Thoughts on faith, life and culture
Carnegie – How to Win Friends & Influence People
How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie is one of the most influential books of the last 100 years in America. Carnegie’s book and public speaking classes have shaped American business culture and social interaction as we know it. Many people wonder why people smile in photos today versus the straight faced, stoic poses of earlier times. Carnegie’s book with its exhortation to smile and appear friendly is part of the reason. Few books have surpassed its influence, but how should we approach Carnegie’s book as a Christian?
The main point is easily discerned in the title. He aims to help people win friends and influence people. More specifically he wants to help you know “how to understand and get along with people; how to make people like you; and how to win others to your way of thinking” (xvii).
From a Christian perspective we must recognize that the very premise of the book is flawed. It isn’t how to love others, but how to win friends and influence people. We shouldn’t love people for the reaction we expect to get. We love people because God has loved us (1 John 4:19).
Another aspect of the book Christians should be aware of is the focus on charisma rather than character. Carnegie’s book emphasizes charisma and friendliness in the evaluation of a person over character and virtue. Though we should visibly carry with us the joy of our salvation, our main desire is to be conformed to Christ, not a gregarious personality.
Though Carnegie unhelpfully exploits Christian principles for the purpose of self-advancement the way he extrapolates those principles is helpful. That is why in reading this book we can plunder the Egyptians, so to speak, and glean helpful insights into how to love and lead others well. I’ll focus on some helpful takeaways from the book.
Carnegie rightly points out the importance of good listening (80-88). He exhorts readers not just to wait till it’s our turn to talk, but to take a genuine interest in the other person (51-62). There is much to be commended in these pages. Developing good listening skills is important to caring for people. Carnegie is right to point out that we should really seek to take a genuine interest in others. We shouldn’t listen until it’s our turn to talk. We should get lost in another person’s interests and life. As Carnegie points out, this will help us make more friends than getting people interested in us. More importantly, it’s a great way to love others.
Carnegie mentions the importance of remembering people’s names. “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest sound in any language,” Carnegie says (79). We should actively try to become good at remembering people’s names. In doing so we demonstrate that we care about that person. People often say they are bad with names, yet, there is usually some collection of stats people remember perfectly. Often times it’s simply a matter of making people’s names a priority.
Carnegie discourages people from confronting people directly in order to avoid hurting their pride. To his point, we should give someone critical feedback as delicately as possible. God mercifully doesn’t allow us to be confronted with all our sin or it would crush us. Helping someone “save face” (211) may mean calling them out for sin, but taking steps to save them from complete embarrassment, knowing they will be embarrassed plenty or perhaps crushed by this difficult word. Nathan prudently went about confronting David with his sin (2 Sam. 12). We should too. For example, talking about our own mistakes before we criticize someone (203-207) is a way we admonish others in grace. Carnegie also recommends encouraging people before criticism as a way to prepare them. This can be seen as manipulative if you don’t mean your encouragement. However, sharing encouragement with someone, preferably before and after criticism, reminds the person that you are for them and think more highly of them than this criticism. Jesus spent an enormous amount of time with the disciples and that loving faithfulness helped them not despair when he had hard words for them. We often don’t have this kind of time to commit to a person making it even more important to add encouragement with criticism.
However, there will be times we need to directly confront someone trusting God to soften their heart. They may be upset with us for a time, but in the end its worth it. Carnegie doesn’t have character development in mind but career advancement. Opposed to Carnegies belief that criticism is dangerous and futile because it hurts a person’s pride (5) we must be committed to loving others by wisely and graciously acting in their best interest, not our own.
Carnegie says we should always try to appreciate people by complimenting them. He says we shouldn’t try to get anything out of people with compliments (95), yet the name of the chapter is “How to Make People Like You Instantly.” Earlier in the book he entices us to make people feel good so we can hold them in the palm of our hand (18). In contrast to this, we should encourage others to build them up. Paul exhorts Christians to try to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10). This isn’t to hold others in the palm of our hands, but to sincerely encourage them.
Getting People Nodding Their Head “Yes”
People are more easily persuaded when we get them nodding in agreement from the beginning, Carnegie argues (144-49). I agree that when you begin by stating your disagreement it can tend to cause people to dig in their heels. It’s helpful to find ways where we can resonate with others, even if there are points of disagreement. This is especially important in evangelism. We should be able to point out where a person’s worldview or longings are consonant with Scripture. Then we can gently point out dissonance in their view with Scripture.
There is certainly wisdom in Carnegie’s book even if the motives are terrible. We should discerningly apply some of his principles, but for very different motives than the book offers. Our motive is to love others as ourselves. Ultimately, we should dwell not on how we can win others to like us, but on how Jesus won our hearts when he died for us and reconciled us to himself. That is what motivates us to love others (2 Cor. 5:14).