Others First


A couple days ago I began reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I’ve held off reading it for years thinking, perhaps as you might, that it was a sleazy book for even sleazier salesmen and saleswomen.

How many times can I learn the same lesson—not to judge a book by its cover? To pretend to be in a position of judgment of a book having never read a single page is a sin that I and others have committed innumerable times in our lives. And it’s a habit I can’t seem to break. But there’s been an awakening.

I realize now. I realize how much of life passes me by when I write things off out of hand. That’s no way to live. This book made me cry—definitely wasn’t expecting that! The thoughts and emotions it’s inspired in me have initiated something of a turning point in my life.

In his book Carnegie lays out the lessons he has learned about how humans interact, what our motives are, how we can use this knowledge to help ourselves and others communicate more effectively and engage in mutually beneficial relationships and transactions. Very few of Carnegie’s words are devoted to teaching you specific selling techniques. Instead he focuses on helping you build relationships with people, which most obviously includes the people with whom you do business.

The fact that I was so far off the mark concerning the sleaziness of this book is extraordinary given how much time Carnegie devotes to stressing sincerity in dealing with people. Smile often, he says, but don’t fake it. Be nice to people. Offer them praise not flattery (flattery is the sleazy form of praise). Be genuinely interested in other people. Consider this excerpt:

If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can’t radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return—if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve.

Oh yes, I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.

It is perhaps the least sleazy book I’ve ever come across.

I’m flying through this book, ignoring the risk of paper cuts, kicking up a microscopic amount of dust with every vigorous flip of the page, all to absorb the next lesson that Mr. Carnegie has to offer.

The part that had me in tears, if you’re interested, told of a young nursing student who shared a Thanksgiving meal with a lonely boy in the hospital. Disclaimer: I’m a sucker for a human story like that, but I don’t think that’s the only reason I cried. I think that simple story is incredibly powerful for anyone with a heartbeat and a conscience. The story has absolutely nothing (and everything) to do with making that huge sale you’ve been hoping for, or how best to land a promotion at work.

You have desires. You’re not alone. Instead of telling people about what you want, tell them about what they want, and how you can help them get it. See the world through their eyes. And be nice. And care about people and their interests. Even if you don’t make the sale, you’ve done something even better—made the relationship. I’ll take a friendship over a sale any day.

Besides, Carnegie’s thesis, from what I’ve surmised only having half-finished the book, is that making the relationship takes care of selling. You’ll hardly have to sell them on anything at all if you follow the author’s advice.

And I’m not trying to sell you on this book, I’m trying to sell you on a more enjoyable life—one with increased amounts of joy and fun and camaraderie and control and yes, money. I’m not speaking from a place of having reaped the benefits of this book. I haven’t yet tested any of the book’s suggestions, but there must be a reason why it’s sold millions of copies over the last 80 years, right? Books filled with unhelpful or untrue maxims cannot boast of the sustained success that this book has had over the decades. The lessons within are priceless, timeless, and some of them, Carnegie is not shy in revealing, have existed for millennia.

Carnegie wasn’t an omniscient sage—not a modern-day Confucius—he was simply a compiler of wisdom. And I’m very, very glad that he was. For without this book I’d have still been walking around, selfish and ignorant, not knowing the possibilities of a life spent thinking of others first.

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