How to Win Friends AND Win Business Like Dale Carnegie

“There is one all-important law of human conduct: Always make the other person feel important.” Dale Carnegie

Back in the mid-1930’s, in response to The Great Depression, two classic personal development books were published that anyone in business today would do well to study. Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) addresses the proper mental approach to success – this is the first book I’d recommend you read. The second is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), which teaches the essential human relations skills you’ll need to sign on clients/customers.

I read an extensive biography about Mr. Carnegie by Steven Watts entitled Self-Help Messiah. Dale Carnagey (who later changed the spelling) was born into an impoverished family in rural northwestern Missouri. The bio details how his life experiences, from endless farm chores to traveling salesman to actor, inspired his later life’s work of sharing principles of interpersonal effectiveness. Carnegie realized that, much like Ben Franklin, who developed a “13 Virtues” system to improve his character, he needed to apply the principles he developed to himself so he could achieve the success he craved. 

He began humbly by teaching a class on public speaking at a New York City YMCA back in 1912, which evolved over time into more extensive human relations trainings. These have morphed over the decades into the sales, leadership and communication courses of today’s global Dale Carnegie Training. So his ideas have stood the test of time to say the least, and he can be considered a founding father of adult education. 

Watts’ book makes it clear that Dale Carnegie targeted business people, correctly believing that they would be the main beneficiaries of his offerings. Let me lay out some of his most important concepts that can help you win business.

• Positive thinking  Dale Carnegie wanted people to change their entire personality through his approach. No stranger to his era’s budding positive mental psychology movement, he urged his students to affirm the following: “Say to yourself over and over, ‘My popularity, my happiness, and my income depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.’” He encouraged them to visualize their success: “Picture to yourself how mastering these skills will aid you in your race for richer social and financial rewards.” These parallel the instructions given by Hill in Think and Grow Rich on autosuggestion and visualization.

• Genuine interest  One of my favorite Dale Carnegie quotes is, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get them interested in you.” The best way to take a genuine interest in others in your business network is to simply ask them questions: Where they’re from, where they went to school, how they began in their career, their hobbies, diversions, passions, etc. Then let them go on about themselves, while demonstrating that you are tracking the conversation. See, the truth is: My wife doesn’t want to hear my story for the millionth time – she wants to know when I’m taking out the trash and what I’m making for dinner. (Yes, I cook – it’s a critical “happy marriage skill.”) But when a new acquaintance asks about my business, I can and, if I forget this principle, will go on for 20 minutes or more about how I became the man, the myth, the coaching legend I am today. It’s the same for people I meet: If I take the initiative to inquire, “Tell me, how did you get started in the widget business?” and then put the spotlight on them, they will eagerly share what they consider to be their heroic business journey. (Trust me – their spouses don’t want to hear their story again either …)

• Honest and sincere appreciation  Both Carnegie and Hill were enamored withCharles M. Schwab, who combined his extensive knowledge of steelmaking with his skill in handling workers to be hand-picked by wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie (no relation to Dale) as the first president of the U.S. Steel Corporation. One of Schwab’s quotes that jumps from the pages of Carnegie’s book is, “I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.” When meeting with people and listening to their story, Dale Carnegie recommends you “give honest and sincere appreciation” for anything that strikes you as praiseworthy. Let’s face it, just the fact that someone has a business or is a professional is praiseworthy in and of itself, so it shouldn’t be hard to identify and acknowledge others’ accomplishments as they share their background. (Note that Carnegie explicitly cautioned against laying it on too thick, instructing readers to refrain from “shallow, selfish and insincere” flattery.)

• Good first impression  Carnegie suggested the following to make the best impression on others:

SMILE!  A smile is a worldwide sign of positive emotions. It almost invariably indicates approval.

Show enthusiasm  Show other people you are glad to be in their presence. Greet and interact with them in a warm and friendly manner.

Use their name “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Work at learning, using and remembering other’s names.

Most important — Listen  Give the gift of attention. Make sure you demonstrate you are following exactly what the others are talking about and indicate you want to learn more about what they are saying. 

• Idea planting  Carnegie suggested you let other people think what you want to accomplish is their idea. “No one likes to feel that he or she is being sold something or told to do a thing. We much prefer to feel that we are buying of our own accord or acting on our own ideas. We like to be consulted about our wishes, our wants, our thoughts.” Thus, the essence of our ability to influence others is Socratic in nature. It’s the ability to use questions to allow people to realize for themselves how your product or service can help them. This is the way to “arouse an eager want,” making it appear to come from them, not you. I have all of my clients learn to conduct a “Consultative Interview” when they meet with their prospects, allowing these folks to come to their own conclusion about why they need to hire my clients. In this regard, the best coaching I give them is to ask questions and then “STFU” – Shut The ForGodSakes Up. (This simple acronym always seems to stay with them …)

How to Win Friends and Influence People continues to be one of the best selling self-help books of all time. Just like Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, it has had its share of detractors over the years. Watts’ biography details various attacks on Carnegie by skeptics after it was first published. The main complaint was that people could use the tactics described in his book to deceive, manipulate, even cheat people. Carnegie’s straightforward response was, “The principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life.” 

It comes down to whether you’re using the techniques to sincerely get to know people and influence them to make good decisions for themselves about your products and services, or just trying to take advantage of them in the short term. The proof will be in the pudding – if you develop long-lasting mutually beneficial business relationships as Watts’ bio indicated Carnegie did, it’s the former. I believe this was Dale Carnegie’s intention all along – he wanted to help you win friends AND win business.

Success Skills Coach Jim Rohrbach, “The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business,” coaches Financial Advisors around the US by phone to help them grow their clientele.  To set up a Free Consultation with Jim, go to

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