I just finished reading a well known book by Dale Carnegie titled How to Win Friends and Influence people. Many believers consider this a dangerous book, and I think it can be. But I am going to contend that if you take good care not to read the book how it wants to be read—selfishly, with an aim to getting what you want out of people—but rather read it carefully with a view to using the advise for the glory of God, you will actually find it to be very valuable.
Tom Elliff, my uncle, testified that in high school he was somewhat of an introvert. He did not like much to talk to people, and often preferred just to be by himself. In fact, his best friend at the time was a deaf guy. Then he learned that Dale Carnegie was in town holding a course on “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and he and a friend attended the lectures. My uncle said that there is no doubt the course had an impact in his life. It helped him to come out of his shell and really relate to people. To talk to my uncle now, you would be surprised to learn that he was ever anything other than outgoing and a good conversationalist. Now, as an evangelist, he travels often and speaks to many new people. God used the course in my uncle’s life to make him more effective for Himself. I really believe God can use this book to do the same for you.
Each chapter in the book deals with one “principle,” and lays out for the reader one true story after another of people who used the principle and the results that came from it. I want to draw out a few of the principles and explain them. My hope is to get you to read the book yourself because I think if you do, it will help you to become more focused on other people, a better conversationalist, a more effective teacher (if you teach), and in general just a more caring person. If you don’t read it, I hope that you will at least try the few ideas below. Here they are, with my own commentary:
“Become genuinely interested in other people.”This is a perfect rule for those of us that often have trouble carrying on a fluent conversation with people, and actually it is a valuable rule for everyone. It is important to make people feel welcome and comfortable around you, and this tip usually works wonders. It is also an excellent tip to use when sharing the gospel. Naturally, if someone is telling you something, and you are really interested in what they are saying, you will ask lots of questions. When you talk to people, all you have to do is sincerely want to know all about what they are telling you, all about them, or all about what they believe, and questions will automatically come to your mind. You do not even have to do much of the talking. Just be interested, and you may be surprised at how smoothly the conversation will go.
“Arouse in the other person an eager want.” I teach violin, and this one is really helpful. It is my duty to be the most effective teacher I can be. That involves getting people to do what I tell them to do. The only way I can get anyone to do what I tell them is by getting them to want to do it. I have often been guilty of telling them what I want. Instead, I should think about what they want. When I do remember to do this, it is usually enough to tell them how they will benefit from doing what I tell them (ie. “If you hold your bow correctly you will produce a much prettier sound and will have better control of your bow” or “If you are drastic with your dynamics (volume; loud and soft), then people will be very impressed. It is the people with drastic dynamics that are the most enjoyable to hear”). Other times it takes a concrete motivation, such as a prize, to make them eager to do what I say.
Carnegie tells a story to illustrate this principle:
For example: one day Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son tried to get a calf into the barn. But they made the common mistake of thinking only of what they wanted: Emerson pushed and his son pulled. But the calf was doing just what they were doing; he was thinking only of what he wanted; so he stiffened his legs and stubbornly refused to leave the pasture. The Irish housemaid saw their predicament. She couldn’t write essays and books; but, on this occasion at least, she had more horse sense, or calf sense, then Emerson had. She thought of what the calf wanted; so she put her maternal finger in the calf’s mouth and let the calf suck her finger as she gently led him into the barn.
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Carnegie writes: “Most people don’t remember names, for the simple reason that they don’t take the time and energy necessary to concentrate and repeat and fix names indelibly in their minds. They make excuses for themselves; they are too busy.” My parents and I have visited our sister church, Christ Fellowship of West Plains, a couple of times. I have always been impressed with how many of them remembered and used my name on our second visit, some of whom I barely even met on our first visit. I automatically felt a closer connection with the group because of that; I was right at home around them, as if I had been seeing them every day since I first met them. Though it was just a small way to show that they care, it was beautiful. Ever since that time I’ve wanted to be like that, to make people feel comfortable—like old friends—simply by making the effort to remember their names and use them.
“Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” Carnegie says: “If, as a result of reading this book, you get only one thing—an increased tendency to think always in terms of the other person’s point of view, and see things from that person’s angle as well as your own—if you get only that one thing from this book, it may easily prove to be one of the stepping-stones of your career.” This is a principle that will soften you in conflict. Even if you are sure the other person is wrong, remember that that person does not think that he is. There is no reason to rub it in that someone is wrong. The result would only be to make that person feel dumb and defensive. If you want to avoid many arguments, applying this principle will certainly help. After all, a good many arguments are just misunderstandings.
Like I said earlier, you should read this book with discernment. Selfish motives are the main appeal of the book. It is all about getting people to like you, and getting people to do what you want them to do. Carnegie does make the point that in every one of these situations both parties should benefit. This is true. Yet, the motivation for the believer should be the benefit of others and the glory of God. Keep that forefront in your mind, and you will learn many good things from this book.