“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.” – John D. Rockefeller
What Can We, in 2020, Learn From an 80-Year-Old Book?
When “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was published, in 1936, unemployment in America was at 16.9%. It was the tail end of the Great Depression, and virtually no one was hiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national unemployment rates rose to an alarming 14.7% in April 2020. Whether you are a freshman or a senior, Dale Carnegie's valuable lessons on interpersonal relationships are guaranteed to improve your personal and academic journey to some degree.
Carnegie's Argument for Kindness
"Why, I wonder, don’t we use the same common sense when trying to change people that we use when trying to change dogs? Why don’t we use praise instead of condemnation?” - Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie dedicated his life to studying the trajectories of great leaders and their achievements. After conducting numerous case-studies, Carnegie concluded that kindness and empathy, above everything else, were common traits among the personalities he studied.
He also concluded that men, in general, are socialized to think that being brutish, dominant, and loud was the only way to demonstrate power and aptitude both in their personal lives and in competitive settings. Wrongfully considered a to be a liability in the workplace, Carnegie's main thesis is that being gentle and kind are the most valuable assets one can utilize to gain an edge over the competition.
The New Maslow Hierarchy
"There is only one way in the world to get someone to do something: you must excite in them the desire to do it. It is only by giving you what you want that I will manage to get you to do something" -Dale Carnegie
Abraham Maslow, a 20th-century American psychologist considered to be the founder of humanistic psychology, proposed a theory towards the hierarchical factors that motivated human action. The following image describes his model:
An adept of philosophers such as Sigmund Freud and William James, Carnegie believed that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs lacked a primal human need. What Freud described as "the desire to be recognized" is what Carnegie believes to be the only difference between humans and animals regarding basic needs. Contrary to Maslow's theory and after his numerous case studies on successful personalities, Carnegie reckoned the thirst for appreciation and recognition as a fundamental factor for influencing human action. It is the desire for recognition that has driven people like Lincoln, Dickens, or Rockefeller to fight against all odds and achieve greatness.
If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive
"The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want." -Dale Carnegie
Now that we have established the main thesis behind Carnegie's philosophy, empathy, how can we utilize this principle to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life? Genuinely appreciating and complementing people is a sure way to show empathy. It is not a matter of flattery, it is a new mental attitude towards interpersonal relationships. Sincere praise is the honey of human relations.
A surefire way to make someone dislike you is to openly criticize and condemn their mistakes in front of a group they belong to. As we have established previously, recognition is one of the basic human needs together with food, water, shelter, and security. Failing in genuinely recognizing someone given the opportunity is, at a primitive level, the same as denying food and shelter to fellow caveman thousands of years ago.
The Modern Science Behind Carnegie's Theory
"Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint." -Dale Carnegie
It does not matter if we now, in the 21st century, command flying steel beasts that weight thousands of pounds and move at hundreds of miles per hour or utilize shiny gadgets that can instantly connect you with someone across the globe - our brain is structurally still the same as it was thousands of years ago. As Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, stated in his book "Thinking Fast and Slow" (which we will be discussing in the near future), our brains operate in two distinct systems. System 1, the primitive system, operates automatically and quickly, with no sense of voluntary control, while System 2, the rational system, operates in complex problems, in a focused state.
No matter how hard we try to fight against it, the cognitive biases structured by System 1 are, most of the time, in control of our actions. With that in mind, publically attacking one's esteem has serious subconscious implications, as our brains were designed to ensure our basic needs are fulfilled. Endangering one's basic needs immediately puts their System 1 on command, doing whatever is necessary to ensure one's survival.
Conversely, genuinely complimenting someone can have the opposite effect, making their System 1 perceive you as an ally, someone who can be trusted and deserves respect. Genuine appreciation goes a long way to improving your interpersonal relationships. Carnegie's time-tested methods are, once more, sure to be a valuable asset in your personal life and career, assisting you in navigating troubled times like this.