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COLUMN: Dale Carnegie’s message is timeless

As a full-time faculty member, I taught at least one professional selling class every term for most of 13 years.

 It was and continues to be my favorite course to teach.  On the first day of class, I asked the students about their interests in pursuing sales as a career. 

A small handful wanted to, a large majority weren’t quite sure yet, and a fairly large group said, “NO WAY.”  (For all of you wondering why the latter students would be in such a course, it was required for students majoring in either marketing or industrial distribution). 

For all of you who say, “I could never sell,” my response to you is, “Sure you could!”  I’ve taught hundreds of students how to sell.  You see, it’s a process.

 Many of those “NO WAY” students changed their mind after they learned the process and found that professional salespeople are truly problem-solvers.  And many of those same students are happy salespeople today.  But the selling process is not the focus of this column. 

One of my favorite assignments in the course was to have students read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  Students were asked to relate the lessons found in the book to the class.  It’s really quite easy to do. 

Published in 1936, Carnegie’s message is timeless.  Carnegie used examples from famous people in government and business to illustrate his points.  Reading this book is almost like a reading a history book! 

As a good salesperson first tries to get the prospect to listen to and like her, learning how to win friends relates well.  Carnegie has four primary parts to his book: Fundamental Techniques in Handing People, Six Ways to Make People Like You, Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking, and Nine Ways to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.

The best thing about the lessons shared is that they are of the common sense variety.  Most of them are things you heard your parents say or saw people in your life model when you were a child. 

Who hasn’t been told that you cannot win an argument?  Most of us were told (although few may do so!) to admit when we are wrong.  Carnegie said that a man’s name is the sweetest sound to him, so we should learn names!  Furthermore, we should call someone the name they wish to be called. 

Let’s explore this last statement.  When I teach a class, on the first day I ask students what they would like to be called.  If a student’s name is William and he wants to be called Billy, I needed to know as I learn their name and will forever call them that.  I want to use the name they wish to be called.

In my world today, I introduce myself to people by saying, “I’m Lynne Richardson.”  Many of them then respond, “Hello, Dr. (or Dean) Richardson.”  I then say, “Please call me Lynne.”

 They then may continue to call me Dr. or Dean.  When I suggest AGAIN that they call me Lynne, they said something like, “Oh, I can’t do that.  You’re the Dean (or you earned the title).”  Well, yes, I am (or I did), but I prefer that people call me Lynne. 

According to Dale Carnegie, you should listen to me and call me what I’d like to be called.  Why?  Because to do otherwise says you are either not listening to me or not willing to respect my wishes. 

It’s a simple example, but it matters! 

Carnegie also talks about how to criticize and not be hated for it, and how to let another person save face.  He also shares how to make people glad to do what you want them to do. 

The book is chockfull of common sense ideas that are failures in execution.  If you want an excellent self-help book that is easy to read, pick up a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People“ this summer at your local library or bookstore.

 If you practice just one suggestion Carnegie shares, it will pay off.  At the end of the day, no one can have too many friends!  Just think of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character) in one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  George would certainly agree.  

Lynne Richardson is the dean of the University of Mary Washington’s School of Business and a marketing professor. She writes about various aspects of finance and economics that affect our readers. Send suggestions for future topics to