Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People

There are few books in the self-help genre as widely known as the subject of today's book review: Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

While it is a classic, I have to admit that I steered clear of it and did not read this one for many years. I found the title off-putting and perhaps manipulative. Some part of me just felt that we don't want to "win" friends as much as build friendships.

I'm reviewing How to Win Friends and Influence People because new leaders and managers are almost certain to have it recommended, there are genuinely helpful tidbits throughout the book, and I want to provide some information so you can prioritize it with your other reading.

The first thing to understand about Carnegie's classic is that it is written from a sales perspective. Whether you are corporate rep selling products, a fund raiser selling a cause, or a politician selling ideas, How to Win Friends is written with you in mind. You are not necessarily looking to build long-term friendships, but do need to establish rapport and trust if you are to succeed in your work.

That is what How to Win Friends and Influence People is really about. In my opinion it is a book on effective salesmanship, not necessarily effective leadership.

With that in mind, 80 years after it was written, many of Carnegie's concepts remain beneficial in most human relationships. A small sampling: show interest in the other person, help people get what they want, remember their name, admit it when you're wrong, be friendly and positive, don't argue, know your audience, etc.

On the topic of knowing your audience...there is one audience that will probably not care for this book: analytic personalities.

The writing style is packed with anecdotal stories illustrating concepts. It can feel like you're sitting with a friendly talkative uncle and at times you want to say, "Uncle, I get it! Can you move on to the next concept?" For analytic types, this way of writing can feel forced, disingenuous, and lacks the hard data to be convincing.

Carnegie even suggests that when trying to persuade, one should use stories, not logic. Again, for most people, stories that create emotional appeal or connection are legitimately more persuasive. But for some, the logic and data are vital.

Overall, I would recommend at least a quick skim of How to Win Friends and Influence People because it is so widely read and there are a number of common-sense suggestions which, if you aren't familiar with them, are very helpful. But when you read it, keep in mind it's goal is more about creating surface-level sales relationships than building deep friendships or establishing leadership credibility.

Happy Reading!

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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