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How To Win High-Maintenance Acquaintances Who Bring You No Pleasure & Be a Milksop
on March 7, 2014
EDIT: March 24, 2014.
I've been giving a lot of thought as to why this book didn't work for me, and I think I've figured it out.
There is an old saying -- walk softly, but carry a big stick. I've heard it said often, but was never really clear on what it meant. I have it now. The thing is, your niceness is only valuable if there's a threat you might cut it off at any moment. The "big stick" is there to say 'I'm inoffensive now, but I might attack if needed.' Carnegie does not teach that -- he tells you to be nice, and be nice, and keep being nice, and somehow everyone will reciprocate. But this does not really happen, at least in anything but the most superficial relationships. You know how they say "chicks don't like nice guys?" It's that phenomenon at work.
If you read the book, you'll notice that most of his example success stories are about people who are already in authority trying to get better behavior out of underlings -- like the construction manager whose workers wouldn't wear their hardhats, or the story of Charles Schwab fixing his employees who ignored the No Smoking sign at work. Of course it makes them happy and agreeable if THE BOSS is being nice to them! But if you're just a nobody who hasn't any power over their lives, who cares? They've got more important things than to go out of their way for you in turn. You can give give give, but if they don't perceive your kindness as valuable, it doesn't matter.
I also highly recommend the review at http://www.amazon.com/review/R1DZ5UBO2SG8LB/ as this person had a very similar experience to mine as far as the kind of "friends" you win by trying this.
When I first got this book, about 10 years ago, I was extremely impressed with it and most pleased with my discovery. I learned a lot about how people think and how we can unintentionally hurt people, how kindness can be more influential than criticism, etc. My copy of this book is all dog-eared and full of underlined passages. I've read it multiple times.
But I can say after 10 years of putting it to practice, that for me, this book really seems to have utterly failed in the promise of its title.
I have a suspicion some of this failure is ultimately a failure caused by the book's past success -- that is, the book became so influential, especially amongst business people, that the public has grown accustomed to these tactics. They've become immune. The recommended actions consequently don't have power anymore. Example: the book talks about the value of greeting people with a smile. But now, everyone expects to be greeted with a smile during business exchanges, and knows subconsciously it's an effort to manipulate them. They don't return the smile or become better humored; instead they seem to perceive your staged(?) grin as evidence that you're not a "real" person who is to be treated respectfully, but a flunky who is just trying to kiss up to them.
I also had a problem, personally, as a female with this book's recommended behaviors. I have discovered, time and again, that following the advice about being nice and pleasant seems to just make men think I'm trying to have sex with them, leading to many unpleasant situations, both in business and daily life. I'll bet Carnegie didn't worry that women come off as flirty and submissive when following his advice, because in the 30s women didn't usually need to conduct business with men. Which brings me to my next point --
I notice most of the reviews that complain about the book being dated are referencing the writing style or the anecdotes. Actually, I think the book is dated because it was born out of a totally different culture. A lot of stuff has changed since 1937. A lot of behavior that nowadays is acceptable would have been considered shocking or very low-class when this thing was written, and so this book was not written to anticipate.
All in all, I just find no one cooperates with the recommended behaviors, even when you literally do them by the book. I'll try to overlook people's flaws and mistakes as advised -- and the people seem to just take advantage of it to do worse quality work or be more rudely behaved. I'll try to make the other person feel important and take interest in them -- and wind up getting molested for my trouble because they think it's an act of sexual interest. I'll suggest instead of instructing -- and find my idea beaten down all the worse because it sounds "unsure." I'll try to be friendly -- and get walked all over.
After analyzing the issues, I'm convinced the book ought not be called How to Win Friends and Influence People. A more apt title would be How to Be Friendly and Avoid Conflict. Those are the valuable lessons of the work. The rest -- it's stuff that applies to old men making business relationships, not real friendships, nor typical social interaction for joy's own sake, nor trying to get superiors to heed your views.
In the end, I think I might actually be worse off for having read this book and trained myself to its techniques. I've been brought much harm and little good from it.