[Photo by Aidan Jones via Flicker]
Carnegie wrote his masterpiece How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936, but he could have written it in 20,000 BC and it would have been relevant then – and today. The underlying message is that being social and cultivating respect from others is the key pathway to reaping rewards in both your business and personal life.
Web 2.0 hasn’t changed a thing. In fact, Carnegie’s ideas may be more important today than ever.
Internet connectivity, social networks, and the devices on which we type, tap, and click have revolutionized how we communicate. There’s no denying that. But what has not changed is the fact that we’re still human, and we’re still talking to other people. We just see their faces less often.
Being social is part of the human condition, but communicating so much without face-to-face contact is unnatural in many ways. I think that sometimes the lack of a face before us causes us to omit some important rules about communicating.
I decided to look at a few of the axioms put forth by Carnegie and think about how they are still relevant today in the context of social media. You can find the full list concisely assembled at Wikipedia. (I strongly recommend reading the full book if you haven’t.)
What follows are a few selected points from Carnegie’s book with my interpretations and comments.
Fundamental techniques in handling people
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. People are never as ill-intentioned as they sound in message boards, blog comment threads, etc. And people tend to really underestimate how snarky their remarks come off. Don’t try to fight fire with fire here. Personally, I’ve never seen anyone truly “win” an argument online. But I’ve seen numerous “flame wars” that probably burned bridges forever.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation. Give others credit for original ideas expressed on blogs, message boards, and social networks. Thank people for sharing links that interest you or helped you solve a problem.
Ways to make people like you
- Become genuinely interested in other people. Don’t use false flattery online. If you’re going to compliment someone, do it in a way that makes them know you’re sincere.
- Smile. Most of the time we’re not talking face-to-face online. But the simple use of :) goes a long way. It’s a very simple but powerful symbol that can be added to the end of any line that might be interpreted the wrong way. Sarcasm will usually burn you online if you don’t make it extremely clear. Other people will not read things the way they sound in your head. Trust me. ;)
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. In many ways, social media is a narcissistic activity. People are talking to hear themselves talk. They want to be appreciated, heard, and complimented. This is just how people work. It’s how you work. So if people think you’re listening, you’re giving them one of the greatest compliments you can give.
- Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely. I would offer the same comments as above. People want to feel important. Make them feel that way, and you’ll be rewarded many times over on your investment.
Twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking
The following 12 items from Carnegie’s book are all relevant to social networking in pretty obvious ways. I would also encourage you to think about some of these in the context of recent events where companies have not properly leveraged social media to handle public relations crises.
- Avoid arguments.
- Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never tell someone they are wrong.
- If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Begin in a friendly way.
- Start with questions the other person will answer yes to.
- Let the other person do the talking.
- Let the other person feel the idea is his/hers.
- Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
- Sympathize with the other person.
- Appeal to noble motives.
- Dramatize your ideas.
- Throw down a challenge & don’t talk negative when the person is absent, talk about only positive.
A few axioms of my own
I would add a few more items and suggestions based on my own personal experience:
- People tend to underestimate how snarky they sound online. Always, always give people the benefit of the doubt. People are never as ill-intentioned as they sound.
- People on the receiving end always overestimate the snarkiness of online comments and take it way too personally. Avoid saying things that might be misinterpreted. This takes practice and a lot of learning the hard way.
- Jokes are often misinterpreted online. There are just some things that are amazingly funny when said in person, but write the same thing online, and people will think you are a total jerk. This is a very easy trap to fall into. Use extreme caution with jokes and sarcasm when the only medium is text. I think we underestimate how important voice tones and body language are when we tell jokes. These elements of communication are lost in many social network mediums.
- Quickly disarm the other person with a friendly response, even if they attack you personally online. Point out common ground, if any. Use language like “I can certainly understand why you see things that way” or “I apologize if I’m mistaken, but I think that…” In most cases, the attacker will immediately stop. They may even side with you. But even if they don’t, the most important thing is how you look to the thousands of other silent onlookers. In life, nobody likes to be around people who are angry (justified or not). Show restraint and patience. When in doubt, err on the side of being too friendly.
Note: After I drafted this post, I noticed that someone else had just beaten me to the idea, so I wanted to give credit where credit is due. Mitch Fanning wrote a nice piece on this very same concept. Check it out too if you’re interested in reading more! And share your own tips and suggestions in the comments.