“This old pro, a copywriter, a Greek named Teddy, told me the most important thing in advertising is ‘new.’ It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion.” —Don Draper, Mad Men
Yup, Dapper Don was as right, as right as the angle of his chiseled jawline: Everyone loves new. New socks. New shoes. New car. New car smell. It’s innately ingrained in us to elevate what we haven’t experienced over what we’re accustomed to. Which is why you never see “Old and Deteriorated” splattered across a can of furniture polish or a tube of toothpaste, but “New and Improved” is added ad nauseum.
And the publishing world genuflects at the same altar. There’s always a de rigueur way to tackle something blasé, from curing your slice in golf to curing your slice of ham for the next picnic in the park. If you want to sell the latest issue of whatever it is, the new new thing is always king.
Just look at business books. Every month there’s something hot off the press that climbs its way up the bestseller charts. Some tack hip and trendy with all the latest buzzwords, while others pay faux homage to ancient wisdom. Meh. It’s all endless and relentless, overwhelming and confounding. And after a while, the titles of these books all sort of blend together, like a semantical smoothie. And you, the reader, are left wondering: what exactly don’t they teach you at Harvard Business School about the seven highly effective good to great habits when building a team of cheese-movers?
Meanwhile, the all-time tome for business folks sits there, largely uncracked and unread. It was on business administration reading lists back in the day, so maybe it’s wedged between some textbooks the student couldn’t resell or, even worse, it’s un-wobbling a coffee table that has a limp. It’s forgotten or ignored or even mocked, as was the case in 2008 when the movie version of the book—starring Megan Fox—came out with the title: “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.”
That’s right, we’re talking about the Bible of human interaction, the Torah of empathy and persuasion, the Quran of getting along—and getting what you want along the way—the 1936 Dale Carnegie classic How to Win Friends and Influence People.
It may not make anyone’s desert-island reading list for, uh, obvious reasons, but if you’re anywhere on the corporate totem pole, this can help you shimmy higher up. True, at 84 years old, the prose comes across a bit corny, in a Prairie Home Companion kind of way. But once you get past that, it’s chock full of advice that will help your career flourish. Here’s a sample:
Say My Name
Even if you’re not Walter White of Breaking Bad infamy, you want to hear your name. “Remember,” Carnegie writes, “that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” To ingratiate yourself to others, especially strangers, remember their names and use them frequently—just not so often you come across as phony.
Case in point. In March 2011, right before Gavin Isaacs joined the company Shuffle Master as CEO, he met with a half-dozen or so executives. Coming from the slot world, it’s unlikely he knew any of them by face, let alone by name. However, Isaacs came prepared, shaking their hands—relax, it was nine years ago, before it was illegal—and referring to each of those men and women by name. Everyone was blown away and instantly won over.
What’s in a name? Turns out a lot.
Relax, Don’t Do It
When it comes to winging and whining, Carnegie has some advice: Stop before you start.
“Any fool can criticize, complain and condemn, and most fools do,” he writes. “But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
Hey, complaining is fun. It’s entertaining. Comedians do it. SJWs do it. Anti-SJWs. But in business, you shouldn’t. It’s counterintuitive—some of the most successful business people are tyrants—but it’s actually counterproductive.
It’s the whole catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar approach. Once you directly criticize someone, he or she is going to dig in. It’s Human Nature 101. And don’t argue, because no one wins. Ever read the comments on Facebook or Twitter? The next time someone browbeats someone else into changing his or her mind will be the first time.
And the last time.
Instead, Carnegie says, when you’re in a disagreement with someone, first find the areas of agreement. Even start off with a preamble like, “Well, I could be wrong, but have you considered so on and so forth?” Get your colleague saying yes over and over. Then you can start to inject a different point of view.
In Your Shoes
Empathy is one of those words—prodigal is another, and according to the Princess Bride, inconceivable is a third—that doesn’t mean what most people think it means. True empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding how they feel (uh, the person, not the shoes).
“If there is any one secret of success,” Carnegie writes, “it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
Does it get any simpler than that? If you want to lead people, to influence them, to win them over to your way of thinking, you have to think how they think. Ultimately, you can’t convince someone to do something; only that person can do it.
You just need to lead the way. Slowly and softy, with praise and approbation.