Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People

If someone has bad social skills, is life easier for them, or harder?

Chances are you said harder. A person can have all kinds of other skills and great qualities – but if they have bad social skills, many people won’t pay attention to their great qualities, or will just avoid them altogether.

“Bad social skills” can mean a lot of things – awkwardness, being self-centered, rudeness, uncontrollable combativeness, etc. There are few careers or paths through life where those qualities help. Maybe they can find a career that doesn’t need social skills – the trouble is that for every career that doesn’t need them, there are nine more that do. I’ve come to believe that improving your own social skills is one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself.

Which brings me to How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

A Classic for a Reason

Win Friends is one of the best selling self-help books of all time. First published in 1936, it has sold millions of copies over the decades. If you ask anyone who reads lots of self-help books about books to improve social skills, they will almost always mention Win Friends.

It’s a classic for a reason: the principles are timeless, and anyone who wants to improve their social skills should read it.

The title explains the book: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You’ll learn the essential skills for handling people, making people like you, persuading people, and more.

The book has 30 principles for human relations, with what I see as three consistent themes:

  1. Make people feel good. Smile! Give sincere appreciation. Be a good listener. Be understanding, and see things from the other person’s perspective. Be genuinely interested in other people. Make them feel important. And always remember the other person’s name.
  2. Avoid making people feel bad. Begin in a friendly way. Avoid arguments at all cost. Never embarrass someone, and always allow them to save their pride. If a person makes a mistake, make it seem easy to fix. And above all, never criticize, condemn, or complain.
  3. Be indirect wherever possible. Ask questions rather than giving orders. Talk in terms of other people’s interests. Admit your mistakes easily, and talk about other’s mistakes indirectly. Let the other person think the idea is theirs, and let them do most of the talking.

If you’re like most people, you’ll read these principles and remember all of the times you broke them (I certainly did!). Even better, you’ll make plans to stop breaking them.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy. These principles are hard to master – however, time spent doing so will pay you back a thousand fold in business, and in life.

Using the Principles

I’m going to acknowledge that many people criticize this book – some people say that the principles are only for manipulators, that sometimes you need open honesty rather than politeness, or that the robber barons (Scwab, Rockefeller, etc.) don’t deserve the praise that Dale Carnegie expresses for them. Many of the critics make interesting points, and other reviewers address these critiques well. I do address one important criticism at the end of this review.

The most important thing to realize about Win Friends is that these principles are tools – tools that can be used in all kinds of ways. Used at their best, you can use Win Friends to be a better friend, partner, and neighbor. You could use these principles with the mindset “I like this person, and want to treat them well.” That’s going to include things like being a good listener, and seeing things from their perspective. When you like someone, all of these principles are principles of how to be a good friend.

On the other hand, let’s be honest: Win Friends was written with executives, businessmen, and salespeople in mind. Warren Buffet credits much of his success to the teachings of Dale Carnegie. Win Friends has special advice for people in business, and anyone else trying to win a promotion or promote their career should pay attention.

It’s also possible to use these principles for awful purposes. If someone sets their mind to it, these principles can be used to manipulate, abuse, and harm untold numbers of people. Charles Manson also credits much of his “success” to the teachings of Dale Carnegie – who knows how many master manipulators also say the same?

Use these principles well, and use them ethically – towards others, and towards yourself.

A Final Caution

I believe these principles are incredibly valuable – however, there is a possible downside. It’s possible someone could follow these principles, and end up becoming overly agreeable in the process, or developing a weak sense of self – something that most people don’t want happening to them.

If you’re reading this, we probably value many of the same things: ethics, rationality, self-esteem, and being an excellent judge of character. We all want to win friends – does that mean tolerating unethical people, or people who are bad for you? We all want to influence people – how can we do it without forgetting who we are or what we believe? How can we follow these principles, while allowing for necessary rejection: rejection of people who don’t meet our ethical standards, and rejection from being open and honest about who we are?

Let me be clear: wanting to improve your social skills, win friends, and influence people? All good things! Just don’t forget your most important values in the process.

I recommend reading this book in the spirit of an old saying: “Learn the rules like a pro, so that you can break them like an artist.” Learn the principles of this book, and apply them everywhere you can – so that you break them if a higher reason demands it.

4 out of 5 stars. You can read more about this book on Amazon.