Dale Carnegie

How to win friends and influence people thinker

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Dale Carnegie: How to win friends and influence people thinker
Photo credit: Bettman/CORBIS. Image supplied rights-cleared from the Chartered Management Institute, 2015

Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) is best-known for his work on the basic, yet essential, principles for dealing with people successfully. His common-sense advice included never criticising, complaining about or condemning another person, giving sincere appreciation to others, and stimulating in others a specific desire, in order to motivate them.

Such advice formed the basis of the best-selling book for which Carnegie has become famous, How to win friends and influence people (1936). In this text, Carnegie's simple rules on how to achieve success with people are illustrated from his own and others' experiences, and also with historical stories about people such as Roosevelt and Lincoln. Although he is mainly known for this particular book, Carnegie's career began with training people to become speakers and writing various other books. He produced some of the earliest self-improvement manuals, and these are still popular today.

Carnegie's main focus is on interpersonal skills, effective communication and being a successful salesperson.


Life and career

Dale Carnagey (he later changed his name to Carnegie) came from a poor, farming background in Missouri and had to struggle through teaching college. Looking for a way to distinguish himself, he began to enter speaking contests and, despite a shaky start, was soon winning most of the contests he entered. Upon leaving college, he worked as a salesman and tried writing novels. He also became an actor temporarily but eventually, he decided to start teaching public speaking.

Carnegie's first courses on public speaking were run purely on a commission basis, as he was initially refused any pay. The courses did well, however, and their popularity made Dale Carnegie a great success. His first collection of writings, published in 1926, was Public speaking: a practical course for business men. In 1936, Simon and Schuster published How to win friends and influence people which became a bestseller, selling over five million copies in Carnegie’s lifetime. He went on to write many popular books and founded the Carnegie Institute of Effective Speaking and Human Relations.

Key thinking

Carnegie believed that criticism should never be used, because people who are criticised tend to respond by justifying themselves, and condemning the critical person in return. Great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Carnegie believed, partly achieved their success because they never criticised others. Instead, Carnegie recommended the practice of self-control, understanding, and forgiveness. Most importantly, he advised that we should always try to see the other person's point of view. In order to influence people and achieve your aims, Carnegie suggests, it is necessary to understand individual motivation. Work on the art of persuasion, and ask yourself what will motivate a person to want to do a task for you. Carnegie considered that most people are interested only in their own desires, and when given what they want, can help the giver to achieve great success in business.

Using very human, anecdotal evidence, Carnegie illustrates how nourishing a person's self-esteem can achieve far better results than criticism. For most people, he considers, the desire to be important is a main motivator, and can inspire people to do great things, such as become important leaders or make their fortune in business. On a smaller scale, people may want to drive a better car or buy a bigger house. Sometimes individuals may even become invalids to gain attention, or become insane so that they can live in their own dream world, where their importance can be exaggerated by imagination.

The rules

In How to win friends and influence people, there are 'In a Nutshell' conclusions at the end of each part of the book, where Carnegie summarises the main messages each section offers in terms of behaviour. Some of these are paraphrased below:

Six ways to make people like you

  1. Show a genuine interest in other people.
  2. Be happy and positive.
  3. Remember that people love hearing the sound of their own name.
  4. Listen to other people and develop good listening skills.
  5. Talk about others' interests rather than your own.
  6. Give others a sincere sense of their importance.

Twelve ways to win people to your way of thinking

  1. To get the best of a situation, avoid arguments.
  2. Always listen to others' opinions and never tell anyone they are wrong.
  3. Admit it if you are wrong.
  4. Show friendliness.
  5. Make statements that the other person agrees with.
  6. Let the other person talk more than you.
  7. Make the other person feel that an idea is their own.
  8. See the other person's point of view.
  9. Show empathy with others' ideas and desires.
  10. Infuse some drama into your ideas.
  11. Appeal to the better nature of others.
  12. Finish with a challenge.

Nine ways to change people without arousing resentment

  1. Start with genuine praise and appreciation.
  2. Draw attention to their mistakes gradually.
  3. Admit that you have made mistakes and then talk about theirs.
  4. Don't give direct orders but ask questions.
  5. Never humiliate anyone, and let people keep their pride intact.
  6. Use plenty of genuine praise and encouragement on the slightest improvement.
  7. Give people a reputation to maintain.
  8. Encourage them. Show them that their task is easy to correct.
  9. Suggest what you want them to do and make them happy about it.

Becoming a good public speaker

Dale Carnegie is well known for his self-help guides. He taught his students how to interview well, make persuasive presentations and forge positive relationships. He also taught social and communication skills. Most successful were his self-help guides and lessons on how to be a public speaker; including advice on how to prepare, how to have confidence and how to deliver a speech effectively. Some of this advice is summarised below:

  • Speech preparation from the beginning, Carnegie suggested, should generate an enthusiasm within yourself for public speaking, whether you have a financial or a social goal in view. Begin planning as soon as you can, and look for a topic that you know a lot about. Think about your talk at every possible opportunity, and research it thoroughly, using libraries and other sources and collecting more material than you will need.
  • Carnegie also advised not to memorise the talk word-for-word, as you will be more likely to forget it, and it would also lose much of its effectiveness. While having plenty of material prepared, you should not try to say too much in the talk itself.
  • Carnegie recognised that most people are nervous about talking in public.  He suggested that if you try to act bravely and pretend that you feel more confident than you really do, you will often actually gain in confidence.  Practice will help you to feel more certain of yourself, and it is a good idea to rehearse your speech as much as possible.

Carnegie on speech delivery

Carnegie advised dressing the part for your speech, ensuring you smile and making sure you are clearly visible to your audience. Show respect and affection for the audience, and let the first sentence capture their attention.  

Use statistics or the testimony of experts to support your main ideas, but know your audience, and don't use technical terms if you are addressing a lay audience. Be eager to share your talk with your listeners, putting passion into your way of speaking and using your emotions without fear. Represent things visually when possible, turning a fact into a picture to help your audience to understand what you are talking about and using specific instances and concrete cases.

Stress important words, and avoid any hackneyed expressions or cliches. Once your talk is launched, you may feel more free to be humorous when appropriate, but take care to target any fun at yourself rather than others.

Your talk should have some marked form of closure. Summarise what you have said, then use a finalising climax or close of some sort that is appropriate within the context, for example:

  • appeal for action
  • pay the audience a sincere compliment
  • raise a final laugh, and
  • give a fitting verse of poetry or a quotation.

Carnegie's concluding advice

  • Remember that many famous speakers were originally terrified of speaking in public and that a certain amount of stage fright is useful.
  • Predetermine your mind to success and seize every opportunity to practice.
  • By increasing your experience your fear will lessen, so seek opportunities to speak in public, and believe in yourself.

In perspective

Carnegie claimed that his methods do really work and that he had seen them transform the lives of many people. Some management writers, however, such as Stuart Crainer, have dismissed Carnegie's ideas as being simple wisdom dressed up in a commercial coating.

Certainly Carnegie's ideas are based on common sense and are hardly revolutionary. All his self-help books are based on down-to-earth and simply illustrated basic principles. Despite this simplicity, Carnegie has expressed many general truths which people acknowledge and, whatever his critics may say, the books he wrote were influential and are still popular and regularly updated. His seminal work, How to win friends and influence people has sold more than twenty million copies throughout the world. An update in 2011, How to win friends and influence people in the digital age considered Carnegie’s thinking in the light of social media and email. Carnegie created a highly successful business out of his ideas and today the global training organisation, which still bears his name, delivers training in over eighty countries.

It is possible to see Carnegie's influence in some more recent ideas about management, particularly in discussions on the treatment of customers, and in approaches to interpersonal skills development. His focus on topics, such as, understanding motivation, effective communication, the importance of relating to others and of gaining people’s trust, are ideas which are just as relevant today.

Further reading

Key works by Dale Carnegie

How to win friends and influence people. Tadworth, World's Work Ltd, 1953. (First published in 1936).

How to develop self-confidence and influence people by public speaking. Vermillion: London, 1998
(Originally published in 1957, this book was selected and condensed by Dorothy Carnegie from Public speaking and influencing men in business, 1937, which was first published as Public speaking: a practical course for business men in 1926.)

Key works by others

Sant, T. The giants of sales. AMACOM: New York, 2006

McCarty, M. The Dale Carnegie influence lives on. OfficePro, 70 (6) 2010, pp.20-23


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Dale Carnegie Training

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