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Learning and Applying Carnegie's Techniques

How to Win Friends and Influence People

By Seth Westlake

One of my coaches said that while I may become a brilliant dancer someday, it wouldn’t matter much if I didn’t have a partner. As a start to acquiring seldom-taught partnering skills, a book was aggressively suggested to me. Reading the work of Dale Carnegie, it's become quickly apparent how much work my social and relationship skills need.

After being in print for more than seventy-five years, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People has remained a popular and powerful reference for those interested in improving their managerial and people skills. This book, in fewer than three hundred pages, covers a vast array of topics and information ranging from the importance of remembering a person's name to the subtle advantages that arise from having your acquaintance say yes a couple times. Using this material to my advantage and applying it over the past week, I was able to influence and affect not only the people I came into contact with but my own mind as well.

One of the recurring themes in How to Win Friends and Influence People is that people like to talk about themselves. Few people, regardless of status or education, will pass up the chance to discuss their hobbies and accomplishments. Carnegie encourages us to listen more than we speak and to yield the majority of the conversation to our acquaintances. Changing the focus onto oneself is not only rude but also places an abrupt stop in the flow of conversation.

Recently while preparing for a dance lesson with some friends, I tested this method to see if I could increase the average length of my conversations. Talking about myself and using stories from my own personal experiences, I couldn't get a conversation to last more than a minute. Then, instead of proposing a topic of my own for discussion, I asked for elaboration on someone else's. "What do you think about that?" and "Tell me more about..." were among the phrases I commonly used. To my surprise, not only did this prove to increase the length of conversation, but it also served to improve the speaker's mood.

Then, later that week, while driving with several friends to Wisconsin Dells, I had the chance to test this again. Instead of discussing my own interests, I latched onto a different conversation and had the speaker expound their interests. This method, in practice, has provided insight into how people enjoy interacting. If we put others’ needs ahead of our own, they become more inclined to treat our business or our friendship with open arms.

Another part of creating that open-arms experience with people, according to Carnegie, is making all first impressions with a smile. Quoting an old Chinese proverb, Carnegie writes, "A man without a smiling face must not open a shop." This is true for everyone, not only shop owners, because even if we are not selling someone on a particular store or product, we are always trying to sell ourselves.

Saturday afternoon, while at the Wisconsin Dells waterpark, I made an effort to brighten the day of a few of the lifeguards we passed. I greeted one of them with a particularly warm and genuine smile, and throughout the rest of the day, that lifeguard’s behavior was warm and friendly. With a simple hello and a smile, a connection was developed, and that particular lifeguard frequently said hello and waved to us as we passed. The power of a smile, often underestimated, is worth leveraging when meeting new people. A genuine smile breeds happiness and connectedness. This is a big part of how friends and associates are made.

Arguments, however, are surefire way to jeopardize these relationships. Discussions and differences of opinion may be had, but as the heading of one chapter reads, "You can't win an argument." You're either wrong or you alienate the other person, and in that, there is no winning. Dancing with my partner this week, I've started to apply the notion that there is never any sense in arguing. After being told I'm wrong, it's natural that I'd want to defend my ego, but it's much more sensible that I try to see things from my partner's point of view and discuss how things could be communicated more efficiently and respectfully. In this way, no one’s feelings are hurt, no one is at fault, and we become more open to the comments we provide to help one another improve.

If it's absolutely necessary that we correct someone or change their opinion, then it is best done by doing it in such a way that they believe they thought of it themselves. Nobody wants to be ordered around like a pet. People would rather be led to a conclusion they believe is their own idea. When approached with a friendly voice and a caring hand, our clients and friends are always more receptive to the process of changing their minds.

I was able to encourage a friend of mine to change preferences on what movie we should watch. I didn't argue that one movie was preferable to the other but rather that my preferred movie included elements they would prefer. Even though they had, at first, wanted to see movie A, they had, on their own, convinced themselves that movie B was better suited to their interests. I believe that had I demanded we watch movie B, the decision would not have gone over as well. With egos at stake, heels are dug into the ground. Considering that no one wins in an argument, being able to persuade others without harsh words or insistence is paramount to being a good manager, dance partner, or friend.

Through the trial and error of many thousands of classes and students, and now me, How to Win Friends and Influence People has consistently provided an array of powerful managerial methods. I'm surprised by how much I've learned in a single week through practicing these skills, and I’m excited to see where this material takes me as I find more applications for it. It will take more than a single read to truly learn and master Carnegie’s methods.