How to Win Friends and Influence People
After envisioning a summer being spent mindlessly scrolling through Instagram (Facebook for you 21st century cavemen) and watching Netflix shows to remedy my featureless Lockdown Summer with intermittent wall-staring, I thought – meh that doesn’t sound too bad. But wait! What if I ran out of good shows to watch?
Don’t be silly.
‘[Carnegie] changed my life’ – Warren Buffet
With this haunting reality in the back of my mind, I picked up a book and came across this gem: How to Win Friends and Influence People. A book, I thought, would be ideal to share with you freshers trying to settle in as well as some of you older folk who’ve suffered an extended, socially stripped lockdown.
I wasn’t very intrigued by the book at first, given its ‘I have no friends, please help me’ title. I still remember the first few shameful days nearly being caught on the train mid-read, or by my mum walking into my room with the title nearly visible through my fingers. So, what swayed me? What made me overlook this eyesore of a title and carry on reading? Warren Buffett. Yes, the one man who can turn the hopeless into the hopeful, admitting to how, and I quote, ‘[Carnegie] changed my life’. With that in mind, let us get into this review. Alright…the title still bugs me.
But we’ll overlook it. Please.
Carnegie, the writer of the book for those of you still pondering over the ignominious title, uses one of Sigmund Freud’s most recognised psychoanalytic theories to illustrate his fundamental argument that ‘everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great’, further articulated by Dr. Dewey, ‘one of America’s most profound philosophers’, who said that ‘the deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important’. This idea that we have a ‘desire to be important’ is ubiquitous in Carnegie’s text and is the foundation upon which he shows us ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.
As egotistical and self-absorbed as it sounds, we all have a ‘desire to be important’. Even me, as I write this article. I foolishly thought that I wrote this article to help you lead more productive and happy lives. But no! Deep within, it makes me feel important. Apply it to anything, go on, any ‘righteous and honourable’ thing you’ve done, be it to save a cat from a tree or giving to charity, it could be argued that there is a hidden element of feeling important. Carnegie’s text is thus moulded around this crushing reality.
Published in 1937, many argue the book to be ‘outdated’, however I believe the methods within this book to be timeless and, quite frankly, a breath of fresh air compared to the constant cathartic huff and puff I find on social media.
Carnegie explores plenty of methods on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, induced by making people ‘feel important’. Three methods that particularly resonated with me were: being genuinely interested in people, smiling, and remembering one’s name. Some of these may sound simple but I’ve been guilty of not following, well, all of them.
First, we’ll deal with being genuinely interested in people. We learn best through experience, and the next best thing is someone else’s experience. In this book, Carnegie skilfully uses many experiences and stories from households to historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon the Third, allowing you to truly understand and appreciate the rules discussed in the book. With this rule, the key word is ‘genuine’, and Carnegie highlights this many a time. Genuine interest sparks conversation and can lead to everlasting relationships, be it at the workplace or a social environment. Believe or not, both sides benefit. A way of putting this into practice, if possible, is doing your research. Knowing a bit more about the person so you can ask those questions you so desire to be answered and before you know it, you’ve made another friend - hooray? Carnegie puts this best when he says ‘talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours’. This quote does somewhat neglect the nature of being ‘genuine’, but it shines light on the fact that everyone wants to ‘feel important’, and that talking about oneself can be an enjoyable sport for some more than others.
Second is a smile. A startling, almost supernatural expression when we look at London’s public transport users who prefer to wear the popular deadpan, dethatched straight-face as their choice of expression. Seeing someone smile on the tube is extraordinary, almost inconceivable. Charles Schwab was one of these extraordinary individuals whose ‘smile had been worth a million dollars’. What does a smile say? A smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you’. Again, Carnegie stresses ‘a real smile, a heart-warming smile…’ bringing back the idea of being genuine, rather than mechanical. Try smiling at someone in your workplace or wherever, and you’ll most likely receive one in return.
Lastly, remembering one’s name. This is such a small and simple courtesy but many people, including myself, don’t bother to remember names. Past historical figures, like Napoleon the Third, took it so far as to write down names he found difficult or felt were especially important and made sure to memorise and associate the name with the person. Carnegie speaks of the ‘magic’ contained in a name and discusses how the name of an individual ‘sets the individual apart; it makes him or her unique among all others’. Again, it makes them ‘feel important’. So, the next time you go to your favourite café, try and address the worker behind the counter by their name. This can be done by having a peek at their name badge or simply by asking because ‘remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language’.
To get the most out of this book, I’d recommend putting the methods into practice. Carnegie even wrote an introduction, ‘How to get the most out of this book’, where he stresses that the techniques and skills mentioned in the book can only be acquired when put into practice. Like any skill, ‘we learn by doing…learning is an active process’.
However, it is very easy to focus on how to ‘influence people’ rather than how ‘to win friends’, not to say that if you use the fact that people want to ‘feel important’ against them, you won’t get anywhere - look at where it got Francis Underwood. But if you’re not a power-hungry maniac, Carnegie’s point stands – be genuine. It’s easy to see this book as a tool for deception but when applied correctly, it’s a helping hand in becoming a decent human being.