Wisdom From Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People


Believe it or not, the first self-help best seller was published in 1936. Although it was written during the Great Depression, its lessons remain as important as ever. In fact, I could argue that they are even more relevant today! Modern technology means that less and less communication happens face-to-face, and we are in greater need of ways to improve our communication and connection skills.

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has influenced my work, parenting, and general life practices. It also inspired many of the lessons I wrote about in KIDmandment 5 — Relationships & Communication Skills. Carnegie includes over 30 principles in his book (which I would encourage you to read in full!), but I’d like to highlight a few that I've found especially helpful, both in parenting and leading a business. 

Connecting With Others

Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

This principle makes the listener feel valued and can expand your own horizons at the same time. In one famous example of this idea at work, Carnegie wrote,

Whenever [Franklin] Roosevelt expected a visitor, he sat up late the night before, reading up on the subject in which he knew his guest was particularly interested. For Roosevelt knew, as all leaders know, that the royal road to a person's heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.

In today's age of social media, we have more access than ever to information about what other people are interested in. If you're meeting with someone for the first time, take a look at their Facebook or LinkedIn profile to see what they've been up to recently. Starting a message or conversation with a question like “I see you've been to Europe recently, how was your trip?” or “I enjoy Seth Godin's work as well! What did you think of his latest blog post?” will establish your interest in the other person's experience and knowledge. In a world that often values what we can do for each other, interest that runs deeper than mutual benefit really stands out and makes people feel valued for who they are, not just what they do.

Sincerely make the other person feel important.

This might be the most powerful principle. Most people, even young children, can sense sincerity or the lack thereof. Genuinely making someone feel important will foster communication and facilitate feeling like a valued group member. Helping a child feel important builds self-esteem and encourages them to tackle challenges. Start by taking a genuine interest in what other people say and giving the person you're with 100% of your attention. That means putting your phone down and engaging with someone, not looking around to see who else is in the room. Love the one you're with!

Carnegie advises using specific praise (e.g. complimenting a particular action or trait) to drive home the point. With children, this might mean highlighting a sport, artistic passion, or subject in school — “I've heard you're a really great ballet dancer! How often do you practice?” At work, it starts with providing recognition for a job well done and reinforcing the particular qualities that help someone excel, such as leadership, dedication, or efficiency.

Creating Productive Discussions

Ask questions instead of giving orders.

As a parenting strategy, this can't be beat, and it's really helpful at work as well. Have you ever found that re-wording your request as a question instead of a command resulted in more positive outcomes? Carnegie wisely advises,

Offering suggestions instead of giving orders saves a person’s pride and gives him a sense of importance. It also encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.

If you're the parent of teenagers, you probably understand this well. Instead of giving orders, a well-placed question gives them a sense of autonomy and choice while still driving towards the result that you expect. It's never a bad idea to give others a stake in the decision-making process — that way, everyone is invested in the results, whether that means a fun family road-trip or an organizational overhaul in the office.

Correcting With Compassion

Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

One of Carnegie's chapter titles is “If you must find fault, this is the way to begin” and it highlights opening with praise and honest appreciation. Most people are more receptive to constructive criticism if it is perceived as coming from a positive place. By starting with a genuine compliment or recognition of effort, we can more effectively transition into discussing something that needs to change. 

Make the fault seem easy to correct.

People of all ages can feel overwhelmed when confronted with constructive criticism, no matter how gently you deliver it. Carnegie advises using encouraging language and explaining how the error can be corrected in a simple, clear way to help the listener understand that they are capable of making a change. Ending with an affirmation of your faith in their ability to do what needs to be done is a great way to foster positivity moving forward.

The Importance of Connection

All of these skills are so important in our relationships, both at home and at work. When we don't communicate effectively, it's very easy to damage relationships and create mistrust, which can make these kinds of situations even more difficult in the future. By being conscious and conscientious not just about what we say, but how we say it, we can drastically improve our relationships.

Dale Carnegie understood this well, and his book How to Win Friends and Influence People changed many lives as a result, including mine. In fact, Warren Buffet is even quoted saying that Dale Carnegie's courses changed his life. I encourage everyone to take his wisdom to heart, and read the whole book if possible! Incorporating these principles into how you approach communicating with others creates sincere engagement and enables more positive relationships.

What's your favorite piece of communication advice? Let me know by tweeting it to me @JeffOddo!?