Is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Still Worth Reading?

My personal copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, sitting on my desk.
My personal copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, sitting on my desk.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I like to read. And anyone who knows me really well knows that I like to read on self-improvement.

Even though I read a lot, I rarely write reviews. Sometimes that’s because I need time to internalize a book’s message. Other times it’s because a book underwhelmed me, and I don’t like to leave a critical review.

Then occasionally, a book comes along that impresses me so much that I can’t help but write about it. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those, as is War and Peace.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is also one of those books.

I had known about this book for a while. My mom likes to use the phrase “win friends and influence people” (even though she’s never read the book herself), so you could say I grew up hearing about it a lot. I don’t know anyone else who has read this book, though.

After reading many self-improvement and “soft skills” books over the past five years, I decided to read this classic. I found that many other self-improvement books, while meaning well, fell flat to some extent. They lacked something. I hoped that, because this book has stood the test of time (80 years in print and millions of copies sold), it would contain whatever it is that those other books don’t have.

For context, I am an extraverted introvert. I enjoy being around people in small groups and in small doses, but have to retreat to solitude at the end of the day to recharge. I’m not socially incompetent, but I’ve always felt I had subpar social skills, even among those within my “inner circle”.

I was blessed to get a college job that forced me to improve my social skills and deal with people more, mostly over the phone and via email. My boss kindly coached me in ways to improve my communication, and over time I developed a sense of “how to say things best”. I practiced these “tactics” over and over, and I began to see that people almost always responded positively and predictively to them. Pretty soon, these skills became second nature, and now I’ll forever use them without thinking twice about it.

I say all that because I waded into How to Win Friends and Influence People with at least some sense of how to win friends and influence people. Still, I figured there was plenty more that I didn’t know.

Boy, was I right.

Carnegie is a rags-to-riches kind of guy from a little farm in northwest Missouri. Read his story in the book.

First of all, if you are organized and methodical like myself, this book is for you. Carnegie simplifies and codifies the basics of human behavior. You can flip to the last page in each part and read the rules for winning friends, leadership, etc. Review these often!

Second, for each rule, Carnegie provides a plethora of stories from real people. This isn’t some theoretical psychological ivory-tower talk. People have tested and proven this stuff, time and time again. Read their stories to learn how they did it and how you can do it, too. (Note: The latest editions contain some updated anecdotes that are more relevant for today’s readers.)

Third, the sections are short. You could read one rule a day and put it into practice. Or you could read a whole section. I did both as I devoured this book.

As I read, I found myself making mental notes: “Hmm, that’s interesting. I need to try that out.” Or, “I think I already do a pretty good job of this.” Or sometimes, “Oh! So that’s why people act that way!”

So, if you’ve read this far in my review, I bet you’re wondering whether it has helped me.

Well, I read this book in about two weeks, giving myself plenty of time to digest each section. I needed to think about how to best put the rules into practice in my everyday life, whether at work, home, or elsewhere. I just finished the book a few days ago, so I haven’t had a chance to put everything into practice yet.

That said… I’m already seeing positive results.

I sat down with my old boss a couple weeks ago with a business proposition for him. I didn’t even do much of the talking. I let him talk about his business, life, and so on. I asked a few questions here and there because I wanted to see things from his point of view, and nodded with interest as I listened to his answers.

By the end of our meeting, and with little pushback on his part, he accepted my proposition. And all I had to do was listen with interest and let him do the talking.

Given, we’ve known each other for a while and have a high degree of trust in each other, so I’ll give another example.

At a friend’s wedding, I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen since high school. I’m not a Type-A personality, but I took control of each conversation and started by asking them how they were doing, what they were doing, and so on. I don’t like to talk much anyway, so all I had to do was stand, smile, and listen. Some of them went on and on and on… because they felt like I cared about what they were saying. And I did.

The end result? Reconnected with old friends, who lamented the fact that I had to leave early. (We would’ve partied all night!) I gave one guy a compliment and it hit him like a fly ball out to left field! He and I had never been super close, so it was the last thing he expected to come out of my mouth. The surprise on his face was priceless.

But what was even better was the fact that, by employing these rules, I drummed up conversations with people I’d never met before. I had some fantastic conversations with some fantastic people: an attractive young lady who (like me) stood alone at the reception, several of my friends’ parents, other guests…. Breaking the ice and establishing rapport was a piece of wedding cake.

I’ve even noticed a change in myself. Smiling more has improved my outlook on life. I feel more in control of things that happen at work. I can better gauge others’ expectations and meet them. I’m not afraid to sit down with my manager and discuss a problem.

I feel more in control of life in general. I feel more confident. And confidence is contagious in the best way possible, folks.

To answer the question this article poses, yes—How to Win Friends and Influence People is absolutely still worth reading.

Why? Because even though times change, people remain the same. Human behavior is the same across the ages—just pick up any history book and see for yourself. People twenty, two-hundred, and two-thousand years ago responded to social cues the same way they respond today.

If you want to improve your social success, read this book. Read it, and be diligent in putting its principles into practice. That’s the only way you’ll ever be able to improve. Knowledge isn’t power, but applied knowledge is.

There is a key, though: You must be genuine in your interactions with other people. Smile from the heart. Nod in affirmation. Try to see the world through their eyes. If you do… even if you do it imperfectly… you will win friends and influence people.

I have. So let’s see you do it, too.

Buy your copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People today.

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