How to Win Friends and Influence People Summary

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For a long time, How to Win Friends and Influence People has been one of the most popular books about communication, negotiation and building relationships. First written in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s classic continues to appear on lists of “must read” self development books.

While a lot of the wisdom Carnegie shares may seem self evident, I found it an excellent read because it codifies the most essential elements of successfully building relationships. Sometimes, it’s the most obvious and basic things that we fail to do. Reading How to Win Friends and Influence People is essential because it helps us internalise those principles and apply them in our relationships and interactions with others.

The book is divided into four main sections, each containing a number of principles.

Part 1: Fundamental Techniques for Dealing with People

Don’t criticise

People resent being criticised and will not react well to criticism. The usual reaction is defensiveness. We must understand that this is just human nature. It’s even been shown that criminals become defensive and try to justify their behaviour.

We are not dealing with creatures of logic, we are dealing with creatures of emotion.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Show appreciation and encouragement

People have an innate desire to feel important and appreciated. When you want cooperation from another person, find something they are good at and give them genuine encouragement. Make them feel appreciated and you’re more likely to see results.

Think about what the other person wants

Stop thinking about yourself and what you want to get out of a situation. Instead think about the other person and ask yourself what can you do to help them? 

Actively show them that whatever you’re trying to convince them is in their best interest.

Use the words “you” and “we”, instead of using “I”.

The world is so full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking. So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Part 2: Ways to get people to like you

Show genuine interest in other people

This is more important than trying to impress or trying to get them to be interested in you.  Don’t always talk about yourself. Listen to the other person and show genuine interest in the things they are interested in.

People are not interested in you, they are interested in themselves.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People


Something as simple as a smile can go a long way. A smile shows a person that you are glad to see them. A smile can even be detected through the phone.

Use people’s names

Calling people by name shows them that you’re interested in them. A lot of people are introduced to a new person, and by the end of the conversation cannot even remember his or her name. Make a special effort to remember a person’s name. It will make them feel important.

Develop your listening skills

Try and get people to talk about themselves. Again this makes people feel important. Listening and genuinely expressing an interest in what a person is saying is one of the highest forms of compliment. 

Talk about the other person’s interests

Make an effort to find out what a person is interested in and learn a bit about it. Again, try to show genuine appreciation – ask questions and then listen.

Part 3: How to Win People to your way of thinking

Avoid unnecessary arguments

Nine times out of ten an argument will end with each of the participants believing they are right. You can’t win an argument. If you lose it you lose it and if you win it you lose it. 

Never tell people they are wrong

Telling people they are wrong is a direct blow to their feelings. It is difficult to change people’s minds. If you want to change a person’s mind, do it subtlely.

You cannot teach a man anything you can only help him find it within himself.


If you’re wrong admit it

Again this goes back to feelings of importance. People will be more likely to be magnanimous and forgiving when you admit you’re wrong.

Emphasise the things you agree on

Putting emphasis on the things you agree on sets the phycological frame of the person in the affirmative direction. It’s easier to get a person to say yes this way and they will be more accepting and open to suggestion. The more yeses we can illicit at the beginning of a conversation, the better.

Socrates’ “Socratic Method” is a famous example of how to lead people to stay in an affirmative frame of mind:

Socrates kept on asking questions until finally almost without realising it his opponents found themselves embracing a conclusion they would have bitterly denied a few minutes previously.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Let the other person do most of the talking

When trying to convince someone to do something, you shouldn’t do all the talking. It is likely that they won’t fully listen anyway. Remember that they are not interested in you – they are interested in themselves.

Instead let the other person talk more. Give them space and encouragement to express their thoughts freely.

Let the other person think that the idea is theirs

Make suggestions and let the other person think out the conclusions. People do not like the hard sell or to be told what to do. They like to be consulted about their desires, their wishes and their ideas.

See things from the other person’s point of view

Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and try to honestly see things from their point of view.

Success in dealing with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Be sympathetic toward the other person’s ideas and desires

Most people are looking for sympathy with regards to their point of view or grievance. Think about when you’ve felt hard done by – aren’t you less likely to get upset when the person you complain to is sympathetic to your concerns?

Carnegie advises to begin by using the following phrase: “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I should undoubtedly feel just as you do.”

Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for sympathy. Give it to them, and they will love you.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Appeal to nobler motives

People have two reasons for doing something – one that sounds good and the real reason. 

A lot of people buy from brands who have “green credentials” because they want to show they care about the environment. The real reason might be because they want to prove to their friends that they are environmentally conscious.

Dramatise your ideas

This principle is especially true today. In order to grab people’s attention, you’ll need to frame it in an interesting and dramatic way. For example, tell a story, rather than just stating facts.

Throw down a challenge

When all else fails, appeal to people’s desire to excel at a challenge.

Take for example how employees become motivated where there is a monthly challenge to make the most sales, or the chance to win something as part of an employee appreciation programme.

Part 4: How to change people without giving offence or arousing resentment

If you must find fault, begin by praising

If you need to provide someone with negative feedback or point out something they have done wrong, begin by complimenting them first. It is much easier to bare criticism when we have been praised beforehand.

Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain kills the pain.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Call attention to other’s mistakes indirectly

People generally respond negatively to criticism. After beginning with praise, most people follow up with “but”. Carnegie recommends changing “but” to “and” – this way your criticism will be more indirect.

He gives the following example in the book:

Instead of saying –

“We’re really proud of you, Johnnie for raising your grades this
term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would have been better.”

Say –

“We’re really proud of you, Johnnie, for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same conscientious efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.”

Talk about your own mistakes before criticising the other person

Before pointing out an other person’s mistakes, admit that you are also not immune from making mistakes. This approach makes the other person feel like they are not being “spoken down to” or admonished. They will be more likely to accept their mistakes and change their behaviour.

Admitting one’s own mistakes—even when one hasn’t corrected them—can help convince somebody to change his behaviour.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Ask questions instead of giving direct orders

People don’t like to be ordered or bossed about. It hurts their ego, and they are less likely to perform to the best of their ability.

Instead of telling a person to “do this” or “don’t do that”, try to ask them questions. For example, say “do you think “x” would be a good idea?”.

By not being bossy and giving the other person a chance to correct their own mistakes, you’ll be making them feel important and not damaging their ego. This way you can get more “buy in” and cooperation.

People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Let the other person save face

Even if we disagree completely with someone, we should not destroy their ego by causing them to “lose face”.

Carnegie gives the example of how GE dealt with removing Charles Steinmetz from the head of a department. Steinmetz, was a genius when it came to electricity, was a failure at managing the calculating department.

However, instead of offending Steinmetz, GE gave him a new title “Consulting Engineer of the General Electric Company”. Steinmetz was happy with his new job title and GE had solved their problem – all without anyone losing face or any egos being damaged.

Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement

Praise people often. This will provide them with continuous encouragement which will help them make incremental improvements.

Even give praise when it relates to the slightest improvement.

Give the person a fine reputation to live up to

If you give a person a good reputation, most of the time they’ll strive to live up to it. Carnegie recommends even using this when a person’s work is not up to standard. For example, tell them that you are surprised because their work is usually of such a high quality. Most of the time they will try to live up to their reputation and future work will be much better.

If you want to improve a person in a certain aspect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Use encouragement: Make the fault seem easy to correct

Always use encouragement to help others improve. Make the thing you want them to do seem easy to achieve.

Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest

Consider providing rewards and incentives to encourage a person. If a person feels they are appreciated, they are more likely to feel satisfied with the work they are doing.

If you liked this summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People, check out some other summaries of our favourite personal development, inspirational, motivational, practical psychology and business books here.