Review + Notes: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Would you like to make new friends? Do you want to persuade more people to your way of thinking? Would you like to be a more successful salesperson? Or even just a more like-able person? If so, then you may want to embrace the message extolled in the timeless classic How to Win Friends & Influence People.

More than just a classic work of American non-fiction, Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece is also widely recognized as the grandfather of all self-help books.

First published in 1937, How to Win Friends & Influence People recently celebrated its seventieth year in print — a remarkable achievement for any book. Even more remarkable, it has sold over 16 million copies, and is still going strong.

Nowadays, it’s taken as common knowledge that “emotional intelligence” has a profound impact on people’s success in their careers and personal lives. But this idea wasn’t always so widely held. In fact, it was Dale Carnegie’s Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that first posited the theory (and backed it up with evidence) that about 15 percent of a person’s financial success is due to technical knowledge, and 85 percent is due to one’s human relations skills.

Based on this theory, in the early 1930’s, Dale Carnegie — already an accomplished public speaker — came to the conclusion that American colleges were doing a fine job of imparting technical knowledge, but were falling short when it came to teaching “people skills.” (This is probably just as true today as it was then.) And so he began offering evening courses to small groups to help people improve their communications skills. Word of his courses began to spread. And, sensing a wider unmet need, the publishing company Simon & Shuster soon persuaded Carnegie to jot a few of his thoughts down on paper.

The rest, as they say, is history.

To this day, many organizations continue to require their best and brightest employees to take annual courses in public speaking, effective negotiations and other similar subjects. There are thousands of such courses on offer at any given time, and they vary in length, cost and quality. But if you were to travel across the country — and indeed around the world — and take a random sampling of the course reading materials, one core textbook would show up on your list time and time again: How to Win Friends & Influence People.

If it were based on boring theories alone, the popularity of Carnegie’s book would have faded a long time ago. But because of its solid grounding in real world experiences, it never goes out of style. A great many things may have changed since Roosevelt was President, but human nature is not one of them. This is why the rules that follow are as true today as when Carnegie first wrote them…

Live the Golden Rule

Carnegie offers up a number of specific tools and techniques to help his readers “win friends and influence people” (for lack of a better term), but all of those day-to-day tactics flow from the principle theme of his book: live the Golden Rule.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It seems simple enough when you read it on paper, but amazingly, a lot of us struggle to put it into practice. We’re often too quick to criticize, condemn or complain about people.

Instead of judging people, Carnegie urges his readers to try to empathise with them, and understand why they do what they do. Through empathy we can find better ways to be supportive, tolerant and kind. People naturally like others who treat them with kindness and will respond positively to such an approach.

Building on the “Golden Rule principle,” a second fundamental technique that underpins much of Carnegie’s book is the idea that we should try to find out what others want and then give it to them. There are many things that people want, including good food, good health and sexual gratification. But in most circumstances, the commodities we will be most readily able to offer to others around us are money and attention. According to Carnegie, the desire to feel important is one of our strongest desires. It’s the basic desire that motivates us to wear the latest styles, drive fancy cars, and climb the corporate ladder.

A fundamental technique to winning friends and influencing people is finding out how the person you have your sights on gets that desired feeling of importance in their lives. Once you know that person’s secret, you can take steps to make him or her feel important (or at the very least, try to avoid saying or doing things that undermine feelings of importance). When it comes to your employees, delivering public praise usually works; so long as it is sincere and heartfelt (people can smell insincere flattery from a mile away). But remember, some employees are more reserved by nature, and even sincere public praise can fail to rouse the desired feelings of importance. The key lies in knowing which buttons to push.

Sometimes the best way to make someone feel important is just to say “thank you” in a really sincere way. As the noted psychologist William James once observed, “The deepest need in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

You Like Me … You Really, Really Like Me!

Building on the above principles of paying attention to others and showing real concern, Carnegie offers up some specific tips for getting others to like us.

1. The first tip is to put effort into building relationships. Trust doesn’t happen overnight. When you put in a proper amount of time building a relationship, you’ll win their trust eventually. The basic concept is simple: you have to give, in order to get. Be there for others, and you’ll be rewarded in turn.

2. The second basic tip is to make a good first impression by smiling. Body language speaks volumes, and a simple smile is more important than many people realize. A smile helps to show that you genuinely like the other person. It shows you are glad to see them and want to be friendly. Even from across a crowded room, wearing a wide smile can attract people to you like a magnet.

3. A third tip is to remember the person’s name. Some of us are better at this than others, but even if it doesn’t come easily at first, with a little practice we can improve our recall skills in no time at all. Having name recall is absolutely critical because just about everyone values their name very highly. It’s no coincidence, says Carnegie, that many start-up companies are named after their founders. Nor is it an accident that most donors prefer to give large bequests to hospitals, libraries and museums that will name wings after them.

4. A fourth tip is to listen twice as much as you talk. We must actively encourage others to talk about themselves, and engage in “active listening.” Active listening means giving your undivided attention to the person who is speaking to you, rather than looking around the room to see who else might be there. Active listening is an amazingly powerful tool. For example, if an angry customer comes to complain, listening attentively can help to diffuse the situation. Just listening may even help make the grievances go away.

5. Building on the forth tip above, Carnegie’s final bit of advice on how to get people to like you is to talk in a way that interests others. Learn what others care about and talk about that. If you’re engaged in conversation with a group of people at a party, if you see people’s eyes starting to glaze over, just drop it (even if you haven’t quite finished expressing your thought). There’s no point in forcing the issue. It’s better to try a different topic of conversation.

Make Others Believe You

Despite your best efforts, not everyone in the world is going to want to become your best friend. But the good news is people don’t have to love you in order to respect you and believe what you’re telling them. According to Carnegie, once you’re able to effectively practice some or all of the following techniques, your odds of convincing other people of your point of view will improve dramatically:

1. Avoid arguments, since this is the only true way to actually win an argument. Why is that? Because if we start an argument with someone and you lose, then we’ve lost. But even if we win, we’ve still lost. Generally, the process of arguing only makes others angry or defensive. And if a person loses publicly, he may lose face and resent us. We’ll have won the battle but lost the war.

2. Show respect for the other people’s opinions. Even if they are wrong more often than they are right, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever persuade them to change their firmly held beliefs through mere words alone. “You may hurl at them the cool logic of a Plato or Immanuel Kant,” writes Carnegie, “but you will still not alter their opinions.” When we directly challenge other people’s opinions, we only make them want to strike back, not change their mind. Yes, over time, people’s opinions can and will change. But we might as well accept the fact that it’s not likely going to be because of anything we ever said.

3. Admit when we’re wrong. When we make a mistake, acknowledge it quickly and clearly. Generally when we admit our mistakes, the people we’ve harmed are more likely to be forgiving and supportive. When we don’t own up fast, others are apt to be more critical, and also more likely to punish us.

4. It’s unavoidable — and perfectly natural — to get angry from time to time. It can be harmful to keep negative emotions bottled up inside for too long. But even when we are really angry with someone, and words need to be spoken, Carnegie urges us to at least not yell and scream. We can’t win over someone who is feeling fearful towards us, he says. But if we make our points in a polite, but forceful way, we’ll be able to get our message across.

5. Get the other person to say “yes” in the beginning. Once we get a “no” response, we have a handicap to overcome, since the person we’re talking to wants to remain consistent with his or her initial position. Thus, it helps to start off with questions that will evoke a “yes” or a statement that will bring about agreement. Once your supervisor is in the habit of saying “yes” to your soft-ball introductory requests (e.g. “Do you agree we should both try to take some real time off this summer?”), we can start to make the tougher demands (e.g. “I’d like to take the entire month of August off to go canoeing in Alaska.”).

6. When someone approaches you with a complaint, let the other person do the talking. Do not try to jump in part way through to mount your defence, or start finishing his sentences for him. Just let the complainant talk himself out. As he does, you will learn more about his real, underlying problems (which may be different than some of the words that are coming out of his mouth), so you are in a better position to help. The key is to listen patiently with an open mind, and encourage the other person to express his ideas fully. And if you must speak, it’s helpful to say something like: “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.”

7. If you are seeking full-fledged cooperation from a manager, co-worker or subordinate, try letting the other person feel the idea was theirs — or at least partially theirs. People tend to have more faith in the ideas that they discover for themselves. This can mean swallowing your pride just a little bit, but the trade-off is there’s a better chance the project will be completed successfully.

8. Appeal to people’s higher aspirations and nobler motives. Since most people are idealists at heart, Carnegie believes you will consistently have better luck in convincing others to take action by appealing to their better motives. For example, if you’ve been put in charge of a PR campaign aimed at convincing people to stop littering, you may not want to threaten the public with hefty fines. Instead, tug on their heartstrings by explaining that litter-free roads and parks are better for their children, and better for the environment they live in.

9. Express your ideas in a dramatic way. By dramatizing your ideas you make them more powerful and persuasive. Use strong illustrations and showmanship to get your ideas across. This approach works well because merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid. To illustrate his point, Carnegie shares an anecdote from a cash register salesman who refined his sales pitch from simply telling his prospective customers that their continued use of antiquated models amounted to “throwing pennies away on every transaction” to actually throwing a handful of pennies on the floor to grab their attention. “See that,” he’d say. “This is what you’re doing with each and every transaction on that rusty old register.” Needless to say, the more dramatic pitch earned him many new customers.

10. Use competition to motivate others. This technique works well because, in Carnegie’s opinion, most working people are competitive by nature, and they look for any opportunity to prove their worth to others. This is particularly true in large organizations with a fair amount of routine and standardized work. Carnegie loved to tell the story of the 20th Century industrialist Charles Schwab who once drew a big “6” on the floor of his mill to show the night shift how many units the day shift had produced. The next day, when the day shift returned, they saw a “7” on the floor (meaning the night shift had outdone them). That inspired the day shift to work even harder and place a “10” on the floor when they left. By injecting a little healthy competition into the mix, Schwab encouraged his laborers to work harder than they ever had before.

Carnegie readily admits that these handy techniques may not work in every situation, and it’s also unlikely you’ll master them all overnight. But to quote Bernard Shaw, “If you teach a man anything, he will never learn.” Carnegie loved this quote, because it showed that learning is an active and life-long process. Human beings learn best by doing. And so, if you desire to master the art and science of “winning friends and influencing people,” you need to look for every opportunity to apply these rules. “Knowledge will only stick in our minds when it is used,” writes Carnegie. “Otherwise it is quickly forgotten.”


A lot of self-help books written in the 1930s would have little use or value today. How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the rare exceptions that have stood the text of time. In hindsight, it’s easy to see now why this book has become such a timeless classic. Like a great Shakespearean play, Dale Carnegie zeroed-in on a topic that never grows stale, and will forever resonate in the heart of every human being: how to build strong interpersonal relationships.

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