historical figures, which was more than I was expecting.

Who's it for?

Anyone who has any kind of social interaction with another human being and wants to improve their social skills. It’s for business and personal life, no matter your age or profession. Carnegie shares anecdotes from all kinds of people, including parent-child relationships and from different cultures.

Regardless of how good with people you are, you’ll learn how to treat others with respect to have better interactions. As an introvert myself, let’s just say social grace isn’t something I was born with. So when I picked up “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” I was skeptical. This book is not about becoming an extrovert. You don’t need to be extroverted to have successful relationships. In fact, I wish many extroverts would read this book to improve their social skills!

So even if you think you’re great with people, I’m certain there’s something in this book to help you improve, even if it’s just concisely saying what you already know so you remember to use these techniques more often.

What's the best way to read it?

I highly recommend having a physical copy of this book. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a book that should be treated like a human-relations guidebook. Use highlighter and pencil to underline and make notes when you’re reading it, and keep close to your desk so you can pick it up and flip through it to remind yourself how to treat others.

A digital book is nice because you can keep it with you and take notes on your device, but in my personal opinion, this is a less proactive reading experience. It’s great to quickly search for the notes you’ve made but I knew right as I started reading it that I wanted a physical copy.

The audiobook is great for getting an overview or refresher, but unless you’re sitting and taking notes there’s a lot you’ll miss. I have to say, the benefit of just hearing the advice is worth it though. This book has evolved from a lecture and uses lots of stories to illustrate the point, so it’s easy to remember even if you’re a casual listener.

Ultimate Verdict

Read it. If you want to have healthier relationships and better interactions with people—be it professional, personal, or just a casual interaction in the check out line—there’s a good chance this book will help you. It’s an entertaining, easy read so it’s there’s not much to lose. Even if you only take a few pieces of advice to heart, it will go a long way in improving your relationships.

Will it solve all your social problems? Of course not, but it’s a great starting part. You’re capable of improving your social skills at any time in your life. There are many things required to live a good and productive life, and I think part of that entails learning as much as we can to find what works.

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