How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was published in 1936, but it’s still a seminal text in the personal and business development genre. Why? Because despite the fact that it’s nearly a hundred years old, the advice is still relevant. People haven’t changed that much since the Great Depression, apparently. The book is all about dealing with people in a courteous manner, being an effective leader, and—perhaps most famously—being likeable, particularly in the world of business.
Being an open, engaging person is paramount in plenty of business settings: job interviews, networking occasions, meetings—pretty much anywhere you’re around people. So let’s walk through Carnegie’s six ways of making people like you and why each of them is an important skill to have in your arsenal.
Become genuinely interested in other people.
Depending on who you are, this may be either the easiest tip or the most difficult. I honestly hope that you find the people around you interesting. Each of them is a unique individual, with their own backgrounds, perspectives, opinions, likes, and dislikes. And learning those things about someone should be fun—that’s part of what makes life in general so exciting. If we only ever learned about ourselves, we would all be a bunch of boring navel-gazers. But, of course, there are people out there who are generally uninterested in others. Misanthropy is a word because it exists, plain and simple. But try to be interested in the people around you, even if you may not be—a little effort goes a long way.
As a female person living in the 21st century, let me assure you that I am generally opposed to men I don’t know telling me to smile. But it is true that, if you’re looking to get people to like you, having a pleasant expression on your face is a good place to start. A smile makes you seem inviting and approachable. Imagine if you met someone for the first time, shook their hand, and they didn’t even attempt to smile. What impression would that give you? That the person wasn’t very nice, they had no interest in meeting you, and that they had already decided on hearing your name that they didn’t like you. It’s not a good place to start when trying to make a connection.
Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
This one’s a classic Carnegie—people like it when you use their names. That’s why marketing emails put your name in the subject line, why Starbucks calls your name instead of whatever you ordered, Dave. This one’s more of a “neat trick” than about being generally more likeable, but it’s certainly useful to remember in situations where you need to win people over quickly. For example, you call a client on the phone. She picks up and says, “Thanks for calling, this is Marcia.” Replying with, “Hi Marcia, this is [your name]” before getting down to business is a quick touch that demonstrates to the person on the other end of the line that you’re listening and that you acknowledge that they are, in fact, a person rather than a disembodied voice inside the telephone.
Be a good listener.
Active listening is one of the most important skills that a person can have. Not only does actively listening to someone speak assure the person that they’re being heard, it makes communication between two people a lot more effective. Asking questions to clarify what they say or further your understanding of their point means that you and whomever you’re listening to are more likely to be on the same page. It’s important to people that they feel heard, and it’s important that you hear them—the fact that paying attention to what people say will also make you more likeable to them is a bonus to being courteous, communicative, and respectful.
Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
Which makes your ears perk up more: hearing two people talking about a movie, or hearing two people talking about your favorite movie? People are inherently more invested in a conversation when it’s about something that they’re interested in. When we’re bored, we tune out—and are frequently frustrated by the person who insists on talking about something that bores us. Obviously, some conversations that are boring need to be had—but when it comes to small talk, networking, and job interviews, finding common ground with the person your speaking with is so important.
Listening comes into play again here: If your conversation partner brings something up that seems to be a personal interest—football, opera, rowing, a favorite author, whatever it happens to be—ask them about it. If you’re also interested, strike up a conversation. For example: “Oh, have you read their latest book? I’ve heard good reviews.” If you don’t know anything about their interests, ask them! Chances are pretty good they’ll be happy to enlighten you, and happy to share their interest with a newcomer. And, just like that, the conversation’s rolling.
Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.
Not long ago, I was chatting with an old classmate about a mutual colleague and why he was so charismatic. “He has this way of making you feel like you’re the only person in the room,” was the opinion my classmate offered. “He’s always completely invested in the conversation he’s having with you.” And it’s true—we both admitted that we loved catching up with him because we felt like what we said mattered when he was listening.
Making someone feel important, sincerely, comes from combining the first five of these steps. By being interested in others, pleasant, and an active listener engaged with their interests, you make the person you’re speaking to feel like the center of your attention in the moments they have it. And I’ll admit, it’s a rare person who can accomplish it—I’ve only met a handful of people who really make me feel like the most important person in the room when we talk. But it’s impossible not to like these people. It may be a lofty goal to work towards, but it’s a worthwhile one—both because having people like you is nice, but making people feel good about themselves is even better.
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