Friday, June 21, 2013

Thoughts on Winning Friends and Influencing People

I finally finished reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carneggie a while ago. I can't say I was really enthused by the book, as evidenced by the fact that it took me over a month to read it. My main interest in reading it was due to it having percolated into popular culture as The Book for learning how to deal with people successfully. Whether this is just due to it's age or the name recognition of the author vs it's actual merit is something I am not sure of, although I'm less inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt now that I've read it.

So why do I feel like I've not learnt much from this book that so many people swear by? Part of it is presentation. Each point is only illustrated with a series of anecdotes, and as we all should know, the plural of anecdote is not data. This is a collection of feel good stories, and if presented as such I wouldn't be so unsatisfied, but the claims it made starting out were of scholarship and research and on that basis the book oversold itself (I'll admit my background might make me view research in a more mathematical orientated way, but even loosening those standards I still feel it didn't meet the standards it claimed). Overall, it's made a claim that this is a good way to deal with people, but hasn't backed up the claim.

Another reason I didn't like the message conveyed in the book from a number of stories such as the salesman who found out a potential buyer's son liked stamps, so went out and bought a rare stamp as a gift and so got the sale, which to me feels like a bad message. The person didn't get the sale because he was selling a good product at a good price that met the needs of the buyer, but because they did something nice that was irrelevant to the transaction. I don't think it's cynical to say that if you're making a large purchase on behalf of your company, giving the sale to the guy who was nice to you just because he was nice to you is a dereliction of duty. Some of the tactics suggested in the book do seem cynical, or at least some of the applications described are. A salesman finding out the needs of the business he's trying to sell to and altering his pitch to suit is sensible and a good thing. A salesman finding out the manager is a baseball fan and spending the meeting talking baseball with the potential client is being manipulative rather than standing on his merits.

The last problem I have with the book is a message that I partly find contradictory and partly makes me feel as though I fail at being a human being. Several times the book stresses that when showing an interest in people it must be sincere, and not just flattery, but then gives examples where the interest is insincere. The part where this makes me feel like an incomplete person is that in general I don't find people interesting. Specific individuals yes, but it generally takes me quite a while to get there, and it usually requires some sort of context where I have the time to get to know them (university, work, board gaming, etc). So being told that the essential key to good interactions with people is something I don't have (and that faking it is bad) is discouraging at the least (at the most it makes me feel like a failure as a person that something fundamental to the human experience is missing in me).

So what can I gain from all this? Be nice to people? I already try to do that. Start with a positive and then move to the negative? The "You're doing this thing great but need to work on this other thing" routine just makes the first part sound phoney. Do something that doesn't come naturally to me but don't fake it. The final section on tips for married life quote clearly dates the book quite markedly. I get the point the book is trying to make but the implementation it suggests seems flawed and impractical.

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