How to Win Friends and Win Business Like Dale Carnegie

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“There is one all-important law of human conduct: Always make the other person feel important.”

Dale Carnegie

Back in the mid-1930s, in response to the Great Depression, two classic personal development books were published that anyone in business today would do well to study. Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) addressed the proper mental approach to success – this is the first book I recommend you read. The second is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), which taught the essential human relations skills you need to sign on clients.

I read an extensive biography about Carnegie by Steven Watts entitled Self-Help Messiah. Dale Carnagey (he later changed the spelling of his name) was born into an impoverished family in rural northwestern Missouri. The bio details how his life experiences, from endless farm chores to traveling salesman to actor, inspired his later life’s work of sharing principles of interpersonal effectiveness. Carnegie realized that, much like Ben Franklin, who developed a 13 Virtues system to improve his character, he needed to apply the principles he developed to himself so he could achieve the success he craved.

He began humbly by teaching a class on public speaking at a New York City YMCA in 1912, which evolved over time into more extensive human-relations trainings. These morphed over the decades into the sales, leadership and communication courses of today’s global Dale Carnegie Training. So his ideas endured and he can be considered a founding father of adult education.

Watts’ book makes it clear that Dale Carnegie targeted business people, correctly believing that they would be the main beneficiaries of his offerings. Let me lay out some of his most important concepts that can help you win business:

  • Positive thinking Dale Carnegie wanted people to change their entire personality through his approach. No stranger to his era’s budding positive mental psychology movement, he urged his students to affirm the following: “Say to yourself over and over, ‘My popularity, my happiness, and my income depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.’” He encouraged them to visualize their success: “Picture to yourself how mastering these skills will aid you in your race for richer social and financial rewards.” These parallel the instructions given by Hill in Think and Grow Rich on autosuggestion and visualization.
  • Genuine interest One of my favorite Dale Carnegie quotes is, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get them interested in you.” The best way to take a genuine interest in others in your business network is to simply ask them questions: Where they’re from, where they went to school, how they began in their career, their hobbies, diversions, passions, etc. Then let them go on about themselves, while demonstrating that you are tracking the conversation. See, the truth is: My wife doesn’t want to hear my story for the millionth time – she wants to know when I’m taking out the trash and what I’m making for dinner. (Yes, I cook – it’s a critical “happy marriage skill.”) But when a new acquaintance asks about my business, I can and, if I forget this principle, will go on for 20 minutes or more about how I became the man, the myth, the coaching legend I am today. It’s the same for people I meet: If I take the initiative to inquire, “Tell me how you got started in the widget business?” and then put the spotlight on them, they will eagerly share what they consider to be their heroic business journey. (Trust me – their spouses don’t want to hear their story again either…)