Monday, January 19, 2009

I've Been Won (And Influenced)

When my mother casually mentioned that she'd been reading Dale Carnegie's famous self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and recommended it, I scoffed. The book's title alone seems indicative of the sort of manipulative interpersonal techniques that I particularly detest. I'd rather be hated for my sincerity than loved for flattery and artificiality.

But when I was browsing the 48-cent shelf at The Strand a few weeks later, I saw a paperback copy of the book and impulsively bought it. I think there's a New York City statute requiring the purchase of 48-cent books of mild interest, at any rate. I began to read it, and to my delight found it was a pleasingly informal book of instruction written in 1933, not a textified version of a popular '90s business self-help course as I suspected.

Carnegie's daughter, Dorothy Carnegie, endeavored to revise the little book in 1988 with more modern historical references while leaving most of Carnegie's language and idiom intact, and thus I was further amused to find results of bygone research ("a recent survey found that the reason most wives run away is that they feel unappreciated") and antique vernacular ("bear oil!") nestled beside passing references to World War II.

The contents of the book break down lists of ways to "win people over to your way of thinking" and "fundamental techniques to handling people" into chapters featuring conversational anecdotes of people, both historical figures and the author's personal acquaintainces. (The categories sometimes overlap). But nowhere does Carnegie advocate flattery, manipulation, or deceit.

One of his chapters encourages readers to sincerely love people. Another demonstrates how it is impossible to "win" an argument--in order to maintain goodwill, you must always humble yourself and admit your own errors. These tricks aren't simple band-aid fixes for the socially inept. Nor are they so very original-most run parallel to biblical Beatitudes or Proverbs.

Since I was so impressed by the book, I decided to practice as many of the pointers as I could remember, particularly the most challenging ones. Like allowing myself to "lose" in an interpersonal conflict.

And I didn't have long to wait until I could test the Carnegie principles. Tension with someone close to me escalated into a multi-episodic battle. I have to admit, my first few efforts at forbearance, humility, and "seeing the other person's point of view" failed miserably, but finally, at a meeting that could easily have become a showdown, I humbled myself more than I thought I could in admitting a multitude of faults, used some phrases from the book with complete sincerity ("I would feel exactly the same if I were you"), and was amazed to see the atmosphere transform and the tension dissolve. We're now closer than we've ever been, and I find I don't care at all that, of the two of us, I conceded more.

I'm a Carnegie convert, and I just may become "that guy" who gives copies of a favorite book suggestively to friends ("this one
really helped me to control my anger--YOU should read it"). Well, I hope it doesn't come to that, but consider this a hearty recommendation.

I always imagined I was simply bad with people, that God created a level playing field of gift and talent and I clearly had overcompensated somewhere else. But now I have hope that I, too, could learn to be a successful social creature. And that fills me with an optimism you wouldn't expect.

1 Comments:

At 7:03 AM , Blogger Andrew said...

Check out Maria Bamford's take on Carnegie's book. Her parents also suggested she read it. It is very humorous.

Glad to see you have time to read.

 

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