Understanding People (well, trying to)

Thursday September 12, 2019

This topic has been something that really interested me this summer. I talked to my mom a lot about it and from her, realized that working effectively with people is probably one of the hardest things we have to learn to do. It’s not something you can only read from a textbook and understand immediately; it takes many experiences and practice to learn how to work with people without offending or hurting anyone.

For example, we’ve all been in a situation where a disagreement arises, but we know we’re right. How can we lead the other person to reach our conclusion? From experience, you probably know that fighting and arguing usually leads to nowhere, but too often, we let our emotions get the best of us. We don’t always do what’s rational or expected, which is part of what makes us human! Going back to the question, however, how can we guide people to our point of view?

Currently, I’m reading the infamous book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (which was written back in 1936) and it brings up fair points on this exact issue. To be honest, I do feel the wording of the title could be changed, it already seems a little ingenuine! Anyways, Carnegie delineates that we of course want to avoid arguing at all costs. In the case there is a disagreement, however, he mentions to stay calm, listen to the other person, and ask questions (kind of like Socrates!). Additionally, it may help to start the conversation with a totally different topics, such as one the other person genuinely cares about, to “warm them up”.

These techniques seem fine and dandy, but for me, they bring up the question of genuinity. Is it right to intentionally talk about something you know this other person will like? To be the devil’s advocate here, it seems like the book is suggesting you bring up a topic that you may not be genuinely interested in, but you feign it to get that person to like you more and be more willing to listen to you. I definitely understand that if you can connect with someone personally, even if there is a disagreement, they will be more likely to listen to your ideas. However, is your intention with this simply to get what you want or to actually understand this other person and their interests? Perhaps I’m thinking too far into this.

Another section of the book mentions how if you know you’re in the wrong, to bring it up before the other person does and in a way that they can feel like they’re showing you mercy. For example, if you get pulled over for speeding, instead of trying to fight the cop or giving excuses on why you were speeding, Carnegie suggests that if you admit to what you did and almost in a pleading manner, the police is more likely to be lenient. This is because of people’s desire to have their ego boosted. If you fought the cop on this, denying that you should get ticketed, the cop may feel like his/her authority is being tested and fight back. Everyone wants to feel important and by insisting to give you a ticket you don’t want, the cop can feel important. On the other hand, if you admit you’re wrong, the cop is unable to argue with that and in order to feel important, he/she may show mercy and let you go. (Obviously, this is not saying that if you get pulled over and try this tactic it will work, it’s just an example very similar to one Carnegie outlines in the book.)

Again to me, it seems a little excessive and almost manipulative to intentionally grovel just because you think you can get out of a ticket or a consequence. I agree with admitting when you’re wrong, but I believe there are better ways to do it… This to me just seems like the other end of the spectrum than arguing incessantly and allowing your temper to take over, and I personally think I’d feel more comfortable with an approach in the middle: staying calm and admitting if you’re wrong but not to the point of groveling.

For me in all of this, I think it goes back to the intentions. If your intentions are to avoid conflict, I think actions similar to the two outlined above may be okay. But if your intentions are solely to get exactly what you want and you implement the techniques above, that’s where the line blurs a little. But then again, can you always tell what someone’s intentions are? I myself am still trying to develop my own stance on this topic.

Anyways, I recommend this book! How to Win Friend and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I think there are insightful things and great personal examples in the book, but I also think simply following his steps are not enough and as a reader, you should think about each one pretty carefully. They’ve got to be internalized for each person and there has to be genuine concern and care in the actions (that’s the tough part!)

Just some topics to reflect on:

  1. How do you tend to resolve conflict and settle disagreements? Do they normally end positively?
  2. How can you be genuine about your actions/intent in every day situations?
  3. Do you have a technique that helps you work well with people? I’d love to hear about it!

Best wishes,