Before I decided to read this book, I used to laugh at the title and I probably looked down on people who might have read it. I mean who needs to read a book to win friends? What kind of loser would that person be? Well, here I am, one of such Losers. In hindsight, the title of the book is unfortunate but catchy. Maybe had it not been titled such, it would not have sold as much or stood out among people the way it did.

This is not a book review as such. This post is more about my opinion on the book and the other chain of thoughts it made me wonder about. The book was first published in 1936. Just reflect on that. Here is a book that can be termed self-help that is still valid and working for 81 years now. That caught my fantasy. The other thing that was equally appealing was Goodreads page of this book. This book has a rating of 4.22/5 from 322,000+ ratings. That blew my mind. Here is a book which 320,000 people have bothered to review and rated 4.2 on average. I mean surely it must have had a profound impact on a lot of people. But even before I got to this point, this book was recommended and was also on my to-read list. I picked it up to read without hesitation.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this book. But somehow I had hoped to learn something profound. Something that would make me wonder, ahh! How come I never realized that before. But it didn’t turn out to be so. I did not learn any new principles from the book for sure. And it is likely most people would feel the same. The power of the book was in describing in words, ideas and principles we have all experienced in our daily lives.

For example you know instinctively that you need to listen to people if you want them to like you. If you keep talking to them without ever pausing to listen, if you interrupt people continuously, chances are they would steer away from you. And so, one chapter in this book, talks about how to listen better and why that helps form better relationships. I mean it wasn’t rocket science and yet we ignore it every single day.

The book in general talks about such soft skills with each chapter talking about a particular one line principle with anecdotes from people who got great results using that principle. I won’t list out those here since you can always find them in the book. But what the book did was to attach these various stories to each principle and our minds can better remember ideas with stories than just ideas.

Over the last few months I have been thinking about people, management, psychology quite a bit and I had been trying to come up with certain ideas or lines that I can pin-up on my desk in the hopes that it will reinforce me in being better. Here is what I did come up with so far:

  • ENCOURAGE (appreciate), don’t criticize
  • REQUEST, don’t command
  • LISTEN, don’t solve
  • ASSIMILATE, don’t discriminate
  • ASSESS, don’t judge
  • DISCUSS, don’t argue

This is a work in progress for me. These ideas also don’t apply as-is in every situation. They can also be interpreted differently by different people and hence I did not want to define or explain them explicitly. What these principles have done for me is, to provide a checklist. Every morning if I can get to work and glance at and internalize these principles, I think I can be a better human being, manager, husband etc.

All that being said, I do not completely agree with every principle mentioned in the book. My interpretation of the book made me feel that Dr. Carnegie was making a case to be always nice, well spoken, polite, agreeable at all times. He said we should not criticize people and be always smiling. He talked about examples of how people loved one of the US presidents because he remembered the names of everyone. But I strongly believe that these behaviors can backfire in certain cases. I wonder if we treated Hitler or a serial-killer like this. If we had never argued or criticized or took a stand against those people, would we not have encouraged them further? I feel there are situations where standing up for yourself or a cause is more important than all the principles mentioned in the book. There are also situations where you have to be harsh to people, for them to grow further via struggle and suffering. And somehow the book never talks about the down sides if these principles are applied too often, too liberally.

Our lives in essence are a sum of all decisions we have to (and we are forced to) make. If life takes you on path of war, then fight you must. If life takes you on the path of love, then love you must.

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