I have to admit that I was very late to the ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ party. This book was written by Dale Carnegie in 1917. I made an assumption that it would be outdated by now. Life now is very different to then. I expected old fashioned views and advice. This was not at all the case.
Everything in this book is still extremely relevant. This alone highlights an interesting point - despite all the advances in modern life and technology, our fundamental need for social connection and to be liked and accepted, remain as strong as ever. And the key principles to achieve that this book outlines are seemingly timeless.
Reading Notes From a Therapist
This book covers so many useful principles and tips. These are three that particularly stood out to me.
The Only Way to Get The Best of an Argument is to Avoid It.
I frowned a bit when I initially read this. I’m all for empowering healthy communication and self-expression and not bottling things up to avoid conflict. In giving this statement a chance and reading on, it became clear that it doesn't mean shying away from conflict or suppressing our views. This statement refers to communicating with consideration in a way that doesn’t get another person’s defences up. By doing this, an argument can be avoided and a positive outcome can be gained.
The author highlights that our desire to be right - and to be seen to be right - can get in the way of what we are trying to achieve, which is essentially a resolution. The message here is not to let our ego or pride get in the way of the outcomes we are striving for. By making the conscious effort to exercise self-control and consideration in the way we express ourselves, it is possible for us to to prevent conflict and gain a favourable outcome.
People are Interested in Themselves
This may sound so obvious, but have you ever found yourself leaving a conversation that felt more like a monologue, with the other person talking all about themselves and learning nothing about you? I recently experienced this myself at an event. I was seated with someone who spoke enthusiastically about their many interests throughout the course of a meal. They asked no questions, invited no views, and I barely said a thing myself. Yet, at the end of the evening, they said, “I’ve really enjoyed our conversation.”
They said it with kindness and sincerity. But the truth is that there had been no conversation. A conversation requires a two-way exchange. What this person had enjoyed was feeling listened to. I understand the significance of this through the work I do with my 1:1 clients and the value they gain from having undivided attention. It's a very powerful thing, both in therapy and in 'real life.'
However, it is precisely because of the amount of listening that I do in my work that I also value a social outlet where I can think out loud in casual conversation and say a few things myself! This person hadn't recognised that talking about themselves for an extended period of time hadn't been as enjoyable for me as it had for them. If I felt that way, it is likely that others may too.
We may consider ourselves good communicators but communication involves both listening and speaking, and adjusting our approach according to our audience. It’s quite a skill. When trying to make connections with others, whether to make friends or influence people, showing interest in them is absolutely key.
Ask questions, show interest - and do both with genuine curiosity.
Don’t Criticise, Condemn or Complain
This is the first principle outlined in the book and I would say it is one of the most valuable. The author encourages us to try to understand people and why they behave the way the do, rather than criticizing or condemning them. He highlights that this approach helps us develop sympathy, tolerance and kindness. He highlights that anybody can complain, and most of us do, but that to be understanding and forgiving demonstrates strength of character and self-control.
Although this is a book about communication, there are little gems about the role of our thoughts, emotions and mindset throughout. As a CBT therapist, I absolutely loved this. We've known for a very long time that the way we think and behave affects the way we feel. This book makes references to this, providing additional motivators for making changes to our communication styles.
The impact of criticising, condemning and complaining is one example of this. From reading this book, I set myself the challenge of not complaining. It's harder than you might expect. But the benefits were quite quickly noticeable in than my attention became much more focused on the things that were good or going well, rather than sources of irritation and things going wrong. In turn, this had a positive impact on the way I felt. I would recommend giving this a try to see for yourself.
A Therapist’s Book Review
I’ll go as far as to admit that I expected this to be cliched self-help book covering things that I would know all about already. This wasn’t true. I learnt a great deal. Most importantly, not only did I learn a lot, but I I’ve been able to put it to practice and see brilliant results! I’ve navigated some very tricky and emotional conversations since reading this and have been surprised by unexpectedly calm and positive responses.
If you think you are a communication pro, I would encourage you to think again! No matter how skilled we may believe ourselves to be, there is always more to learn and new ways of understanding things. I would highly recommend this book to anybody wanting to develop their social and communication skills. And let's be honest, we all have room to improve here!
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Each month we read a book focusing on self-help and self-development. How to Win Friends and Influence People was the book we read in June, 23.
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