Still Influencing

How to Win Friends and Influence People: Why the granddaddy of self-help endures

IN 1936, AN unassuming little volume hit American bookstores and became one of the ­bestselling and most important books in America and the world. Written by professional salesman and motivational speaker Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends and Influence People was reprinted 16 times in its first year of release and became one of the most successful books in American history.

It went through 17 print editions in its first year of publishing and eventually sold more than 30 million copies while helping to establish the then-new ‘self-help’ book genre.

Although it climbed quickly up the bestseller lists, critical comment was not always encouraging. Carnegie was chided for what some critics saw as overly simple solutions to ­complicated human interrelationships. But millions of readers applauded the book’s directness and easy-to-understand precepts. The author had aimed for a popular audience and hit the mark right on.

One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is its longevity, especially considering it has ­outperformed and outlasted almost every other book in its rather broad niche. Sources indicate it still sells around 100,000 copies a year, and according to Amazon, it is number 13 on their list of all-time bestselling non-fiction books.

I first read it in my late teens, and I’d like to think I absorbed many of its principles. I recently picked it up again and was surprised by how cogent its reasoning remains, half a century later and 80-plus years since its first publication.

You’d likely do yourself a favour by reading the whole book, but much of Carnegie’s wisdom can be boiled down to a few powerful ideas for, as the title suggests, winning friends and influencing people.

Carnegie notes it is often difficult for people to admit fault. As a result, they become defensive when faced with criticism. He recommends avoiding negative comments in favour of understanding and guidance, and providing honest and heartfelt appreciation for things done well. Working from such a supportive position, you will find it is much more productive to encourage success than chide failure. He comments, however, that both praise and criticism must come from, and be seen to come from, a place of sincerity and personal concern.

We cannot convince people to share our goals unless we can make our success theirs as well. That means knowing (or learning) what their goals are, and working together to satisfy everyone involved.

Carnegie has been quoted as saying, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them than in two years by making them interested in you.” The only way to make quality, lasting relationships, in or out of business, is to learn to be genuinely interested in others and their interests.

To be an effective listener, it is vital to actually care about what people say. Feigned interest will almost always give itself away, but genuine curiosity about their opinions is one of the highest compliments you can pay another, and the impression it leaves can last a lifetime.

As might be expected from the above, the book generally encourages a positive and supportive attitude to others at all times. In these days of societal polarization and the rise of the “us-versus-them” mentality, Carnegie reminds us that in the end this life is all about people, and true success in living depends on dealing with them and their wants, needs and hopes in a positive and supportive way.

well into the 21st century, the book ­contains a lot of useful information on how to have a more positive impact on the world around you, and that may be its ultimate legacy.  Jim Chapman