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I was reading a blog post about how hard it is to make friends after college. It was kind of a sales pitch for his networking program, but the point kind of hit home, that I can certainly count on one hand the amount of legitimate ‘friends’ that I’ve made since college. It just seems more difficult, or we aren’t in the right head-space to make those deeper friendships or something.
So that reminded me of a book I read a couple years ago as part of one of my year-long challenges. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. (He has no relation to Andrew Carnegie the steel king of the late 1800s. Dale was one of the first big sales/self improvement writers. It was written in 1936, but as I read it again as I was preparing for this podcast, and now that I’ve been in the ‘real world’ for 6 years or so, I found that the concepts in it still hold a ton of relevance. I wanted to do a podcast where we discuss a few of the concept and get the other Good Guys opinions on if they see this type of stuff happening. Hopefully we will land on some concrete recommendations and strategies for how to deal with people and come off as a ‘better guy to know’ in both personal and especially professional situations.
Part 1 – Fundamental Techniques in Handling people – These ones are certainly best used in a professional environment. The first principle he talks about is criticism.
“Human nature is to blame everyone but themselves” – You see this all the time in the work place. No one will ever say that they failed because of something they did. There is always something/someone else to blame. Timelines/technology/other teams, etc.
Because of this premise – Carnegie argues that criticisms is totally futile. It hurts people’s pride, makes them feel unimportant, etc. He gives a BUNCH of anecdotal examples of famous successful people like Abraham Lincoln that wrote that they never criticize anyone. I’ll just share one about Mark Twain:
“He wrote to an editor about a proofreader’s attempts to ‘Improve my spelling and punctuation.’ He ordered: “Set the matter according to my copy hereafter and see that the proofreader retains his suggestions in the mush of his decayed brain’ The writing of these stinging letters made Mark Twain feel better. They allowed him to blow off steam, and the letters didn’t do any real harm, because Mark Twain’s wife secretly lifted them out of the mail. They were never sent”
So here’s where I want to interject a practical thing we can do in today’s world – writing emails. You’ve heard this before and it admittedly sounds kind of dumb, but I’ve certainly done a version of this in my professional life. We are usually so quick to respond and email instantly, that we no longer get that thoughtfulness that letter writing and mailing used to, and so we are very susceptible to knee-jerk reactions. So the next time you write an email that you really want to lay into someone with. Don’t hold back, go nuts on your first version. Wallow in your smugness, and then compose a better version that dials the criticism way back.
As a follow-on tip that I just have from my own experience, if you are communicating criticism, because something needs to change, don’t call the person out directly. Use a lot of ‘we’ and ‘it’ instead of ‘you.’ Because, again, humans are great at rationalizing things so that they don’t blame themselves. As Carnegie says, rather than criticize people, try to figure out why they are the way they are.
The other principle I think is valuable in this first section is that the deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.
That pairs nicely with the following observation; “The only way anyone does anything, is if they WANT to do it.” It sounds almost pessimistic, but if you need to get someone to do something for you, you need to always keep this in mind, and frame everything you do with the premise that people are always thinking: “what’s in it for me?”
Part 2 – Ways to make people like you – These are great in any situation and honestly I’m going to start making a way more concerted effort on all of these. I’m going to re-order these from the way Carnegie lays them out, to make it a little bit more like an average introduction at a cocktail party or something:
- Step 1 – SMILE. This is a physiological life-hack. Carnegie inkled it back in in the 1930s, but since then, there have been study after study about the effects of certain kinds of smiling. It makes others comfortable with you, and even may change your own neural pathways into making you happier. It comes through over the phone, etc. It’s gotta be a real smile, though. This is a huge rabbit hole that might be worth doing a whole podcast on, but for now, challenge yourself to smile more. Especially when you greet the people you see every day, and when you meet a stranger.
- Step 2 – Names are of utmost importance! Think back to our fundamentals where we said that the most fundamental desire for humans is to feel important. What better way to have that manifest in that people remember your name? This is a really hard thing for me to do and I want to get better at it – and I’m going to give some techniques here in a second. But keep this quote from Carnegie in mind: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Formula to remember someone’s name:
- Know that the most common reason for forgetting someone’s name is because you’re not really listening. Usually this is from nerves about the impression you’re making. So you need to deliberately give your full attention and focus on THEM not yourself.
- Ask for the name again if you didn’t hear it correctly. I do this all the time, where I just nod and then 2 seconds later realize that I didn’t hear it right. Apologize and say you didn’t catch that. If it’s a weird name like Perek, ask if you’re saying it right, and if it’s REALLY weird, ask how they spell it or where it came from so you can burn it into your brain. I’ve never done this but it sounds legit.
- Use repetition in the ensuing conversation. So if I was just introduced to Perek at a party, I would say stuff like “Nice to meet you, Perek” and “So Perek, how long have you known the host of this party,” or “So Perek, what are you drinking and where can I get me some?” Make it a game to use the person’s name 3 times before you move on.
- Make associations to other people. Create a mental picture of the new person standing beside someone you already know well with a similar name. I’m skeptical of this one…
- Associate the person with an object or animal. Like “Perek-Penguin”
- Study the person’s face or other distinctive features that could help you remember later on. Like “Geo with the lazy-eye”
- Get a wing-man
- Write it down. If it’s a really important business contact or something you want to be sure to remember, write it down when you have the chance, along with any associations you made.
If all else fails, just ask again and move on. Be sure to do the other steps this time or else!
Become genuinely interested in other people. There is tons of stuff that goes along with this, but the main thing is that virtually all people like talking about themselves so if you can get them talking about themselves, they will love you.
Resist the urge to ‘one-up.’ We all know this guy so I don’t think we really need to talk about him, just don’t be this guy.
You also need to be actually genuinely interested in them, so I think it’s a good idea to have some topics you can ask about that this is natural for. For me, my go-to thing to ask about tends to drift towards business/economics. So if I’m talking to a stylist that works at a salon, I ask about her ratio of walk-ins to regular appointments. What ratio is best, would she like to have all appointments and no walk-ins? What is a good tip to give your stylist etc. If you ramp that up to a lawyers, I’m fascinated on how they decide what a ‘billable hour’ is and how many of their actual hours make up one billable hour etc.
Another good one is asking them about their most recent vacation or trip. (Be very cautious here to not one-up) Just ask about what they experienced that they didn’t expect, would they go back, etc. And be genuinely interested. Even if you have been to the place they went, just mention it in passing and get it back on their experience. Remember, we are always trying to make THEM feel important.
So we’ll call it there. That takes care of the first 2 sections of Carnegie’s book. The next sections deal with persuading someone to your point of view, and being a good leader. Would highly recommend giving the book a read, as it will definitely make you a good guy to know.