“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (1936) is one of the best-selling books of all time. It’s a true classic as its applications are timeless. I read it for the first time when I was 15 and have re-read it a handful of times since.
I initially picked it up not because I necessarily wanted to win friends and influence people — that sounds desperate and manipulative — but because I wanted to learn the ingredients that would fulfill my passion: building deep, lasting connections with people.
There is nothing that feeds my soul and energy more than bonding with another human being. It is my core value.
Deep connections have to start with a preliminary conversation. If you know me, this may shock you, but my 15-year-old self was anxious about approaching a new person. I read and re-read Carnegie’s classic because it gave me pointers on acing the first impression — which is the foundation of any deep relationship. Additionally, it substantiated my instinctive social tendencies, which gave me the confidence to allow myself to act naturally in any interaction.
The little book has had a profound influence on every aspect of my life.
Personally, Dale’s directions have guided me through bigger life moments, like meeting my husband’s family for the first time, and everyday little interactions, like striking up an elevator conversation.
Professionally, Dale’s dictums have proven more useful than my college coursework. When I was reporting and had to approach an interviewee, or now as I meet with reporters about my clients’ stories, I replay Carnegie in my head.
If you haven’t read the book, or if you need a refresher, here are my favorite five tips to “win friends and influence people” — or as I see it, ace first impressions and build lasting relationships.
- Smile. It’s not rocket science. One is more likely to engage with someone who appears friendly. A comfortable and easy smile is the easiest and most effective way to signal you’re approachable. As Dale points out, though, your smile must be genuine. A fake smile could be worse than no smile at all.
Further, a smile will calm your nerves. A study published in the journal Psychological Science shows that people who smile after engaging in stress-inducing tasks display a greater reduction in heart rate than people who maintained a neutral facial expression.
- Remember names. There is no greater sound to a person than his or her name. With that in mind, make an effort to remember your acquaintances’ names.
One thing that seems to work for me is to immediately repeat it back to the person. Example:
The other person: Hi, I’m Jill.
Me: Nice to meet you, Jill.
Another trick — immediately associate the person’s name. For instance:
My aunt’s name is Jill, so in the above example, I’d mentally note that association, and my brain will do the rest of the work. The next time I see my new friend Jill, I’ll think of my Aunt Jill, and I will confidently say, Hi Jill! It’s so great to run into you. Jill will feel valued and important since I remembered her name, and… we’ll be best friends.
- Praise and appreciate. This world is full of wonderful, talented and special people. For whatever reason, we are so reluctant to praise our peers for their unique abilities. Let’s stop being hesitant about that. It’ll make the world a much better place. From now on, when your acquaintance, friend or family member does something great, let him or her know how cool you think it is. It’ll make them feel noticed and it’ll make you feel appreciative and energetic.
Let me get off my soapbox for a minute and tell you how this tip applies to first impressions. When you engage in a conversation with an acquaintance, pinpoint a specific thing he or she did and then tell him that and why, specifically, you appreciated it. This makes your conversation partner feel valued and comfortable which opens the gate to further and deeper discussion.
- Ask questions. Are you reluctant to approach someone because you don’t know what to say? No worries. That person probably doesn’t want to hear what you have to say anyway. Not because you don’t have anything good to contribute, just because people like talking about themselves. (You know it’s true. We all do.)
With that in mind, ask questions and then ask follow-up questions.
This is great for a few reasons. First, it takes pressure off you to perform. Your job is not to be fabulously interesting, rather it’s to showcase your conversation partner and empower him or her to be fabulously interesting. Second, asking questions is especially awesome if you love other people’s stories. The way I see it, I already know what my life is all about — I’m living it. I like my social time to be used learning about others and their life experiences.
- Listen. When you ask questions, listen to your conversation partner’s answers. There are far too few good listeners in this world. If you can be one, people will want to talk to you. It’s that simple.
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