Let’s admit it: We all want to be liked.
Authors, of course, know that too. Every year, countless books get published on how to become a more inspiring leader, develop more intimate friendships or be a more agreeable spouse.
This week’s reading recommendation takes you back to the basics. Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends & Influence People, may have been published more than 80 years ago, but the principles of social interactions he outlines are timeless:
- Take genuine interest in other people.
- Don’t complain about others.
- Own your mistakes.
- Put yourself into other people’s shoes.
Now, you only have to go out there and do it! This, of course, is easier said than done. But why not start with reading the book summary?
“Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.” – Benjamin Disraeli
The tools you need to build robust friendships, strengthen your network, and make people eager to help you succeed can be found in an 80-year-old book called ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’
The principles in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ are as applicable today as they were when the book was published in 1936 and will continue to be relevant for centuries.
In the book that gave birth to the self-help genre, writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie spells out his plan for getting what you want from other people by changing your behavior. He expounds on the fundamentals of dealing with people and becoming a great leader. Carnegie developed these principles by drawing from examples of persuasive people in history, such as Abraham Lincoln, and from his own experiences. Since Carnegie wrote his book in 1935, many of his examples may seem obsolete or outmoded today, but his basic principles are timeless, eminently useable and presented in an easy-to-read and personal style. We recommends this classic to everyone – up to this date, no one has said it better than Carnegie.
The principles in this book can be distilled down to two fundamental behaviors.
Be Genuinely Interested in Others
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
When you meet someone your mission is to discover what subject fascinates them and then find a way to be equally fascinated.
For example, if someone is interested in collecting stamps (a subject that you might think is boring), research stamp collecting. In your research, you could discover a fascinating fact about stamps, like the most valuable stamp in the world is worth $9.5 million.
When possible, ask people for advice on a topic that interests them. For example, “If I were to start a stamp collection, how do you recommend I get started?”
When you give someone the opportunity to share their interest and expertise on a subject they enjoy, they will associate their joy with your presence.
Give Frequent Praise
Think of a person who has recently praised your work. What was your opinion of that person after receiving praise?
Think back to a teacher or boss who regularly praised your work. How does that teacher or that boss compare to other teachers and bosses?
“In our interpersonal relations, we should never forget that all our associates are human beings and hunger for appreciation. It is the legal tender that all souls enjoy.” – Dale Carnegie
“I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my appreciation and lavish in my praise” – Charles Schwab
Like Schwab, live in a spirit of acknowledgment and be eager to praise others for their effort.
When you notice a co-worker putting in extra effort on a project, walk over to them and praise their commitment to the team. If your child or partner helps around the house in a small way, praise them for their effort.
“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.” – Dale Carnegie
To build your praise and appreciation muscle, make praise and appreciation a daily habit. Take two minutes at the start of every day to write an email to praise a friend or co-worker for any progress they’ve recently made on a personal goal or professional project. Make it personal and specific; tell them what impresses you most.
“William James said: ‘The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.’ He didn’t speak, mind you, of the ‘wish’ or the ‘desire’ or the ‘longing’ to be appreciated. He said the ‘craving’ to be appreciated. Here is a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger, and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this heart hunger will hold people in the palm of his or her hand and ‘even the undertaker will be sorry when he dies.’” – Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
“Fundamental Techniques in Handling People”
To master the art of winning friends and influencing people, first learn and practice the three basic principles of dealing with people. Constantly remind yourself of the importance of these tenets. Review them, and consider how to apply them to your life. Employ them whenever you can, and even ask a friend, your partner or a business associate to remind you when you violate one of these precepts. As you practice, you should review your progress and keep notes showing when you have used each of these methods.
Principle 1: Be Nice
The first and foremost basic principle of handling people is to be nice. To this end, you shouldn’t criticize, condemn, or complain about people. Instead of judging people or disparaging them, you should try to understand them and to figure out why they do what they do. This way, you can be supportive, show sympathy, and be tolerant and kind. People like others who treat them in this way. Individuals respond positively to such an approach.
“Criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home.”
You may need to exercise self-control to refrain from expressing your negative feelings about someone else, but do so. In fact, if you have the desire to change others, it’s more profitable to refocus your concentration on yourself.
Principle 2: Find Out What They Want
A second fundamental technique is recognizing what others want and giving it to them. People have several aspirations. Some of their most common desires include health and the preservation of life, food, sleep, money and the goods and services money can buy, sexual gratification, the well-being of their children, and a feeling of importance.
“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Most of these wants are usually fulfilled, except the desire to feel important, though that is a very strong basic desire. It’s the yearning that motivates individuals to wear the most fashionable styles, drive the most modern cars and seek success.
The way to understand a person’s basic character is to know what triggers his or her feeling of importance. Once you know that information, you can make that person feel important. At the same time, avoid saying or doing anything that undermines an individual’s sense of importance.
“Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.”
For example, when offering feedback to an employee, use incentives rather than criticism to motivate him or her. Remember, nothing kills a person’s ambitions more effectively than criticism from a superior. Offer praise where you can, and be hesitant to find fault. However, avoid insincere flattery, as this doesn’t work well. Generally, people will see it as shallow and selfish. Instead, provide honest and sincere appreciation.
Principle 3: Help Them Get What They Want
The third fundamental principle is to stimulate an eager want in others. This principle works because all individuals are interested in getting what they want. So if you want to increase your influence over other people, find out what they want to accomplish and help them achieve it. To do this, it helps to understand their point of view and examine a situation from their perspective, as well as your own.
“Six Ways to Make People Like You”
To get people to like you, pay attention to others and show you are concerned about their well-being. Follow these six fundamental rules:
The First Rule
Become genuinely interested in other people. By doing so, you can gain the attention of others and secure their cooperation again and again. By showing a sincere interest in others, you, as a manager, can deepen your employees’ loyalty to your company as well, since people see you as a representative of your organization.
The Second Rule
Make a good first impression by smiling. This is important, since actions speak louder than words, and a smile helps to show people that you like them. It demonstrates that you are glad to see them and that you want to be friendly. Of course, a smile shouldn’t be an insincere grin. People resent such false and mechanical expressions. But a heartfelt smile that comes from within will help attract people to you.
The Third Rule
Learn people’s names. You can develop a simple technique to achieve this. When you meet someone for the first time, find out that person’s name as well as some facts about his or her family, business, or interests. Visualize this information as a picture in your mind. Then, when you see that person again, you will remember it. The power of recall is critical because people value their names highly, as reflected in the way many companies are named after their founders or the way donors give large bequests to organizations that name libraries, museums or other buildings after them.
The Fourth Rule
Be a good listener, and encourage people to talk about themselves. It is especially flattering to pay exclusive attention to the person who is speaking to you, rather than looking around to see who else might be there. Listening is also a very important skill for someone in customer service. For example, if a client comes to complain, just listening attentively can help diffuse that customer’s anger. It may even make the person’s grievances disappear.
The Fifth Rule
Talk in a way that interests others. Speak about their hobbies and passions. Theodore Roosevelt mastered this skill. He was well-versed on a wide variety of topics. When he expected to meet with an important dignitary, he would study up on that person’s interests. This habit enabled Roosevelt to wow people with his wealth of knowledge. He knew that “the royal road to a person’s heart is to talk about the things he or she treasures most.”
The Sixth Rule
Find a sincere way to make others feel important. For example, ask yourself what characteristics about other people you can honestly admire. The psychologist William James said that, “the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”
By showing your appreciation for others, you help nurture their feelings of self-importance. However, you need to be sincere when you show your gratitude so compliments don’t come across as insincere flattery.
“How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking”
Follow 12 techniques for convincing other people to believe what you are telling them. Consciously try to apply each method in your conversations:
- The only way to win an argument is to avoid it – Generally, disagreements only make others defensive, and a person who feels he or she has lost a dispute loses face. Once you get drawn into an argument, you can’t win, because if you lose it, you lose, and even if you win it, you lose. Thus, avoid engaging in a quarrel.
- Show respect for other people’s opinions – You don’t want to make others think you disagree with them with careless words, looks, intonations or gestures. When you challenge other people’s views, you make them want to strike back, not change their mind.
- Admit when you are wrong – If you make a mistake, acknowledge it quickly. Making such an admission is especially helpful when you know that others are thinking that you are wrong and want to say as much. It is easier to listen to self-criticism than criticism from others, and generally when you admit a mistake, other people are more likely to be forgiving and supportive. When you don’t, they are likely to be more critical and frustrated.
- Even if you are angry, begin in a friendly way – Use honey to make the medicine go down. You can’t win over someone who feels negativity toward you. But by soothing that feeling, you can start to bring that person around to your point of view.
- Get the other person to say “yes” in the beginning – Begin by discussing issues on which you both agree. Once you receive a “no” response, you will face a hurdle that you need to overcome, since your fellow discussant wants to remain consistent. Thus, it helps to start off with questions that will evoke a “yes” or a statement that will bring about agreement. Once the person is in the habit of saying yes, you can broach the harder questions.
- When dealing with complaints, let your clients do the talking – Allow them to say everything they want to say. As you listen, you will learn more about their business and their problems, and you will be in a better position to help. Listen patiently with an open mind, be sincere, and encourage your clients to express their concerns and ideas fully.
- Seek cooperation – Let the other party feel responsible for generating an idea. People have more faith in the suggestions that they themselves propose.
- See things from the other person’s point of view – Put yourself in the other person’s place so you can better understand what he or she wants and needs. This can be especially helpful if you are trying to sell someone a product or a course of action. This will help you understand what motivates the other person.
- Sympathize with what the other person thinks or wants – This way, even if you disagree or would do something differently, you show that you understand and empathize. Say something like: “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.”
- Appeal to people’s higher aspirations and nobler motives – People usually have two reasons for doing something: the real reason and one that sounds good. Since people are idealists at heart and like to think they act out of good motives, you will have better luck in changing people by appealing to these positive intentions.
- Express your ideas in a dramatic way – By dramatizing your plans, you make them more powerful and persuasive. Use strong illustrations and showmanship to get your ideas across. This approach works well because merely stating a truth isn’t enough; the truth has to be vivid.
- Use a challenge to motivate others – This technique works because successful people love the chance to prove their worth. For example, the industrialist Charles Schwab once drew a large figure 6 on the floor of a mill to note how many items the day-shift employees made. The next day, when the night-shift staffers came in, they drew a 7 on the floor to show they had performed even better. That inspired the day-shift workers to toil even harder and place a 10 on the floor when they left. By expressing what he wanted, Schwab encouraged his staff to work more productively and more diligently. This tactic was more effective than if he had just asked his employees for improved work.
“Be a Leader”
If you are in a leadership position, employ nine important principles to motivate people to change without giving offense or arousing resentment:
- If you have to discuss a fault or a concern with someone, begin with sincere praise and honest appreciation.
- If someone makes a mistake, raise awareness of his or her mistakes indirectly.
- Before condemning another person, reveal your own mistakes first.
- Instead of giving someone a “direct order,” ask questions, such as “What do you think of this?” to let employees propose their own suggestions.
- Never put someone in a position where they lose face.
- Give improving employees praise, no matter how slight their progress.
- “Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.”
- Offer employees encouragement, and make their fault seem easy to rectify.
- Make other people feel happy about trying out your suggestions.
- Be genuinely interested in other people.
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain about people.
- Encourage others to talk about themselves.
- If you make a mistake, acknowledge it quickly.
- Before criticizing someone else, talk about your own mistakes first.
- Praise all improvements, no matter how slight.
- If you want to change others, start with yourself first.
- To feel important is one of the strongest human desires. Always make others feel important and never undermine anyone’s sense of importance.
- Remember people’s names. A person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
- Express your ideas in a dramatic way. Use illustrations and showmanship to get your ideas across.
About the author
Dale Carnegie was a well-known inspirational teacher and author who wrote a series of popular self-help books that sold millions of copies in the 1930s and 1940s. His books became the basis for a series of seminars and training programs and addressed the topics of self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking and interpersonal skills. How to Make Friends and Influence People was first published in 1936. It became an instant hit and remains hugely popular today. Carnegie’s other books include How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, How to Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking, How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job, and The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. Dale Carnegie died on November 1, 1955.
Dale Carnegie (1888–1955) described himself as a “simple country boy” from Missouri but was also a pioneer of the self-improvement genre. Since the 1936 publication of his first book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, he has touched millions of readers and his classic works continue to impact lives to this day.
Self Help, Business, Psychology, Personal Development, Leadership, Classics, Communication, Relationships, Business Life, Business Skills, Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Self-Esteem
Table of Contents
Preface to 1981 Edition by Dorothy Carnegie
How This Book Was Written — and Why by Dale Carnegie
Nine Suggestions on How to Get the Most Out of This Book
Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
1 “If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive”
2 The Big Secret of Dealing with People
3 “He Who Can Do This Has the Whole World with Him. He Who Cannot Walks a Lonely Way”
Six Ways to Make People Like You
1 Do This and You’ll Be Welcome Anywhere
2 A Simple Way to Make a Good First Impression
3 If You Don’t Do This, You Are Headed for Trouble
4 An Easy Way to Become a Good Conversationalist
5 How to Interest People
6 How to Make People Like You Instantly
How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
1 You Can’t Win an Argument
2 A Sure Way of Making Enemies — and How to Avoid It
3 If You’re Wrong, Admit It
4 A Drop of Honey
5 The Secret of Socrates
6 The Safety Valve in Handling Complaints
7 How to Get Cooperation
8 A Formula That Will Work Wonders for You
9 What Everybody Wants
10 An Appeal That Everybody Likes
11 The Movies Do It. TV Does It. Why Don’t You Do It?
12 When Nothing Else Works, Try This
Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment
1 If You Must Find Fault, This Is the Way to Begin
2 How to Criticize — and Not Be Hated for It
3 Talk About Your Own Mistakes First
4 No One Likes to Take Orders
5 Let the Other Person Save Face
6 How to Spur People On to Success
7 Give a Dog a Good Name
8 Make the Fault Seem Easy to Correct
9 Making People Glad to Do What You Want
A Shortcut to Distinction by Lowell Thomas
The Dale Carnegie Courses
My Experiences in Applying the Principles Taught in This Book
Updated for today’s readers, Dale Carnegie’s timeless bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic that has improved and transformed the professional and personal and lives of millions.
One of the best-known motivational guides in history, Dale Carnegie’s groundbreaking book has sold tens of millions of copies, been translated into almost every known language, and has helped countless people succeed.
Originally published during the depths of the Great Depression—and equally valuable during booming economies or hard times—Carnegie’s rock-solid, time-tested advice has carried countless people up the ladder of success in their professional and personal lives.
How to Win Friends and Influence People teaches you:
- How to communicate effectively
- How to make people like you
- How to increase your ability to get things done
- How to get others to see your side
- How to become a more effective leader
- How to successfully navigate almost any social situation
- And so much more!
Achieve your maximum potential with this updated version of a classic—a must-read for the 21st century.
* * * * *
You can go after the job you want—and get it!
You can take the job you have—and improve it!
You can take any situation—and make it work for you!
Dale Carnegie’s rock-solid, time-tested advice has carried countless people up the ladder of success in their business and personal lives. One of the most groundbreaking and timeless bestsellers of all time, How to Win Friends & Influence People will teach you:
- Six ways to make people like you
- Twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking
- Nine ways to change people without arousing resentment
And much more! Achieve your maximum potential—a must-read for the twenty-first century with more than 15 million copies sold!
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview
“If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive”
On May 7, 1931, the most sensational manhunt New York City had ever known had come to its climax. After weeks of search, “Two Gun” Crowley — the killer, the gunman who didn’t smoke or drink — was at bay, trapped in his sweetheart’s apartment on West End Avenue.
One hundred and fifty policemen and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof; they tried to smoke out Crowley, the “cop killer,” with tear gas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York’s fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Crowley, crouching behind an overstuffed chair, fired incessantly at the police. Ten thousand excited people watched the battle. Nothing like it had ever been seen before on the sidewalks of New York.
When Crowley was captured, Police Commissioner E. P. Mulrooney declared that the two-gun desperado was one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. “He will kill,” said the Commissioner, “at the drop of a feather.”
But how did “Two Gun” Crowley regard himself? We know, because while the police were firing into his apartment, he wrote a letter addressed “To whom it may concern.” And, as he wrote, the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In his letter Crowley said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one — one that would do nobody any harm.”
A short time before this, Crowley had been having a necking party with his girl friend on a country road out on Long Island. Suddenly a policeman walked up to the car and said: “Let me see your license.”
Without saying a word, Crowley drew his gun and cut the policeman down with a shower of lead. As the dying officer fell, Crowley leaped out of the car, grabbed the officer’s revolver, and fired another bullet into the prostrate body. And that was the killer who said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one — one that would do nobody any harm.”
Crowley was sentenced to the electric chair. When he arrived at the death house in Sing Sing, did he say, “This is what I get for killing people”? No, he said: “This is what I get for defending myself.”
The point of the story is this: “Two Gun” Crowley didn’t blame himself for anything.
Is that an unusual attitude among criminals? If you think so, listen to this:
“I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”
That’s Al Capone speaking. Yes, America’s most notorious Public Enemy — the most sinister gang leader who ever shot up Chicago. Capone didn’t condemn himself. He actually regarded himself as a public benefactor — an unappreciated and misunderstood public benefactor.
And so did Dutch Schultz before he crumpled up under gangster bullets in Newark. Dutch Schultz, one of New York’s most notorious rats, said in a newspaper interview that he was a public benefactor. And he believed it.
I have had some interesting correspondence with Lewis Lawes, who was warden of New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison for many years, on this subject, and he declared that “few of the criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them attempt by a form of reasoning, fallacious or logical, to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves, consequently stoutly maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all.”
If Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley, Dutch Schultz, and the desperate men and women behind prison walls don’t blame themselves for anything — what about the people with whom you and I come in contact?
John Wanamaker, founder of the stores that bear his name, once confessed: “I learned thirty years ago that it is foolish to scold. I have enough trouble overcoming my own limitations without fretting over the fact that God has not seen fit to distribute evenly the gift of intelligence.”
Wanamaker learned this lesson early, but I personally had to blunder through this old world for a third of a century before it even began to dawn upon me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.
Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.
B. F. Skinner, the world-famous psychologist, proved through his experiments that an animal rewarded for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retain what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behavior. Later studies have shown that the same applies to humans. By criticizing, we do not make lasting changes and often incur resentment.
Hans Selye, another great psychologist, said, “As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation.”
The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned.
George B. Johnston of Enid, Oklahoma, is the safety coordinator for an engineering company. One of his responsibilities is to see that employees wear their hard hats whenever they are on the job in the field. He reported that whenever he came across workers who were not wearing hard hats, he would tell them with a lot of authority of the regulation and that they must comply. As a result he would get sullen acceptance, and often after he left, the workers would remove the hats.
He decided to try a different approach. The next time he found some of the workers not wearing their hard hat, he asked if the hats were uncomfortable or did not fit properly. Then he reminded the men in a pleasant tone of voice that the hat was designed to protect them from injury and suggested that it always be worn on the job. The result was increased compliance with the regulation with no resentment or emotional upset.
You will find examples of the futility of criticism bristling on a thousand pages of history. Take, for example, the famous quarrel between Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft — a quarrel that split the Republican party, put Woodrow Wilson in the White House, and wrote bold, luminous lines across the First World War and altered the flow of history. Let’s review the facts quickly. When Theodore Roosevelt stepped out of the White House in 1908, he supported Taft, who was elected President. Then Theodore Roosevelt went off to Africa to shoot lions. When he returned, he exploded. He denounced Taft for his conservatism, tried to secure the nomination for a third term himself, formed the Bull Moose party, and all but demolished the G.O.P. In the election that followed, William Howard Taft and the Republican party carried only two states — Vermont and Utah. The most disastrous defeat the party had ever known.
Theodore Roosevelt blamed Taft, but did President Taft blame himself? Of course not. With tears in his eyes, Taft said: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
Who was to blame? Roosevelt or Taft? Frankly, I don’t know, and I don’t care. The point I am trying to make is that all of Theodore Roosevelt’s criticism didn’t persuade Taft that he was wrong. It merely made Taft strive to justify himself and to reiterate with tears in his eyes: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
Or, take the Teapot Dome oil scandal. It kept the newspapers ringing with indignation in the early 1920s. It rocked the nation! Within the memory of living men, nothing like it had ever happened before in American public life. Here are the bare facts of the scandal: Albert B. Fall, secretary of the interior in Harding’s cabinet, was entrusted with the leasing of government oil reserves at Elk Hill and Teapot Dome — oil reserves that had been set aside for the future use of the Navy. Did Secretary Fall permit competitive bidding? No sir, He handed the fat, juicy contract outright to his friend Edward L. Doheny. And what did Doheny do? He gave Secretary Fall what he was pleased to call a “loan” of one hundred thousand dollars. Then, in a high-handed manner, Secretary Fall ordered United States Marines into the district to drive off competitors whose adjacent wells were sapping oil out of the Elk Hill reserves. These competitors, driven off their ground at the ends of guns and bayonets, rushed into court — and blew the lid off the Teapot Dome scandal. A stench arose so vile that it ruined the Harding Administration, nauseated an entire nation, threatened to wreck the Republican party, and put Albert B. Fall behind prison bars.
Fall was condemned viciously — condemned as few men in public life have ever been. Did he repent? Never! Years later Herbert Hoover intimated in a public speech that President Harding’s death had been due to mental anxiety and worry because a friend had betrayed him. When Mrs. Fall heard that, she sprang from her chair, she wept, she shook her fists at fate and screamed: “What! Harding betrayed by Fall? No! My husband never betrayed anyone. This whole house full of gold would not tempt my husband to do wrong. He is the one who has been betrayed and led to the slaughter and crucified.”
There you are; human nature in action, wrongdoers, blaming everybody but themselves. We are all like that. So when you and I are tempted to criticize someone tomorrow, let’s remember Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley and Albert Fall. Let’s realize that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. Let’s realize that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify himself or herself, and condemn us in return; or, like the gentle Taft, will say: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
On the morning of April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln lay dying in a hall bedroom of a cheap lodging house directly across the street from Ford’s Theater, where John Wilkes Booth had shot him. Lincoln’s long body lay stretched diagonally across a sagging bed that was too short for him. A cheap reproduction of Rosa Bonheur’s famous painting The Horse Fair hung above the bed, and a dismal gas jet flickered yellow light.
As Lincoln lay dying, Secretary of War Stanton said, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever seen.”
What was the secret of Lincoln’s success in dealing with people? I studied the life of Abraham Lincoln for ten years and devoted all of three years to writing and rewriting a book entitled Lincoln the Unknown. I believe I have made as detailed and exhaustive a study of Lincoln’s personality and home life as it is possible for any being to make. I made a special study of Lincoln’s method of dealing with people. Did he indulge in criticism? Oh, yes. As a young man in the Pigeon Creek Valley of Indiana, he not only criticized but he wrote letters and poems ridiculing people and dropped these letters on the country roads where they were sure to be found. One of these letters aroused resentments that burned for a lifetime.
Even after Lincoln had become a practicing lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he attacked his opponents openly in letters published in the newspapers. But he did this just once too often.
In the autumn of 1842 he ridiculed a vain, pugnacious politician by the name of James Shields. Lincoln lampooned him through an anonymous letter published in the Springfield Journal. The town roared with laughter. Shields, sensitive and proud, boiled with indignation. He found out who wrote the letter, leaped on his horse, started after Lincoln, and challenged him to fight a duel. Lincoln didn’t want to fight. He was opposed to dueling, but he couldn’t get out of it and save his honor. He was given the choice of weapons. Since he had very long arms, he chose cavalry broadswords and took lessons in sword fighting from a West Point graduate; and, on the appointed day, he and Shields met on a sandbar in the Mississippi River, prepared to fight to the death; but, at the last minute, their seconds interrupted and stopped the duel.
That was the most lurid personal incident in Lincoln’s life. It taught him an invaluable lesson in the art of dealing with people. Never again did he write an insulting letter. Never again did he ridicule anyone. And from that time on, he almost never criticized anybody for anything.
Time after time, during the Civil War, Lincoln put a new general at the head of the Army of the Potomac, and each one in turn — McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Meade — blundered tragically and drove Lincoln to pacing the floor in despair. Half the nation savagely condemned these incompetent generals, but Lincoln, “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” held his peace. One of his favorite quotations was “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
And when Mrs. Lincoln and others spoke harshly of the southern people, Lincoln replied: “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”
Yet if any man ever had occasion to criticize, surely it was Lincoln. Let’s take just one illustration:
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought during the first three days of July 1863. During the night of July 4, Lee began to retreat southward while storm clouds deluged the country with rain. When Lee reached the Potomac with his defeated army, he found a swollen, impassable river in front of him, and a victorious Union Army behind him. Lee was in a trap. He couldn’t escape. Lincoln saw that. Here was a golden, heaven-sent opportunity — the opportunity to capture Lee’s army and end the war immediately. So, with a surge of high hope, Lincoln ordered Meade not to call a council of war but to attack Lee immediately. Lincoln telegraphed his orders and then sent a special messenger to Meade demanding immediate action.
And what did General Meade do? He did the very opposite of what he was told to do. He called a council of war in direct violatin of Lincoln’s orders. He hesitated. He procrastinated. He telegraphed all manner of excuses. He refused point-blank to attack Lee. Finally the waters receded and Lee escaped over the Potomac with his forces.
Lincoln was furious. “What does this mean?” Lincoln cried to his son Robert. “Great God! What does this mean? We had them within our grasp, and had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours; yet nothing that I could say or do could make the army move. Under the circumstances, almost any general could have defeated Lee. If I had gone up there, I could have whipped him myself.”
In bitter disappointment, Lincoln sat down and wrote Meade this letter. And remember, at this period of his life Lincoln was extremely conservative and restrained in his phraseology. So this letter coming from Lincoln in 1863 was tantamount to the severest rebuke.
My dear General,
I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within our easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few — no more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect and I do not expect that you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.
What do you suppose Meade did when he read the letter?
Meade never saw that letter. Lincoln never mailed it. It was found among his papers after his death.
My guess is — and this is only a guess — that after writing that letter, Lincoln looked out of the window and said to himself, “Just a minute. Maybe I ought not to be so hasty. It is easy enough for me to sit here in the quiet of the White House and order Meade to attack; but if I had been up at Gettysburg, and if I had seen as much blood as Meade has seen during the last week, and if my ears had been pierced with the screams and shrieks of the wounded and dying, maybe I wouldn’t be so anxious to attack either. If I had Meade’s timid temperament, perhaps I would have done just what he had done. Anyhow, it is water under the bridge now. If I send this letter, it will relieve my feelings, but it will make Meade try to justify himself. It will make him condemn me. It will arouse hard feelings, impair all his further usefulness as a commander, and perhaps force him to resign from the army.”
So, as I have already said, Lincoln put the letter aside, for he had learned by bitter experience that sharp criticisms and rebukes almost invariably end in futility.
Theodore Roosevelt said that when he, as President, was confronted with a perplexing problem, he used to lean back and look up at a large painting of Lincoln which hung above his desk in the White House and ask himself, “What would Lincoln do if he were in my shoes? How would he solve this problem?”
The next time we are tempted to admonish somebody, let’s pull a five-dollar bill out of our pocket, look at Lincoln’s picture on the bill, and ask, “How would Lincoln handle this problem if he had it?”
Mark Twain lost his temper occasionally and wrote letters that turned the paper brown. For example, he once wrote to a man who had aroused his ire: “The thing for you is a burial permit. You have only to speak and I will see that you get it.” On another occasion he wrote to an editor about a proofreader’s attempts to “improve my spelling and punctuation.” He ordered: “Set the matter according to my copy hereafter and see that the proofreader retains his suggestions in the mush of his decayed brain.”
The writing of these stinging letters made Mark Twain feel better. They allowed him to blow off steam, and the letters didn’t do any real harm, because Mark Twain’s wife secretly lifted them out of the mail. They were never sent.
Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good! That is fine. I am all in favor of it. But why not begin on yourself? From a purely selfish standpoint, that is a lot more profitable than trying to improve others — yes, and a lot less dangerous. “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof,” said Confucius, “when your own doorstep is unclean.”
When I was still young and trying hard to impress people, I wrote a foolish letter to Richard Harding Davis, an author who once loomed large on the literary horizon of America. I was preparing a magazine article about authors, and I asked Davis to tell me about his method of work. A few weeks earlier, I had received a letter from someone with this notation at the bottom: “Dictated but not read.” I was quite impressed. I felt that the writer must be very big and busy and important. I wasn’t the slightest bit busy, but I was eager to make an impression on Richard Harding Davis, so I ended my short note with the words: “Dictated but not read.”
He never troubled to answer the letter. He simply returned it to me with this scribbled across the bottom: “Your bad manners are exceeded only by your bad manners.” True, I had blundered, and perhaps I deserved this rebuke. But, being human, I resented it. I resented it so sharply that when I read of the death of Richard Harding Davis ten years later, the one thought that still persisted in my mind — I am ashamed to admit — was the hurt he had given me.
If you and I want to stir up a resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism — no matter how certain we are that it is justified.
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.
Bitter criticism caused the sensitive Thomas Hardy, one of the finest novelists ever to enrich English literature, to give up forever the writing of fiction. Criticism drove Thomas Chatterton, the English poet, to suicide.
Benjamin Franklin, tactless in his youth, became so diplomatic, so adroit at handling people, that he was made American Ambassador to France. The secret of his success? “I will speak ill of no man,” he said, “…and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain — and most fools do.
But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
“A great man shows his greatness,” said Carlyle, “by the way he treats little men.”
Bob Hoover, a famous test pilot and frequent performer at air shows, was returning to his home in Los Angeles from an air show in San Diego. As described in the magazine Flight Operations, at three hundred feet in the air, both engines suddenly stopped. By deft maneuvering he managed to land the plane, but it was badly damaged although nobody was hurt.
Hoover’s first act after the emergency landing was to inspect the airplane’s fuel. Just as he suspected, the World War II propeller plane he had been flying had been fueled with jet fuel rather than gasoline.
Upon returning to the airport, he asked to see the mechanic who had serviced his airplane. The young man was sick with the agony of his mistake. Tears streamed down his face as Hoover approached. He had just caused the loss of a very expensive plane and could have caused the loss of three lives as well.
You can imagine Hoover’s anger. One could anticipate the tongue-lashing that this proud and precise pilot would unleash for that carelessness. But Hoover didn’t scold the mechanic; he didn’t even criticize him. Instead, he put his big arm around the man’s shoulder and said, “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.”
Often parents are tempted to criticize their children. You would expect me to say “don’t.” But I will not. I am merely going to say, “Before you criticize them, read one of the classics of American journalism, ‘Father Forgets.'” It originally appeared as an editorial in the People’s Home Journal. We are reprinting it here with the author’s permission, as condensed in the Reader’s Digest:
“Father Forgets” is one of those little pieces which — dashed off in a moment of sincere feeling — strikes an echoing chord in so many readers as to become a perennial reprint favorite. Since its first appearance, “Father Forgets” has been reproduced, writes the author, W. Livingston Larned, “in hundreds of magazines and house organs, and in newspapers the country over. It has been reprinted almost as extensively in many foreign languages. I have given personal permission to thousands who wished to read it from school, church, and lecture platforms. It has been ‘on the air’ on countless occasions and programs. Oddly enough, college periodicals have used it, and high-school magazines. Sometimes a little piece seems mysteriously to ‘click.’ This one certainly did.”
W. Livingston Larned
Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen into your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, “Goodbye, Daddy!” and I frowned, and said in reply, “Hold your shoulders back!”
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees, playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive — and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in the library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. “What is it you want?” I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterwards that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding — this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedside in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy — a little boy!”
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother’s arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much.
Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”
As Dr. Johnson said: “God himself, sir, does not propose to judge man until the end of his days..”
Why should you and I?
Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.