Thursday, October 26, 2006

Pull the right levers in other people’s psyches

Second helpings Richard Morrison Seventy years after it first appeared, Dale Carnegie’s classic self-help manual How to Win Friends and Influence People is being republished in a new edition. Is it still relevant? The Times August 08, 2006
So what was his recipe for success in 1936, and would it still work in 2006? Rather as Jean-Paul Sartre was to do a few years later in Being and Nothingness (but in less pretentious prose), Carnegie put forward the thesis that we can all choose to control our lives if we wish, rather than being buffeted around by the blustery winds of fortune. He believed that most of us utilise only a tenth of our potential, and that the key to unlocking the rest is to develop our skill at dealing with other people.
How do we do that? Well, Carnegie had a brutally mechanistic view of human nature. He believed that words and deeds are largely shaped by genes, upbringing and circumstance. “You deserve very little credit for being what you are,” he tells the reader. “And remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are.”
This apparent denial of free will may seem chilling. But Carnegie thought it could be turned to advantage. If you know the right levers to pull in other people’s psyches, he argues, you can make them respond in an entirely predictable way, like puppets. Which, of course, is the fundamental principle upon which all cunning salesmen base their techniques — whether they are marketing soap powder to housewives or (at the time when Carnegie was writing) the concept of Aryan supremacy to Germans.
So how do you know which levers to pull? First, says Carnegie, by working out what makes your clients or customers tick. “Think always in terms of the other person’s point of view,” he advises. Rather than talking about yourself, listen patiently to them talking about themselves. Butter them up by lavishing appreciation on their work. Ferret out every personal detail you can about them, then drop this knowledge casually into the conversation; it will show them that you care. (Carnegie commends the American politician who could recall the first names of 50,000 people.)

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