What we’ve got everywhere, in most of our attempts to communicate—at home, work and play—are continuing challenges. We may have the means to converse and correspond with anyone, anywhere in the world, almost instantly. But still, we continue to have basic difficulties in knowing what to say in people-to-people situations. We are often at a loss for words.
The same is true in our written communications, advertising, publicity reports,
books, e-mail—even memos. We search constantly for thoughts and phrases
to attract readers and hold their interest. Our words are only about 50 percent
effective in their selling task.
SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS
Ever since Adam and Eve, humans have wanted to improve their personal and business
relationships. Primarily, we’ve relied on our inborn instincts and the
teachings of parents, peers, prophets and wise men. Probably, most of mankind
In more recent times, in advanced cultures with our new studies of human behaviors,
we’ve found other sources to help us. We’ve had the writings and
instructive reports of specialists in psychology and other sciences with new
research and ideas to help us manage our personal relationships and business
Now, we can use myriad materials to guide us, such as self-help books, trade
magazines, trade shows, seminars, lectures, videotapes and Web sites on just
about any subject under the sun. We listen to experts—and many so-called
experts—tell us how to achieve success, happiness and wealth; how to make
friends and influence people; how to get along with our mates, family members,
relatives and work associates; how to cope with stress, illnesses like alcoholism
and other mental problems.
SELF-HELP IS BIG SUCCESS
We have made full-fledged celebrities of professional gurus and amateur speakers,
authors, actors, teachers, medical specialists, salespersons and many other former
unknowns who soon become well-knowns on TV and other media. They reach stardom
and big incomes almost overnight. Their shows and appearances on TV and other
media might reach more viewers in one night than early human behavior experts,
such as the late Dale Carnegie, reached in a lifetime of writing books and publishing
Printed and electronic self-help materials are big-volume too. Publishers produce
thousands of new and reprint books, manuals and other print materials yearly.
These are supplemented with electronic information materials on every possible
category. Millions of eager viewers and readers await every new offering. You
would think that all the facts and theories about every facet of human behavior
and illnesses would have been written or talked to death years ago. But authors
and authorities still come up with new angles and suggestions for every possible
subject that might be of help to varied groups. And people needing information
are always interested. How did it all get started?
CARNEGIE PIONEERED RESEARCH
Many books and learned papers about human behaviorism, clear back to the Bible,
preceded Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” But
Carnegie’s book was one of the first to be backed by solid research and
specific examples of people relationships in everyday work and home situations.
His book, published in 1936, was the first self-help book to become widely popular.
Almost 70 years later, with many editions and 16 million copies sold, it’s
still a good seller (about 100,000 yearly) in bookstores and libraries worldwide.
Carnegie was a Missouri farm boy, raised in poverty, who once picked strawberries
for five cents an hour, punched cattle and rode fences in western South Dakota.
He had to struggle for an education. Hard luck seemed to follow him in his early
years. He was painfully shy and met with defeat after defeat. He finally found
work away from the farm as a part-time management teacher at a New York YMCA.
In this work, he learned new speaking skills and insights for personal success,
completed his college work and started a new business to help discouraged persons
improve their communications and relationships.
STARTS NEW CAREER
As he looked back at his life and studied the lives of successful business leaders,
Carnegie realized “that my training in public speaking has done more to
give me confidence, poise and the ability to meet and deal with people than all
the rest of my college courses put together.”
From his research, he made the questionable comment that “about 15 percent
of financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and 85 percent
is due to skills in human engineering—to personality patterns and the ability
to lead.” Now he would devote his career to help men and women to overcome
their fears and develop courage.
STRESSED BASICS OF RELATIONSHIPS
Carnegie’s theories are as relevant today as they were 70 years ago. He
determined that the primary point about working and living with other people
is to make them feel important and needed. Here are his fundamentals that can
help you achieve this:
Become interested in other individuals. “You can make a friend in a few
days or weeks by being truly interested in what he or she has to say. You could
spend years not making friends by trying to get someone interested in you and
how important you think you are.”
Be a good listener. Hush up and listen as others talk about themselves and their
concerns. The road to any person’s heart is to talk to him or her about
the things they treasure most. Any person is a hundred times more interested
in his own problems and wants than he is in you and your problems.
Try not to criticize. Finding fault is futile. It puts one on the defensive,
makes him feel guilty and try to deny any fault. It wounds one’s pride
and hurts his sense of importance. Leave an acquaintance or employee with guilt
feelings and you can ruin friendships for years—even a lifetime.
Be encouraging to an associate or family member. Praise any improvement. Make
any fault seem easy to correct. If you find fault and it proves to be wrong,
admit your mistake quickly and emphatically. That’s the only way to get
the best of an argument other than avoiding one completely.
Give a person full credit for his ideas. Don’t try to usurp them as your
own. Try not to ram your opinions down the throats of others. It’s wiser
to make suggestions and hope the other person will accept them. Go so far as
to give credit to a friend for your ideas. It may be hard to do, but it might
get a job done and save a friendship at the same time.
Act friendly. A warm smile, a friendly greeting, eye contact and other desirable
body language traits are basics in any person-to-person discussions.
FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE
Much of what Carnegie wrote and much of what the new generations of gurus and
celebrities have followed in their writings and teachings today are simply variations
of one important rule or law. It’s that all-important fundamental noted
above: “Always make the other person feel important.”
According to Carnegie, “If we obey that law, we shall almost never get
into a relationship problems. In fact, it will bring us countless friends and
happiness in our dealings with other people.” Then, maybe, you can tell
your new friends about your personal problems while they listen to you. Possibly,
but don’t bet on it. People are so concerned with their own problems that
they seldom care about yours.
SELF START REQUIRED
Some readers of Carnegie’s books say, “That’s old stuff, just
to believe that flattery will get you anywhere. It’s shallow, selfish and
insincere advice. It doesn’t always work for everyone. Just for individuals
who are hungry for appreciation, they will swallow anything.”
But Carnegie claims his behavior rules will work wonders to improve any personal
relations, make friends and bring successes, as advertised. He wrote, “The
power of words is mighty. Flattery can be important. But it must be a sincere
statement of praise, not a form of fawning or apple polishing.”
Also, as the term “self-help” implies, you must help yourself in
making and maintaining any personal relationship. Some lucky, outgoing individuals
gather friends easily and effortlessly. But, for most of us, it’s not that
simple. We may know and greet acquaintances easily, but meeting and keeping a
friend is always the more difficult challenge. We must overcome our basic shyness
problems, then practice the basics noted above. Keeping a good friend—one
whom you can trust and depend on long-range—calls for patience, tact and
an acceptance of his or her undesirable personal traits.
BUILD ON BOOK’S BASICS
Every year, hundreds of books are written about the basics of personal relationships
that Carnegie first advocated so many years ago. Many of these authors simply
rehash these basics for new generations of readers and viewers. Other professionals
in the field expand on one or more of these specific “laws” cited
in the book. Some of the materials are excellent and helpful; others aren’t
worth the effort to read or review.
A personal note: I first found personal help from Carnegie back in 1946, after
four years in the U.S. Air Corps. I was out of the service with no special skills
from military training or several years of college, no job, no money, married
with a wife and a son. In addition, I was recovering from a severe case of service-connected
rheumatic fever. I realized that, compared to the plight of so many veterans,
I was indeed very fortunate and had no reason to complain.
Still, all in all, it was a low, depressing period for me. My basic shyness and
complexes didn’t help my outlook either. While in the hospital, an army
nurse had brought me a copy of Carnegie’s book. She thought it might help
cheer me up. She was right; I still have that book and refer to it regularly.
I’ve read many other self-help books over the years, but I always return
to the original “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I recommend
the book highly to anyone who wants some important guidelines in personal and
work communications, especially if you are involved in window coverings sales
and customer relations.
More on this important subject next time.
John J. Lichty is a consultant and senior editor for Draperies & Window
Coverings magazine. He has more than 30 years experience in the planning and
of various consumer, trade and retail advertising programs.