Two ears, one mouth. Let that simple math guide you

“If you make listening and observation your occupation you will gain much more than you can by talk.” (Robert Baden-Powell)

Some years ago I was a teacher of Religious Education at my Church. Every Monday night, for 90 minutes, I would sit with a class of about 12 members of our Church who were in the 8th grade. We would discuss many topics of faith, exploring important points and helping them to understand what made these things important in their lives. Some of the class was pure instruction, other parts were open discussion.

One year I had a young man in my class who was quite a handful. He had a really hard time staying on point with our discussions, often opting to take us as far off topic as possible. He was something of a class clown, and at times he was just purposely difficult. Our season followed the school year, and it was the dead of winter. We were right in the middle of our time together, and he was tending to get on my last nerve.

One night in class I’d had enough, and asked him to step out into the hall and sit there until the class was done. There were about 15 minutes left. When class finished, I headed back to the Director of Religious Education’s office. My wife was also an instructor and she headed back there as well. It was common for us to debrief some with the director.

As we were sitting there, the mother of this young man stormed into the office with figurative smoke pouring from her ears. She was upset with me, and wanted to give me quite a talking to. She asked me what happened, and in one or two sentences I told her. She then proceeded to go on a tirade. She told me all the things she didn’t like about how our program worked, about how her son was put upon, about how teachers didn’t like him. It went on and on for a good 10 minutes. Throughout, I said nothing, I just listened. The director, my wife and I just let this woman talk.

She was near tears at one point as the protective mother of a child she thought had been wronged. We listened, and she kept going. After a while, without us having said a thing, she started changing her mood. She started admitting that her son was difficult at times, and that she knew that he was hard on us. We continued to listen until she finally was at the point where she agreed with us and how I had handled the situation. As she wiped the final tears from her eyes, she thanked us all, and wished us a great week. And then she left.

We sat for a few minutes in silence ourselves, until the Director piped up and asked “what just happened here?” We chuckled a bit, and then I remembered this principle. I said that we did the only thing we could possibly do, and exactly the thing that she needed us to do. We listened. We didn’t take on a defensive position, we just listened and let her do a great deal – in fact nearly all – of the talking.

Very often when people are upset, what they want most is to be heard and listened to. They want us to hear their issue, and believe that we are listening attentively and caringly.

As Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the Boy Scouts), understood, when we listen, we learn. And, when we listen, we give the other person the chance to completely say their peace.

The rest of that year went well with that student, and his mom and I had other discussions along the way. She was always cordial and helpful to me, and would clue me in on some things to help me to better instruct her son. All of that happened because I remembered to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. If I had chosen to violate the 10th principle and started to argue with her, all would have been lost. If I had violated the 11th principle and told her that I thought she was wrong and I was right, she’d have dug in deeper. Instead, I let her do the talking, and we ended up reaching an amicable solution.

When faced with a difficult situation where the other person has an intense point of view, it is best to…

Principle 15 – Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

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Preparation is the key to finding agreement

“It’s easy to find reasons for division between people; finding common ground is harder, but a step towards happiness.” (Unknown)

I will admit to you that this next principle sometimes gives me fits. It isn’t that I am unclear on the concept, I understand the concept of getting momentum toward an agreement. And, I have used the construct many times when delivering a formal talk. Where I struggle is in applying the principle in an organic conversation, without it seeming contrived.

The concept is to get people saying “yes, yes” quickly, in order to help win them to my way of thinking. As I have been writing this series, this particular principle has been much on my mind. Today, I think I have crystallized the concept in my own head.

For me the importance of this principle isn’t in the mechanical application where I come up with statements just to get the other person saying yes. What is important is coming up with real, meaningful, common ground between myself and the other person. That, to me, is the gold of this principle.

In order for me to get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately, I have to have done my homework. I have to know what is important to the other person, and what is important to me. I have to distill the facts and find those points where we agree, so that I can separate them from those where we disagree. In taking the time to do this, I am not simply looking for the mechanical answers, but I am genuinely seeking the common ground between us.

The truth is that in most situations where I am in a disagreement with someone, there are far more things that the other person and I agree on, than those on which we disagree. When I take the time to understand those things, I am not only preparing for the conversation, but I am also conditioning my own mind to see the other person not as an adversary, but as a colleague with whom I have only a minor disagreement. This process of preparation puts my mind in the direction of agreement, rather than focusing on the disagreement.

When I do approach the other person, if I have done my homework well, I come armed with a lengthy list of things on which we agree. I can lay those out, and help the other person to see them as well. Once I have done that, and we are down a path of agreement, it is much easier to bring up the topic where we disagree.

The more I think about this principle the more that, for me, it is about preparing my own mind for agreement with the other person.

When you have a difficult topic to discuss with someone, one where you know there is disagreement, here is my suggestion. Take the time to consider all of the areas involved in the issue where you agree with the other person, and note them. Be ready to list them for the other person. In that way, you will be applying this principle with genuineness and sincerity.

Principle 14 – Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.

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Taking a lesson from President Lincoln

“A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.” (Abraham Lincoln)

I will admit, I have used this quote before but never really checked what the definition of “gall” was in this context before writing this piece. It turns out that it is just what I expected. Gall is the contents of the gall bladder, proverbially known for its bitterness. I am not sure that anyone was slinging buckets of actual gall around in the mid-19th century, but I am equally sure that everyone in Lincoln’s time knew exactly what he meant.

Our mission in this set of principles is to “win people to our way of thinking”. It should seem self-evident that to do so we must start with a bit of sweetness when there is a disagreement, but once again our instinct tells us otherwise. Once again we are betrayed by our emotions and when someone is at odds with us, we want to go in there and tell them a thing or two. Of course, that rarely works.

Let me tell you two stories about camping trips I was on. At the end, you can judge for yourself which had the better outcome.

The first year that my wife and I owned our camper, we went on a long trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We spent the weekend at one site, then travelled further into the peninsula to the Westernmost reaches for our weeklong stay. On the first day in that site, after we were all set up, I was exhausted and decided to take a nap. My wife decided to use this time to explore the nearby beach, so I was in the camper alone. While I was dozing I heard a strange sound, like something was running under my bed. I was new to camping in a camper, and hadn’t gotten used to the fact that just below my bed was an open space outside, which contributed to my disorientation. When I was finally conscious enough to know what was happening, I realized that a small dog was doing a racetrack pattern, barking and enjoying itself, under my camper.

If you are a camper you know that all campsites require dogs to be on leashes, and that pets are kept within the confines of a person’s assigned site. This pup was violating both of those rules. I was so tired, that I just went back to sleep. Later, while sitting at our table having dinner, it happened again. This time I was fully awake and had had enough. I rose from my seat, stormed outside, and loudly informed my neighbor that “I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS! Please obey the rules of camping and keep your dog from running around my camper.” When I tell you that I was loud, I am not exaggerating. I was loud enough that conversation stopped in some of the nearby sites. I stomped back into my camper, sure that I was in the right. There was stony silence from the neighboring site that night, and first thing the next morning they pulled up stakes and left. Most likely that was their plan all along, but who is to say?

The next summer we were at a different site. On a sunny Friday I had decided that I was going to spend my day sitting in the shade of a tree reading a book. My wife, again, was off on her own doing some exploring. Our site was at the end of a loop, and nearby were woods. In those woods there was a path that ran along the edge of all the loops, and also to the nearby lake. As I was sitting there, 3 teenage boys were walking and walked directly through my campsite. Well, half way through. I saw them, and stopped them. I wished them a good afternoon, and asked if they were enjoying their time in camp. They smiled and said they were. I told them that I was having a great afternoon of reading under this tree, and that it was a perfect day. I then asked them if they realized they were walking right through my site, and the one next to me? They said that they weren’t aware, so I reminded them that it was polite to use the path in the woods so as not to disturb the site next to mine, where I knew a child was asleep in their tent. They apologized, backed out of my site, and went the few feet into the woods to resume their walk. I saw them a few more times during the day, and each time we waved at each other.

Which approach was the better one? Both actually got the same results in that my campsite was no longer encroached by those individuals. But in one case the result was stony silence, while the other involved friendly waves.

There are several differences to be seen between the approaches, but they all start at the beginning. At the start of one, I hurled a bucket of gall at my neighbors. In the second I tried a drop of honey.

President Lincoln was right then, and he’d be right today. There is far more to be gained when we…

Principle 13 – Begin in a friendly way

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Admitting our errors in matters large and small

“Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” (Bruce Lee)

I am a sports fan. There are quite a lot of American Sports that have held my interest over the years. The highest among them has always been baseball. I have been a fan since I was a child, and many of my sports heroes have been men who put on a cap for a living and chased a ball around a field. In the 1990s and early 2000s in baseball, there was a terrible scourge. It was drugs. There had been drug scandals in sports before, this time it was performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs that were in the spotlight, and sadly, some of the best players of the age were implicated, casting doubt on their performance.

I could probably write for a week about my thoughts and feelings regarding the subject of PEDs in baseball, and how I feel about the sport and its players today, but that isn’t the subject here. In this post I want to have a look at just one of the players involved in the scandal, and examine why his case is different from so many others.

The list of names of players who were accused of using PEDs is long. The vast majority of them have staunchly maintained their innocence. In some cases, there have even been players who were prosecuted for lying under oath about it. In the court of public opinion, most of these accused players’ names and accomplishments are forever sullied. But one was different – Andy Pettitte.

Andy was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. While his accomplishments were probably never at the level of consideration for the Hall of Fame, they were nonetheless impressive. He was an instrumental contributor to his team winning Championships in 5 different seasons, the last coming in 2009. In 2007 he was named in The Mitchell Report, which was considered at the time to be a comprehensive report of all the players who had cheated and used these drugs.

Why am I writing about baseball in the middle of a series on How to Win Friends and Influence People? The answer is it’s about how Andy Pettitte handled being accused. Rather than fighting a losing battle, and repeatedly proclaiming his innocence, Andy instead publicly admitted that he had done what was alleged. He had, in fact, cheated. He came to spring training in 2008, and apologized to his team, his teammates, and the fans. After that he went on to play in 5 more seasons, including one trip to the All Star Game, and one to the 2009 World Series where he won two games and helped his team raise the championship banner.

Others who were listed in that report, and subsequent lists, have not fared as well on or off the field. They are booed heavily at games, sometimes in their own parks. There are volumes written about how they have damaged the game, and how they are villains of the sport. Many of them did things no worse than what Pettitte did, but they failed to do the one thing that set him apart.

What set Pettitte apart was that he admitted he was wrong, quickly and emphatically. He took his share of heat for his mistake, then moved on with his life and his career. He is counted by fans of the Yankees as one of the “good guys” who ever put on their uniform.

How often in life do we know we are wrong, and we take the path of all those other alleged PED users in baseball? How often do we work hard to defend ourselves, when we know that we are wrong? Chances are, if you are reading this blog, that you aren’t trying to cover up anything as grievous as drug use, or a crime. More likely you are just covering your pride. You are working to make sure that people don’t see you as wrong.

In my own life, I have made the mistake of defending an indefensible position many times. I had to learn the skill of admitting my mistakes. I can tell you from personal experience, it is the superior way to go.

One day I was driving home from work. It was a sunny, warm, Spring day, and I saw a sign for a garage sale. I had a few bucks in my pocket, and so I decided to go give it a look. As I was cruising the neighborhood, I spied a police car sitting on one of the streets, just as I was approaching a stop sign. I slowed considerably, but I didn’t quite come to a complete stop, and I turned right to head to the sale. As soon as I did, the police officer leapt into action, pulled up behind me with his lights on, and pulled me over.

When he came to my window, he asked if I knew why he had pulled me over. I told him yes! I knew immediately that I was wrong and I told him so. I told him that I saw him there, slowed to make my turn, but didn’t come to a complete stop. I had looked through the intersection, saw no cars were coming and no one was walking, and I slowly rolled through.

He asked where I was going, and I told him that there was a garage sale just a few houses ahead (I could see the balloons). He mentioned that the police were patrolling these streets looking for people rolling stop signs because there had been many complaints from residents. I told him I sympathized with those residents because I had made similar complaints in my city about people who had done what I did, and worse. Sometimes they didn’t even slow to check the intersection, but ultimately I was just as wrong as they were.

He left my window for a few minutes with my license, registration and insurance papers. He was gone long enough that I was sure a ticket would be in his hand when he returned. When he came back he handed me my stuff and asked what I did for a living. I told him that I was a project manager. He said he’d never had someone convince him as well as I had that they were guilty, but also not deserving of a ticket. He asked me to be more careful, and sent me on my way.

If I had argued with him, and told him how right I was because I had slowed so much, and that he shouldn’t write me a ticket, what do you think would have happened? Most likely I’d have paid a fine, had increased insurance rates, and points on my record. But, because I admitted my mistake quickly and emphatically, I was given the benefit of the doubt.

Did I manipulate the office? Not at all. I readily admitted that I was wrong, and I was fully ready to pay the price. But, because I showed no resistance, it gave him some room to show mercy.

If we are completely honest with ourselves we will come to the conclusion that we are all wrong almost as often as we are right. And when we are it is good to remember…

Principle 12 – When you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

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Taking a lesson from a very old “dad joke”

“I’ve only been wrong once in my life, and then it turned out I was mistaken.” (My Dad)

Those who have been longtime readers of my blog know that my dad died when I was only six years old from a heart attack. My actual memories of him are fairly minimal, but there are stories. One that my mom used to tell me was that he would say the sentence above from time to time. It was meant to be a joke, but, like most good jokes, there was a strong bit of truth in it.

When I say there is a strong bit of truth in my dad implying his own infallibility, I am not just glorifying the memory of a long-lost relative. What I am saying is that my dad, whether he knew it or not, was hitting upon a very key concept in human relations. Namely, that NONE of us ever want to admit that we are wrong, and most of us think that we are right the vast majority of the time.

I would say that there are few ways to get the hairs on the back of a person’s neck standing up faster than to stand face to face with them and tell them they are wrong about this or that. They hate it. Their first reaction will be to defend their position. They’ll gather their forces against your perceived knowledge and start to refute their own position. When that starts to fail, they’ll re-craft their position to glean as much “rightness” into it as possible. If ultimately convinced that they’re wrong, they still won’t want to admit it. More likely, they will just resent you for ever uncovering their error. Remember what we learned in that last principle? You will have won the argument, but you will have damaged the relationship.

And, my guess is that you don’t much like being told you are wrong, and might have some of the same reactions when it’s pointed out to you. We’ll actually touch on some of that in the next principle.

If our aim in this set of principles is to “Win People to Our Way of Thinking”, I can think of no worse way to do it than to go around telling people they are wrong.

Try this bit of showmanship to help convince you on this. Ask someone near by to stand in front of you and put their palm up in front of themselves facing you. Now, press your palm against theirs. Don’t tell them what else to do, just continue to press harder against their hand. What do you suppose will happen? Will they topple over backwards to the floor? Even if you have some pretty amazing upper body strength, that will take some time at best. What is more likely to happen is that they will push back. And the harder you push them, the harder they will push back.

That same dynamic is going on when you tell someone they are wrong. They will instinctively push back against you with greater and greater force.

Now, you are probably asking, but what if the person really is wrong, and I can prove it? Am I to just let them wallow in their wrongness? Sometimes the answer is yes, you should do just that because the minor point on which they are wrong doesn’t really matter, and you shouldn’t make that blunder in the relationship.

If the point is of some importance, then the thing to do is avoid telling the other person that they are wrong. It is better to have a conversation with them, and let them see for themselves. Try taking the approach that says “OK, I can see that you have that opinion on this. Mine is different, why don’t we compare the facts that lead us to where we are?” The not-so-subtle difference here is that now you have invited the person into a conversation. You have opened a line of communication with them that says that you have a different view, but you are willing to explore the facts to see what is really going on. It should go without saying that you’re doing this sincerely, and because you are, you are truly opening yourself up to the possibilities as well.

Remember how you were 100% sure the other person was wrong? Let me tell you a secret, they are 100% you are wrong also. And, the sad fact is, that there is nearly a 50/50 chance that they are right, and you are wrong.

By opening ourselves up to the idea of checking the facts, we are also opening ourselves up to being truly persuaded that perhaps we reached the wrong conclusion.

Since I was six years old at the time of his death, I never got to have a philosophical discussion with my dad about his claim. If I had, and we got to that second part where he was mistaken, then he’d probably help prove the crux of the rest of this post. That is that someone must have sat him down at some time, with an approach not unlike what I am suggesting, and examined the fact with him. When he got to the end of that, he would have admitted that he was mistaken.

As we are working our way through this process of “winning people to our way of thinking”, it will mean that we will have to let go of some of our instinct. First we must let go of the instinct to argue, and then we must let go of the instinct to tell someone that they are wrong.

These 30 principles are about living a more intentional life. By that I mean that for us to be successful at Winning Friends and Influencing People, we will have to make an intentional, committed effort to do things differently than what we have been taught, or what we have learned by instinct. Today’s principle is the next example in that list.

So, if you are working your way to “winning people to your way of thinking”, remember what my dad said in partial jest, and…

Principle 11 – Show respect for the other person’s opinion. Never say, “you’re wrong.”

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Don’t argue!

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” (Unknown)

I mentioned in a recent post that I was once on my High School debate team. For 4 years, I worked hard to hone the skill of finding flaws in other people’s arguments, and exploiting them to win my point. And, I learned how to cover the holes in my own arguments, and how to dance around them when necessary. When I was learning these skills, they were so that I could win at a competition that had rules, and judges, and where scores were kept. The argumentation was just supposed to teach me how to win at that particular game. Sadly, I didn’t get that at the time.

If I had taken up fencing in High School, I think it is unlikely that I’d have gone around to my family and friends poking them with my foil. If I had played on the football team, I wouldn’t have strapped on my gear and started tackling everyone around me. I did play baseball during my High School years, but I never slid into someone who was standing in my yard. Those would have all been silly misappropriations of the skills learned for those sports.

When it came to argumentation, though, I took it with me everywhere I went. It took me a long time to tame the argument beast, and I will admit that I have never completely slayed it. Arguing ones point isn’t limited to those of us who spent our Saturdays wearing suits in High School. All of us have learned this fine skill.

What I find truly sad when I watch some of the cable news programs is how little real argumentation ever goes on. Mostly people just talk past one another, and never really address the other person’s points. In my days as a debater, they would have been marked down for that. But, I digress.

The point I am trying to make is that I have a strong argument muscle, and I am not alone in that way.

Here is the sad truth. Other than those Saturdays in High School, want to know how many arguments I have one in my lifetime?

ZERO!

That’s right, my winning percentage on arguments in life is ZERO POINT ZERO.

Am I admitting to a lack of capability when it comes to getting my point across? Am I saying that anything I would choose to argue about is so weak, that I cannot bring home the bacon? Not at all. What I am admitting to is the simple fact that when two people argue, NO ONE WINS. When two people argue there are only losers, and other losers.

In the rare circumstances that the argument itself results in someone clearly winning the point, then the person who lost is clearly one of the losers. But you know who else is a loser? The person who WON the point as well. They are have lost because when an argument happens outside the friendly confines of scored competition, then feelings get hurt. If I absolutely bury someone with my argument such that I have won the point, then it is almost certain that I have hurt their feelings. And, even if their feelings are incredibly resilient, I have damaged the relationship.

Oh, and here is the best worst part. Even if I am successful in my argument, they haven’t changed their mind. They still believe the same thing they did before, only now they are looking for more ammo. That’s what the quote above is about, and that is the best reason I can think of to avoid arguments.

The principle at the bottom of this post is the first of 12 in How to Win Friend and Influence People, that fall under the subtitle “Win People to Your Way of Thinking.” Starting today, and going through March 23, I’ll be walking us through a process and set of principles designed to help us convince others to come around to our way of thinking. With that as our goal, the first thing we have to learn, the most painful of all the lessons in this section is that we will never bring someone to our way of thinking by arguing with them.

Remember the first of all the principles? It is “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” That principle kicked off the section with the subtitle “Become a friendlier person.” We learned at the very beginning of this journey that we cannot be seen as friendly people if we spend our time criticizing, condemning and complaining. We had to wipe that slate clean and start doing something new, something that might go against what we considered to be our nature. The same is true here.

If our goal in these next 12 principles is to win people to our way of thinking, we must first wipe the slate clean of arguing. We will talk a lot about the difference between coercion and cooperation in these next 12 principles. The thing we have to remember, and must constantly remind ourselves of is this inescapable truth…

Principle 10 – The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

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Follow the Boy Scout slogan, and do a good turn daily

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” (William James)

A few years back I worked in a large building, with about 1,500 people in it. All of us worked for the same company. There was a gal there who worked in the mail room. Her job was to take the mail for all1,500 of us, and deliver it to our desks on a daily basis. There was just this one woman, and she was always on the go. But, she was never so busy that she couldn’t say hello and have a kind word.

Because she was the mail lady, she knew my name, so I made it a point to get to know hers. On the rare occasion that I received something in the mail, she would bring it by. I would thank her and ask how she was doing. The conversations were never more than 10 or 15 seconds, because she had so many stops to make.

One year at Christmas time I decided that I wanted her to know how appreciated she was. My thought was that she was probably invisible to most of the men and women who worked in our building. We were all very busy, and I was sure that few took the time to notice her. I got a nice Christmas card. I didn’t know her religious preference, so I made sure it was non-denominational. It was mostly blank inside, so I took a few minutes to write 2 or 3 sentences on what a great job I thought she did. I told her that I knew her job was hard, but that I admired the fact that she could do it with a smile for anyone who talked to her, and how efficient she was. Then, I did something that I learned in when I was a Boy Scout. I decided not to sign the card.

I carried it with me for a day, looking for the right opportunity. I finally saw her mail cart at the other end of the building, far from my desk. I waited until she was away and out of sight, and I left the card prominently near the handle of the cart. And then, I walked away.

I honestly have no idea what reaction she had to the card because I didn’t stick around to see it. And, frankly, it wasn’t about me knowing. What I wanted was for her to know that what she did was important and appreciated. I didn’t do it to get better delivery of my mail, or so that she’d be more friendly to me. I did it because I wanted her to feel important.

Recently, someone asked me whether the principles in How to Win Friends and Influence People weren’t just manipulation. His thought was that even the most altruistic person always receives something in return for social interactions. The answer to that is that, yes, the principles in this book could most definitely be used to manipulate other people. They could be used in such a way that the person using them gets some benefit, without much investment. I could tell people what they want to hear, and even maybe convince them for a while that I was sincere.

And, it is true that in most circumstances, even the most altruistic act does have a benefit for the person who does it. And, yes, the book is a guide on How to Win Friends and Influence People, so if it is successful, the reader of the book who applies what she learns must get something from it.

Where I diverge from my friend is with the word “manipulation.” If I am doing something only because it benefits me, and I care not what ultimately happens to the other person, then yes, I am being manipulative. I am being nothing but a phony who is out to make gains for myself. I will say 2 things about that as it relates to this book.

First, at every turn, Mr. Carnegie goes to great lengths to remind us to be sincere, and to do things genuinely and honestly. The reason is that…

Second, if you aren’t sincere, you will soon be found out. You will break the trust of people around you, and then nothing you do will benefit you. Everything you do will be greeted with suspicion. Even if later you should find the errors of your ways and become genuine and sincere, you will have a very long row to hoe to get back in good graces.

If you are reading the book, or following my blog only for personal gains that are insincere and not genuine, then please stop reading my blog. I am certain there are thousands of other sites that will come up in a google search that will tell you how to reach your ill-gotten ends. And, you won’t have me constantly telling you to be genuine and sincere.

I mentioned above that I got the idea of not signing the card when I was in Boy Scouts. The Boy Scout slogan is “Do a good turn daily.” A good turn is something nice that is done for another person for which we expect nor will accept anything in return. It is often said that the best Good Turn is done in such a way that the person who benefits actually never knows who their benefactor was. When I left the unsigned card on her cart, I was fulfilling what my Scout leaders had taught me when I was 11 years old.

As you are working through the application of this principle, try doing what the Boy Scouts teach. Try making someone else feel important, without them knowing that it was you that did it. It isn’t as hard as it sounds, and I am confident that if you are genuine and sincere you’ll find a way.

When it comes to having this principle help us to become friendlier people, the application is equally easy. It is a matter of finding something in the person in front of you that you truly admire, and letting them know about it.

Principle 9 – Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

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How my wife traveled the royal road to my heart

“The royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most” (Dale Carnegie)

This section of Dale Carnegie’s 30 Human Relations principles is subtitled “Become a friendlier person.” Often when people are working through this section, they want to know when do they get to talk about what’s important to them? Sometimes people will say that it seems like Mr. Carnegie was saying that we should never talk.

He wasn’t, of course. He taught public speaking classes for crying out loud, and he himself spoke professionally nearly every day of the week at one thing or another. The purpose of these principles is not to turn us all into wall flowers that never talk, not at all. What they are about is helping us to be friendlier people.

The truth is that most people don’t need help when it comes to talking about themselves in daily conversation. Sure, there are some people who are more shy than others, but generally speaking, once a person starts talking about themselves they can go on for quite some time without much help. But, if we want to be friendlier people, then we must learn to listen more, and have the other person talk more. And, to learn that skill, we need to exaggerate ourselves a bit to get into the habit.

In the quote above, Mr. Carnegie was actually talking about President Theodore Roosevelt, and that he knew that fact to be true. Roosevelt had a habit of spending time researching the topics that were most important to those he’d be meeting with. He wanted to make sure that when he conversed with them, that he could talk about the things that they were interested in, and do so with some knowledge. Along the way, he also let them know, by taking the time and effort to get to know their topics, that he truly cared about them, and what was important to them. President Roosevelt might have lived over a century ago, but what he knew then applies to us today.

When I first started dating the wonderful woman who eventually became my wife, I was still mostly a bumbling fool. I had no real knowledge of how to get along with people. I tended to be argumentative, and bull headed. She was far smarter in these things than I was.

We met in college. When I was in High School I had been on the debate team. Trust me when I tell you that is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I became skilled in public speaking, but on the other, I also became skilled in argumentation and winning points. My debate coach called it “debaters syndrome,” we became skilled in the ways of debate and were too inexperienced to know when to shut it off.

When I met my future wife, I was volunteering as a part-time debate coach back at my High School. I would spend a good bit of my time after school during the week, and on Saturdays, working with the boys from my school, teaching them how to win their debates and increase their skill.

As I said, my wife was far smarter than I was about how to get to know someone, and how to travel the “royal road” to my heart. Do you know what she did? She came along with me when I was coaching. She got to know how I coached, what debating was about, and what it took to become a skilled debater. Did she do this because she had a particular interest in becoming a debater? Not at all. She did it because she knew it was important to me, so she took up a genuine interest in what I was doing.

The truth is I was already falling madly in love with her by the time she started tagging along on debate Saturdays, but the fact remains that part of the reason we became so close was that she took up a special interest in what was important to me.

I’d like to be able to say that I did similar things for her, and to some degree I did. But, I wasn’t as smart as she was, she was miles ahead of me when it came to knowing how to win another person’s heart.

If you want to travel the “royal road to a person’s heart”, learn to speak in terms of their interests. Get to know a bit about what they treasure, and do it sincerely. As you do, you will find your friendship with them deepening.

Principle 8 – Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

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Increasing our skills at conversation

“In good conversation parties don’t speak to the words, but to the meanings of each other.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I truly love getting to know people. I don’t mean just getting to know the outward facts about them, like their name, what they do and so on. I mean that I truly enjoy getting to know what makes a person tick. I am fascinated by people’s life stories, what drives them in their daily life, and what is important to them.

When I am getting to know someone, whether in a personal or professional environment, I know that if I can learn more about them, about their “meaning”, as Emerson puts it, that I will be enriched for the experience. I know that the more I learn about others, the more I end up learning about myself as well.

The best way to get to know people is to listen to them. I get to know exactly zero about someone else when they are silent and I am talking, unless you count the knowledge of whether they give a care about what I am saying. It is only when I am doing the listening that I learn.

People who know me in person know that I love to talk. When I was a young boy of 12 or 13 years old, my nickname in Boy Scouts was “motor mouth”. I have always had the gift of gab, and the ability to talk to, and in front of just about anyone. That natural ability has served me well when it comes to things like public speaking, presenting at meetings, or making initial contact with people. When I was in High School I started to get the idea, though, that if I wanted to have friends, and if I wanted to grow and learn in life, I’d need to keep my mouth shut more often than not. There is an old adage that says that God gave us one mouth and two ears to remind us to listen twice as much as we talk. That was a hard lesson for me to digest as an adolescent, but it has paid off.

It really isn’t a hard skill to learn to get someone else talking about themselves. The first, and most important thing to learn is to listen and not talk so much. After that, it’s a matter of asking the right questions to get the person going. Some great conversation starters that you can memorize get things moving in the right direction include:

  • What is your name?
  • Where do you live? Where did you grow up?
  • Tell me a bit about your family.
  • What kind of work do you do?
  • Have you taken any interesting trips or vacations?
  • What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
  • What do you think about ____?

Memorizing these few questions or conversation starters will give you a framework for a great conversation. Once you have these in mind, there are literally hundreds of other questions and starters that can flow naturally from the answers. As you develop the skill, you’ll learn how to naturally flow from one question to another.

Also, note that each question becomes increasingly personal. The flow starts with the most public thing – a person’s name. From there you can go deeper with each of the starters until you can get to a person’s ideas about a particular subject.

Remember, the key is to listen. When we listen we learn. And, remembering that this is a book about Winning Friends and Influencing People, we also let the other person know that we care about them, and want to know more.

Keep in mind that for you to be successful at this principle, you will first have to Become genuinely interested in other people. If you aren’t interested in their answers, then don’t ask the questions. And if your interest is only self-serving, you will soon be found out as a fraud.

As you are building your skill in conversation and getting to know people, remember Emerson’s words. Remember that it is the “meaning” of the person, or what they are all about, that is important. It isn’t about the gathering of facts or amassing data. To be skilled in this principle, you must have a genuine desire to understand more about the person.

Principle 7 – Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

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The sweetest and most important sound in any language.

“How can I spell your name in an arbitrary way that perplexes and infuriates you?” (Paul Gale)

Have you ever gone into Starbucks and had them misspell your name on your cup? Last year the concept of baristas at Starbucks getting names wrong on a consistent basis became a viral sensation. Paul Gale, a comedian, created a 3 minute video on the subject seeking to “explain” why he (posing as a barista), does it. In his world, it is high entertainment for an otherwise boring job, and he takes great amusement from those who get all upset when their name is wrong. I know that the video is fake, and he is just a humorist, but it no less infuriates me.

While researching this post, I also came across an article from Forbes magazine, which actually quotes the principle for this post. In that article, Roger Dooley posits that it might actually be good business for Starbucks to mess up names because it makes the experience more memorable. He says:

“And, if they get the spelling wrong? Some customers might be irritated, but from a brain function standpoint the experience might be more memorable. There’s evidence that when one’s brain is expecting one thing and is delivered another, attention and interest spike. That’s the basis of most jokes, and was also a favorite linguistic technique of Shakespeare.”

So, I guess it’s ok, then to butcher someone’s name in the name of advertising and marketing? HOGWASH!

I very rarely go to Starbucks for my coffee. I used to, but I found the atmosphere to be a bit too pretentious and hipster for my taste. If that atmosphere appeals to you, more power to you. For me it just doesn’t work. I have two places I go for coffee on a regular basis – Biggby and 7-11.

Biggby is a chain of coffee shops in Michigan. They are growing fast, and seem to be popping up like dandelions all over the area where I live. I started going to one that was on my way to work. I am an early starter, and I fell into a pattern of arriving there at about the same time every day. After just a few weeks, one of the baristas asked me my name. Not because she was going to write it on a cup or anything, but because she was genuinely interested. Since then, nearly all of the baristas who work early in the morning have gotten to know my name (and the names of many other regulars). I often get a greeting as soon as I walk through the door. While I am getting my coffee we chat about things. I have talked about upcoming or recent vacations, home improvement projects and so on. And, they remember and ask me again later how it went.

Some years ago, 7-11 was on my path to work. The same thing happened there. Despite the fact that it was a hopping and busy place, the gal at the cash register got to know my name and used it frequently.

The truth is that neither of those places are on my way to work anymore, and yet I frequently stop at one or the other. Part of the reason is that the coffee is good, but honestly it is no better than I can make at home. The biggest reason is that they take an interest in me.

So, here is a choice for you. You can go to a place where they will make a game out of your name, write it on a cup in some unrecognizable form, and do it very overtly to possibly be messing with you. Or, you can go somewhere that they will take the time to actually get to know a bit about you, and get your name right. Which will you choose?

There are some people who prefer anonymity, especially first thing in the morning. They might choose the 3rd option of going through the drive through, and that is quite understandable. I think there are a large percentage of people, though, who would prefer that if there name is going to be used, it be done so correctly and respectfully. I know I am in that camp.

I have made the mistake, far too often in life, of calling someone by the wrong name. It is embarrassing in any circumstance, but when the person knows that I was once a Dale Carnegie instructor, the embarrassment for me is increased exponentially. I know that a person’s name is precious, and you know it too.

Have you ever been called by the wrong name by someone you thought knew you? If you are like me, it can be devastating. You think you’ve made an impression on someone, then the next time they see you they haven’t remembered even your name. When we get someone else’s name wrong, it has the same effect.

You might be reading this and be thinking “I am bad with names”, or “I cannot remember names”. To that I also say hogwash. Remembering names is a skill. The skill of remembering names can be learned and improved with diligence and practice. As with any skill, the first thing you must do is to convince yourself that you can do it, if you convince yourself that you can’t, then you never will.

Once you have convinced yourself that you can remember names effectively, then it is a matter of learning the skill. I am not going to take you through learning the skill here. There are many resources on the internet, and in the Dale Carnegie class (if you happen to ever take that class), on how to remember names.

I will leave you with this last thought on the subject. Over the last year I have been working to lose weight. My wife and I still like to go out to dinner from time to time, and we discovered that there are menu items at Ruby Tuesday that are quite diet friendly. Combine that with handy coupons, and you have a match made in heaven. As we have been going there about twice each month, we have had the same waitress many times. Sherry is very friendly and efficient, and we really enjoy being in her section. We even ask for her by name. About 4 or 5 months ago, she asked us our names, and we told her. Since then, when we come in she greets us by name, with a huge smile. She remembers that my wife likes hot tea, and that I enjoy coffee with my dinner. She knows our most frequent menu selection to the point where I can just say “I’m having the fish tonight”, and she knows that I mean blackened tilapia with green beans and the salad bar. She has hundreds of customers each month, and we are there no more than twice in a month. But she gets to know her regulars, and makes them feel honestly appreciated. Where do you think we went last night when we had the itch to go out?

Principle 6 – Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

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