I read this book once long ago, but Joel insisted I re-read it after starting last week. So I took it home for the weekend and read it while taking breaks from unpacking. It’s a quick read, with short chapters. And it’s excellent.
What’s interesting to me is that I totally didn’t appreciate the book the first time I read it. It seemed like a bunch of obvious platitudes which didn’t really matter. Upon revisiting it, though, I realized that this book contained many lessons that I had had to learn by doing things differently and suffering through the consequences.
To take a couple obvious examples, it took me many years to figure out that the best way to seem interesting is to ask open ended questions about things other people are excited about. Everybody likes talking about stuff that excites them. Carnegie laid it out for me, but I didn’t really understand. Or how offering genuine specific praise is always appreciated – I used to feel weird about bothering folks just to tell them they did something well (e.g. Telling guest soloists with the chorus how well they sang). But then I realized I always get a thrill out of such recognition (like when somebody cites one of my blog posts), so now I try to demonstrate my appreciation when I can. Another good example is Carnegie’s admonition to avoid arguments, because if you lose, you lose, and if you win, you still lose because you haven’t convinced them, just browbeaten them into submission. As those who know me can attest, my affection for confrontation and argument got me into all sorts of trouble at work for a while before I realized that perhaps arguing wasn’t the best strategy.
So I’m glad Joel suggested I re-read this book. My friend Adam who I had dinner with last night said that a friend of his recommends reading a chapter a day, and trying to apply it to one’s life; when he reaches the end, he goes back to the beginning and starts over. I’m not sure I’ll go quite that far, but it does have a lot of good advice that I can learn from. And having confirmed some of his observations the hard way, I value the others more.
One observation about myself is that although I recognize how well these techniques work and have even adopted several of them myself, they still don’t come naturally to me. I use them because they work, not because they’re how I actually feel; I haven’t really internalized them. For example, I know that showing interest in others is the best way to sustain conversation. And I can do it. But I’m sometimes not actually interested in what they’re saying. Carnegie would claim that if I continue to use the techniques, the attitude will follow, just as the best way to be happy is to force oneself to smile. We’ll see. I may just be a cynical cold-hearted manipulative person by nature.
Speaking of which, next up on Joel’s re-reading list is Cialdini’s Psychology of Influence.
P.S. Completely unpacked, pictures up, trash taken out. Visited Whole Foods yesterday and stocked up on fresh produce, yay! Started answering tech support emails today, and also helped to debug the office VoIP system at the end of the day. Tomorrow night I’m going to go check out an architect duel in Tribeca, cuz that seems like a wacky New York thing to do.