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How to Win Friends and Influence People, is the kind of self-help book that has been a bestseller since its initial release in 1936. A phrase that I have heard and read many times before in the past. It is evident that many years have passed since then. It is only logical to assume that the advice given to readers in 1936 might not be as effective for the readers of today; however, because of the book’s continuous popularity, the text has been updated multiple times over the decades.
Naturally, I chose to read one of the most recent copies, which was released in 2010.
In the future, I plan to open up a small business; however, I lack certain communication skills that could ensure any form of success in the future. To carry out a business, an individual needs the ability to create trust and credibility with potential investors, partners, customers, etc. The issue is that I have trouble carrying out basic conversations with others, especially in an environment that is unfamiliar to me.
It does not help that in certain situations I am not even able to properly communicate with those closest to me, such as friends and family.
For these reasons, I chose a book that would help me improve in each of these areas or at least a book that could cover basic communication techniques that could be applied to both of these situations regardless of the major differences.
Before I even began reading this book, I had my doubts on how a self-help book, which claims to help individuals hoping to succeed in business, would help me improve my interpersonal communication skills with my friends and family. As I began reading, I realized I had to give this book the benefit of the doubt until I finished reading it. Although this particular book was initially written to help individuals improve their communication skills, particularly individuals with business or professional backgrounds, it provides methodical strategies that aid in developing social interactions that can be applied to any kind of situation. Overall, the book claims that the content in this book is not limited to professional encounters and can be applied to an individual’s everyday social interactions, such as with family members, friends, significant others, co-workers, etc. The main goal of this book is to enhance the reader’s communication skills for any given situation, business related or not. While reading this book I learned that these claims are not far from the truth and that whether I am talking to a professional or even a close friend, I need to learn how to properly engage with these individuals even if the conversations are completely different.
Dale Carnegie was an educated man who attended State Teacher’s College. However, all of his knowledge of social interactions was not through an education, but through experience as a salesman. I found it interesting that he became so good that he later taught public speaking courses at the YMCA in New York City (Merriam Webster’s). In the 1920s, he became popular among business professionals by teaching them to master the art of public speaking through private courses (Dale 9). Public speaking was not the only thing that he taught. He also taught courses about Effective Speaking and Human Relations. He must have been credible enough for his time since companies, such as the New York Telephone and Westinghouse contracted him to teach their “salesmen and executives” about public speaking (“Dale Carnegie”). Based on these facts it is clear that his expertise was credible enough for these companies to seek out his help.
At the beginning of the book, Dale Carnegie mentions all the research he did in preparation for his book. He lists countless research at the library, editing from professionals, and the interviews of prominent figures. He wanted to perfect his craft before he presented it to the public as a lecture. A lecture that he eventually named “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” After 15 years, this particular lecture, which brought the success of self-improvement to thousands of students, was transformed into a book (Dale 12,13). This shows that Dale Carnegie conducted his own form of an experiment by analyzing the experiences and results of thousands of subjects (his students). As a reader, this showed me that as an author, Carnegie wanted to present people with credible and trustworthy content. It shows how calculating he was in writing the content of this book. He revised it endlessly throughout his life to keep up with the public. An author who shows this much dedication to a book, especially for many decades, does not have the intention to be deceitful to his readers. He believed that communicating and engaging with others, was far more rewarding than just having technical skills. This concept instantly reminded me of a quote that I once read from John D. Rockefeller, an American business pioneer. He stated that “the ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee and I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun’ (Dale 10). Imagine my surprise when a couple of paragraphs into the book Dale Carnegie also uses this exact quote to support his idea. He uses research to support this by showcasing the results of a 156 question survey conducted by the University of Chicago, which stated that one of the prime interests of the subjects was the ability to understand people and engage with them.
At first glance, the title of the book is very misleading and comes off slightly strong. The titles of the sections covered in the book are even slightly intimidating. For instance, the book was divided into four major sections: Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, Six Ways to Make People Like you, Win People to Your Way of Thinking, and Be a Leader. Personally, I think that by using words such as “Handling” and “Make,” it takes away from what is discussed in these sections. For this reason, some of the strategies in this book can come off as slightly manipulative; however, I think this just depends on the initial mindset of the reader. For instance, if the reader’s intention for reading this book is to learn how to manipulate people through social interactions, then that is the way that they will perceive the content of the book. In contrast, when I read this book I had no intention of manipulating others through communication methods. My real intention was to learn how to properly and genuinely engage in pleasant conversations with other individuals, whether in a professional or casual environment.
One of the most helpful themes that I found helpful throughout the book, was about how to deal with the differences in opinions and mistakes. Most of the advice given for this theme was mainly to become understanding and to not be blinded by your own opinions. One of the first principles that relates to this theme was to not immediately blame or criticize another individual for their mistakes (Dale 40). This correlates with another principle mentioned later in the book, which focuses on respecting the opinions and actions of others even if they are wrong (Dale 162). Dale Carnegie states that “criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself…Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s…pride …and arouses resentment” (Dale 27). The goal here is to instead try to understand the other person by seeing things through their perspective to develop empathy and avoid arguments. This alone is another principle (Dale 207). To approach situations like these, you need to be wise with the words you use and not accuse them or become angry. You must ask questions and get the person to explain themselves with logic. As I was reading these principles, I had to agree with this approach. By giving others the chance to explain themselves you can avoid misunderstandings, arguments, and even come to a solution before it even becomes a problem.
This was quite helpful for me because it helped me understand how to deal with these kinds of situations. For instance, my siblings are currently going through puberty and they tend to be reckless. In the past, I would just get angry at them and criticize their actions. This was clearly the wrong choice because you cannot win an argument with a teenager. Dale Carnegie himself states that “… an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right” (Dale 144). I have since then taken a different approach. Before criticizing or condemning them I ask them to explain the motives behind their actions, and I try to comprehend their perspective. By allowing them to do this, most of the time they realize on their own that they are at fault and apologize. It makes sense that by getting the person to explain their thought process out loud, they get the chance to realize their mistake or how their opinions and actions can be upsetting towards you. And if you are the one who is wrong “admit it quickly and emphatically’ (Dale 172).
Another theme that I found helpful was being genuine and sincere when engaging in conversations with others. The first principle that relates to this theme was to give honest and sincere appreciation to others (Dale 54). Dale Carnegie says that this is not to be confused with flattery. He states that the difference between appreciation and flattery is “one is sincere and the other is insincere…One is unselfish; the other selfish” (Dale 51). When you have conversations with others you must be honest with your words. It is only logical that you need to learn more about the person that you are conversing with, so you need to encourage them to talk about themselves. By analyzing their qualities when you communicate with them, you can praise them for their good traits. I agree with these principles. By being an observant listener, you can have an honest conversation with someone. Most of the time, I see that people just agree with what you say without actually paying attention. Honestly, I used to do this sometimes with family members, but it became problematic whenever they asked a question, and I did not know what to say. In the end, I was being selfish for not listening or paying attention; however, now I try to pay attention to everything they have to say no matter how insignificant. For instance, ever since I started to compliment my little sister on her interests, she has been less rebellious towards me. For example, I would say things like “I do not understand why you like to watch those videos, but they do look kind of interesting,” instead of “you are weird for watching those videos.” This has also helped me in unfamiliar environments. When I am having a conversation with someone I just met, I try to note all of their qualities. It makes it easier to carry out a conversation after you give an honest praise. Since there is no honesty in flattery and it could get you in trouble. For example, I could praise a stranger’s shirt to get them to like me and say “I like your taste in music. I like that band too,” but in reality, I have no clue who that band is. This would be dishonest of me and it will become more difficult to continue a conversation because they can respond with, “Really, what is your favorite song from them?” In this case, I would not know what to respond and the conversation would be cut short or might even become awkward. So, nothing good comes from lying when you are trying to have a good conversation with an individual. It also takes away any form of trust.
Overall, this book has definitely given me insight on how to be a better conversationalist.
In the past, I would go out of my way to avoid any form of social gatherings, such as family reunions, parties, school events and even hanging out with my friends. After learning and using some of the communication techniques in this book, I have more confidence in myself to converse with others. I have even attended a party recently and none of the conversations that I had with people felt forced or awkward, which was a nice feeling. By using the principles in this book, I have been engaging with others and have a better understanding of how to communicate with others. My relationship with my family members has also improved just by simply changing the way that I approach situations. At this point, I do not feel as nervous to pursue a business career. I know that with more practice and experience I will get to a point in my life where having simple conversations will become a fear of the past, no matter who I am talking to.
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