How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937)

How to Win Friends and Influence People (1937) Dale Carnegie

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Contrary to popular imagination, one of the foremost qualifications needed by an aspiring author of a best-selling self help books, is not the ability to write captivating prose, but the gift of charismatic oratory. This was undoubtedly the forte of the poor farmer’s lad whose baptismal name Dale Carnagey. For a while young Dale was content to get up at 4am every morning to milk the cows. But while carrying out these chores he entertained dreams of achieving wealth and influence, which he knew could never be fulfilled if he remained an agricultural labourer. So the moment he felt able to make it on his own he tried his luck as a door-to-door salesman hawking correspondence courses. After that, he chanced his arm selling cars, then working as a representative for a major food company. After saving a few hundred dollars he enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in order to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a Chautauqua lecturer. This term – pronounced Shaw-taw-kwa – means precious little today but was

all the rage in late eighteenth century rural America. The movement started in 1874, when a businessman and a Methodist minister set up a campsite on the shores of Chautauqua Lake, Colorado and laid on a programme for the general education and entertainment of the local farming folk. It was an early form of mass popular culture, which ‘brought people together to improve their minds and renew their ties with one another.’ The programme offered included plays, band concerts, religious instruction, wrapped up with lectures of an uplifting, inspirational nature. It was this role that Dale Carnagey, the salesman and newly trained actor, set out to fill.

He’d been inspired by a public statement made by John D Rockefeller, who asserted that the most important success ingredient was the ability to handle people well. That would be his speciality. So he read everything he could find about human relationships in magazines and newspapers. He studied books on psychology, and had the nerve to interview successful people like Franklin D Roosevelt, Edison, Marconi, Clark Gable and Mary Pickford. Armed with this knowledge he started selling self-improvement courses. Within a couple of years he was earning what in today’s money would be five hundred dollars a week.  Before the start of the First World War, he persuaded the YMCA in New York to let him hold lecture courses for businessmen on ‘Effective Speaking and Human Relations.’ These seminars quickly became the talk of the town. He told his pupils to be generous with their gratitude and thanks, citing the example of Charles Schwab who was earning a million dollars a year as the chief executive of Andrew Carnegie’s United States Steel Company. Schwab openly admitted that the secret of his success was being ‘hearty in my approbation, and lavish in my praise.’ So Carnagey taught his attendees: ‘Never criticize, condemn or complain.’ One aggressive boss followed this advice and found that once he’d adopted a more benign approach he increased his customer base, his company profits soared, and his staff of just over three hundred became far happier. As he said, he’d turned ‘314 enemies into 314 friends.’

It was about this time that Andrew decided to change his name, to give it more clout and make it a little more memorable. So he made the simple switch from Carnagey, to Carnegie, hoping that he might be linked in the public mind with Andrew Carnegie, then the world’s most famous philanthropist. Other self help-gurus have suffered because they’ve failed to make this nominative switch.  A prime example is the author of a splendid manual entitled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. This hasn’t had the success it deserves because people fight shy of ordering a book when they can neither spell nor pronounce the author’s name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which for anyone interested is pronounced ‘me-hi-chicksent-me-hiee.’  From that point onward Carnegie’s career burgeoned. One of the businessmen who attended his fourteen-week course immediately recognised that it provided the material for an excellent self-help book. He was a senior executive of the publishers Simon & Schuster, and managed to persuade Carnegie to allow a stenographer to take notes from the course which would then be revised for publication. The rest, as they say, is history. The book, which was originally intended as a give away collection of course notes with a limited print run of five thousand copies, eventually went on to sell fifteen million copies worldwide and be published in all the world’s major languages. Much of the advice it offers is well known to anyone with a smattering of knowledge of the psychology of human relationships. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. Be genuinely interested in other people. Arouse their enthusiasm. Let them do a lot of the talking. If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.  It’s all common sense – but then there’s nothing as rare as common sense. Before this book was published it was thought that the ability to get on with other people was a gift you either had or lacked. Dale Carnegie’s great contribution was to prove that this assumption is false.

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