At age 15, Warren Buffett discovered a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie at his grandfather’s house. As a young man, Buffett severely struggled with people skills and public speaking. For instance, the idea of standing in front of a crowd made him physically ill. Positively impacted by Carnegie’s work, he signed up for a class at the Dale Carnegie Institute in New York City when he was 21. Buffett not only got over his stage fright—he also proposed to his wife half-way through the training. Today, the world-renowned businessman still credits the book as a huge factor in his success.
But Buffett isn’t the only person who’s learned life-changing lessons from How to Win Friends and Influence People. Since its publication in 1936, the book has sold over 15 million copies. Today, the timeless best-seller is still highly popular among entrepreneurs and business professionals.
Yet, the world at the time the book was written is very different from the one modern readers live in today. While most of How to Win Friends and Influence People is still relevant in 2020, there are some aspects that need a modern take.
Find out more about Dale Carnegie, his top timeless lessons on influence and persuasion, and a few ways some of his teachings can be modernized.
Who is Dale Carnegie?
In 1888, Dale Carnegie was born in Maryville, Missouri. His parents were farmers but from early on he wanted to be a Chautauqua lecturer. Chautauqua was a social movement that could be described as an assembly with a lineup of inspirational speakers, reformers, and entertainers. Instead, Carnegie became a salesman. He later moved to New York City and began life as an actor. Yet, his dream of being a part of Chautauqua never ceased.
With his knack for public speaking, salesmanship, and interpersonal skills, Carnegie realized he could still fulfill his life goal as an adult educator and public speaker. He convinced a YMCA in New York City to let him teach a class dedicated to advancing people’s business skills.
Due to the rising popularity of his classes, he founded the Dale Carnegie Institute two years later in 1912. Today, the organization is stronger than ever with 8 million graduates and 2,700 certified teachers worldwide.
Throughout his life, he also wrote 20 books and booklets. Yet, Carnegie is still most famously known for How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Why Was How to Win Friends and Influence People Written?
In the introduction, Carnegie explains the idea for How To Win Friends came while teaching his public speaking students. He quickly realized they needed training in the “fine art of getting along with people.”
While he was the teacher, Carnegie was also the student. He spent years compiling and summarizing the lessons he found on influence and interpersonal skills in business. The book features information from biographies, articles, family records, and personally conducted interviews with some of the world’s most successful leaders.
Carnegie’s Timeless Lessons on the Art of Influence
As mentioned above, most of the teachings from How to Win Friends and Influence People are still applicable in 2020. Below, find Carnegie’s top lessons all business leaders can still apply today when prospecting new clients or closing a deal.
1. Speak to Client’s Emotions
“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion,” Carnegie writes. Scientifically speaking, he is correct, especially when it comes to decision-making. The primal brain is dissimilar from the rational brain because it is heavily triggered by emotion, rather than logic.
For this article, Leaders consulted with Dr. Dan Sullivan, a chiropractor and persuasion and influence coach who built an online multi-million dollar business in a few short years. Dr. Sullivan studies the neurological science behind what makes people influential and explains: “Neuroscientists now know the primal brain is the decision-maker, which is a game-changer in understanding how to relay messages. Things like energy, visuals, facial expressions, pain points, stories, and emotions all speak to the primal brain and influence decision-making.”
In a business deal, each party walks into the room with their own objectives. When closing, assess the client’s emotional triggers and interests. For example, watch for signs of fear or doubt as they make a decision.
Positively influence the person by:
- Asking questions
- Listening to a person’s reasoning
- Validating their emotions
- Building a bridge that achieves common objectives
2. Frequently Use Names
When building a relationship with a potential client, use their name. It’s a simple, effective tactic in persuasion and influence. As Carnegie states: “Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
According to a study published in Brain Research, the brain activates in regions that control self-representation when someone hears their name. In essence, this means people become more engaged because they feel represented and recognized when personally identified.
In practice, try using a person’s name when:
- Greeting, saying goodbye, and following up with someone
- Acknowledging them for a great point or good idea
- Discussing similarities
- Referencing them in a discussion
- Expressing genuine compliments
3. Ground the Discussion in Commonalities
Influence the closing of a deal by centering the conversation around what the two parties have in common. For example, while two business owners might not agree on all aspects of the proposal, concentrate on what is agreed upon. Carnegie says persuasive people avoid letting disagreements develop into arguments. He writes: “There is only one way to get the best of an argument—and that is to avoid it.”
Work through differences by:
- Setting aside any opposing views during the first half of the meeting
- Recognizing and discussing similarities
- Asking questions about the other person’s needs
- Actively listening
- Inviting the person to collaborate on a solution
4. Keep the Conversation Constructive
Carnegie warns business leaders of the negative effects of criticism. “Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment,” he writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also says to avoid complaining and condemning.
Overall, the point is yielding a positive relationship with another person. When closing a deal, the two parties should leave the meeting feeling excited about working together. This can’t happen without establishing a partnership founded upon respecting, understanding, and listening to each other.
5. Capture Interest By Telling a Story
Dale Carnegie used storytelling as a means to “connect with people, both emotionally and intellectually.” Telling stories is a means of explaining vision and inspiring action in an interesting manner. For example, How to Win Friends and Influence People is full of stories, anecdotes, and quotes. Combined, they establish credibility, trust, and excitement, which ultimately leads to buy-in.
Storytelling establishes strong bonds among people and deeply influences decision-making. “The brain is wired for vision. It’s the number one sense that has the greatest impact on human behavior. When you are told a story, your primal brain thinks, ‘This person cares about me,’ because we tell stories to the people we like and care about,” Dr. Sullivan explains the neurological connection behind this persuasion technique.
When storytelling while presenting a proposal:
- Open the meeting with a brief, attention-grabbing story that presents a problem
- Ask relatable, interesting questions. For example, use the phrase: “Did you ever wonder why . . . ” or “Have you ever thought . . .”
- Use visual aids
- Provide intriguing facts
- Quote famous leaders
- Relate the story to the solution the company provides
6. Display Passion and Belief
When it comes to making a sale, Carnegie says the key to influence is simple: “Flaming enthusiasm backed up by horse sense and persistence is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”
It shows when a company owner or salesperson doesn’t believe in the solution they’re providing to their customers’ problems. Dr. Sullivan says the subconscious mind naturally picks up on certainty, confidence, and authenticity. These factors influence tone and body language. So, if someone presenting a business opportunity isn’t being honest, their audience’s primal brain starts indicating danger.
However, when a person is being authentic, the reverse happens: they communicate trustworthiness. When business leaders connect to an inspiring mission and fulfill a purpose that serves others, they ignite passion and belief.
7. Act as a Servant Leader
Servant leadership is an ancient practice that amplifies a company’s positive influence by focusing on fulfilling others’ needs. This is a common theme found in How to Win Friends and Influence People. When the book was written in 1936, “servant leadership” wasn’t a commonly used term, although Carnegie refers to it in a roundabout way. For example, in one passage, he says, “The rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage.”
When acting as a servant leader gaining new business:
- Focus on meeting the customer’s needs
- Demonstrate the company’s ethics and values
- Describe the shared vision of the business partnership in detail
- Don’t dictate authority
- Ask questions and actively listen to a client’s answers
- Be understanding and empathetic
- Multiply leaders at every touchpoint in the business
- Continuously build a community based on trust and belonging
Finally, Dale Carnegie was a huge advocate of smiling and outwardly communicating happiness. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, he writes: “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, ‘I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.” While it’s a simple business tip, it’s effective in positively influencing the primal brain.
According to research conducted by Dr. Alex Todorov, a Princeton University psychologist, people make judgments about others in a matter of milliseconds. In essence, the more primitive parts of the brain form opinions based on others’ appearances as a defense mechanism. Smiling is influential because it makes clients feel safe and comfortable.
Winning Friends in 2020
The timeless lessons above prove most of How to Win Friends is still applicable today. Yet, in 2011, Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc. released a reimagined, modernized version of the book. While it certainly provides useful information on navigating influence and persuasion in the digital age, it is not the same book. Instead of changing the content, understanding Carnegie’s work in its context helps preserve his personality and wisdom.
Nevertheless, there are a few areas modern leaders can improve on when garnering new business and closing deals in 2020.
1. Focus more on servant leadership and community building.
Robert Greenleaf didn’t repopularize the idea of servant leadership until the 1970s. As one of the most powerful, transformative leadership styles, it’s important that today’s leaders learn more about it.
To do this, check out:
- “The Servant as Leader” by Robert Greenleaf
- Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
- Dare to Serve by Cheryl Bachelder
- “Servant Leadership: Fulfilling Needs, Transforming Lives” by Leaders
2. Stay connected to achieving the company’s “why” in-person and online.
In 2009, Simon Sinek began helping leaders learn how to effectively communicate their purpose to customers, clients, and employees. This is something Carnegie touches on, but learning Sinek’s strategy helps modern leaders become razor-sharp in developing their mission and messaging.
Get started with:
- “Start with Why” TEDx Talk by Simon Sinek
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek (the book)
3. Use technology as a tool that builds credibility and trust in the digital age.
In 1936, a person’s word and honor often dictated a deal, but in the age of information, the internet serves as a fact-checker. Additionally, websites and social media provide a place for multiple touchpoints that build trusting communities.
Establish trust by:
- Displaying testimonials on the company website
- Developing case studies and white papers
- Conducting surveys
- Showing statistics
- Presenting high-quality branding
4. Develop core values and beliefs.
Societal standards have changed considerably since the 1930s. Today, socially conscious companies attract millennials and Gen Z customers and team members.
As a business leader:
- Identify and state the organization’s beliefs.
- Work with those who align with these values.
- Uphold these standards by serving causes that support them.
- Be willing to take a stand when the business’s beliefs are compromised.
5. Exchange critical feedback that produces a positive outcome.
Carnegie taught self-improvement but tended more toward the passive side when it came to voicing criticism. Yet, constructive feedback is an essential part of growth and development. For this reason, it cannot be disregarded.
When exchanging feedback with a business partner:
- First, create a shared vision.
- Identify responsibilities for both parties
- Check-in with one another regularly
- Be willing to have honest conversations with one another
- Read Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead to learn more about having discussions that require vulnerability
What to Read Next
While How to Write Friends and Influence People is one of the best business leadership books, it isn’t the only one that can help entrepreneurs, executives, and managers grow. Tap into a vast source of inspiration and information by checking out the article listed below. It features a shortlist of the greatest leadership books of all time.