How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Without doubt the most influential book I have ever read was the classic by Dale Carnegie ‘How To Win Friends & Influence People’ first published in 1936. I was 31-years old and had recently returned to Australia from working at Harvard for the previous six years. I was young, enthusiastic and determined to be a successful scientist. I had taken up a new position as an NHMRC Research Fellow at a Medical Research Institute in Sydney. For the first time in my career, I started to experience ‘office politics’ and relationship issues with several of my colleagues, including my boss. The conflict left me feeling powerless and that I didn’t belong.

Up till then I had focused on learning everything I could about signal transduction and the regulation of gene expression, especially in cancer cells, which was my area of expertise. I had focused on learning the technical aspects of being a scientist, however, my ability to get on with people and influence their thinking was something I had not considered. I thought if I did good work success would follow. I was over confident and naïve.

I remember complaining to Joe, a younger colleague at work about my issue. He gave me a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book. I remember asking him would the book have the answers I need. Joe said, he didn’t know and it’s a great start. As it turned out, Joe was right.

How To Win Friends & Influence People was indeed a great place for me to start. The book is jam-packed packed with pure nuggets, insights and inspiring stories. Today, over 20 years later I still vividly recall reading the story about Charles M. Schwab, the president of US Steel, and how he considered his greatest asset was his ability ‘to arouse enthusiasm among my people.’ Looking back on my life, I concur with Schwab that the ability to influence others is a powerful ability.

Three major takeaway points from the book that have never left me are:

1. If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive.

This one’s pretty straightforward. If I want people to do things for me and help me achieve something, I must treat them well. I cannot be abusive, rude, harsh or offensive, rather I must practice being kind and respectful.

2. Try and see things from the other person’s point of view.

Seek to understand rather than be understood. If I want to get on with and influence others, I first need to understand where they are at and where they are coming from. Instead of pushing my viewpoint on them, I must first step into their shoes and try and see the situation from their place, their point of view. This was incredibly valuable advice.

3. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

This is huge in the area of influence. Getting the credit and kudos for ideas can be a major stumbling block for getting projects off the ground. I learned to be a contribution to others, and freely give away my ideas rather than getting stuck on, ‘I’m not contributing if I don’t get the credit.’ Consequently, throughout my career I continually looked to contribute to others regardless of the credit. While this may not have served me well in my research career, since scientists are largely retained and promoted based on their credits and accomplishments, I am content knowing I’ve made numerous far-reaching contributions to many people around me. From supporting students to complete their Ph.D. by suggesting a critical experiment to coaching a leader in a training program that ultimately led to the ban of single-use plastic bags in New Zealand and Australia, I have practised being a contribution wherever possible.

This book is full of wonderfully astute advice and I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it.

Additionally, for me this book started me down a journey of personal and professional development. It was the first book I read that dealt with my gaps; my lack of ability to influence people whose opinion differed from my own. Most importantly, it made me aware of my mindset. I learned that what goes on in my head can both be a barrier to my performance and the access to being the best version of me. This book led me to another book, and another and eventually a workshop, a course and then a leadership development program and executive coaching. Thankfully, I am not the same person today that I was when I first read this book. I have grown and now I’m more self-aware, gentler, happier and more influential. Thank you, Joe, for your contribution all those years ago. You were wise beyond your years. I am eternally grateful to you.

What was the most influential book you ever read and why? I’d love to hear from you.

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