Hello and happy Wednesday!
It’s funny how places grow on you. After a whirlwind month working in the political world, I’m headed back to Racine tomorrow. And as I sit in the one coffee shop in this small town, I’m already starting to miss it—the people, the corn fields, everything. When I first came to Monroe, I couldn’t imagine how I’d fare in such a small, rural place after living in Nashville for the past four years. But in the end, it’s all a matter of perspective.
It’s no different when it comes to people. Enter Dale Carnegie.
I’d heard of Carnegie’s famous book How To Win Friends and Influence People in various leadership classes, but had never given myself the chance to read it. When I finally picked up a copy at the local library here, I assumed that the book would be full of strategies to get your way (for once!) As someone who’s always eager to please people, I thought this book would help me get the guts to stand up for myself in situations instead of being deferential.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about this book.
I’m not going to give you a full review, because you won’t get nearly as much out of it as you would by reading it (which you should), but I will tell you this: Carnegie’s approach to navigating the difficult and complex relationships that make up human life are the exact opposite of what they would expect them to be. The best leader isn’t the one with the loudest voice, the brightest ideas, or the greatest persuasive ability. It goes back to a very old piece of advice that most of us have heard, but would never actually consider applying in our homes, schools, or workplaces.
“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.” —Mark 10:43
The key to getting people to do what you want, to getting them to like you, is actually by taking yourself out of the equation. Rather than arguing this from a moral perspective, as we see in the Bible, Carnegie offers this in the context of our own human wills and desires. We are all inherently selfish—some of us are better than disguising it than others, but it still holds true. Carnegie offers up a question that proves this point almost immediately: “When you are shown a group picture that you are included in, whose face do you seek out first?”
Exactly. We’re self-absorbed. We’re wired to be. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just is the way it is. The problem occurs when my self-interest encounters yours. There’s a clash of wants and needs, and this is where we think it helps to be the bigger fish. Not true.
Empathy seems like one of those skills left to the soft-hearted, but it really has very practical implications for working with people, as Carnegie demonstrates time and time again through examples in his book. If we take a second to set our ego aside and to really understand the other person’s wants, needs, efforts, etc. we are much more likely to reframe our message/issue/request in a way that makes sense to them.
Instead of insincere flattery, we pay real attention to people’s gifts and talents and encourage them. Instead of criticizing someone (which is almost always a way to make them stop listening to you), we can acknowledge our own shortcomings and make suggestions that benefit both parties. Instead of spending the time that people are talking to us thinking about what we’re going to say next, we could maybe, I don’t know, listen to them?
Think about just how many conflicts could be resolved if we took a second to remember the familiar-yet-ignored advice of the Bible and Carnegie. Humility, sincere appreciation, patient encouragement. I’m almost positive that if we could quell our emotions and self-interest for just a moment, it would transform our families, our workplaces, our political environment, and our world.
I know that this all sounds great in theory, but if you want to see it in action, read this book. Dale Carnegie taught wildly successful classes on this very subject, and he has dozens of stories from real people proving that, time and time again, humility wins.
This is one of those books that you read, think over, read again, think over, and read one more time. I may have returned my copy with other things I’ll be leaving behind in Monroe, but I’ve bought a new copy—my own—and I am confident that the advice in this book will help me be successful, the RIGHT way, wherever I go.
Read the book. We spend precious little time doing that these days. Then let me buy you coffee so we can discuss.
To be interesting, be interested. —Dale Carnegie