Dale Dauten: Speaker, Author, Innovation Consultant
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The Five Greatest Advice Books of All Time:
How to Win Friends and Influence People

"Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one - one that would do nobody any harm."
-- From a farewell letter written by "Two-Guns" Crowley during a police stand-off

If you're thinking that you've heard of "Two Guns" Crowley somewhere before, you've probably read Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie opens the book with Two Guns' story as a way of explaining how each of us is so skilled at rationalization that "criticism is futile."

Carnegie writes, "Wouldn't you like to have a magic phrase that would stop argument, eliminate ill feeling, create good will, and make the other person listen attentively? Yes? All right. Here it is. Begin by saying: "I don't blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you, I should undoubtedly feel just as you do."

With a case study that presages the Wal-Mart controversy by nearly seven decades (Win Friends came out in 1936), Carnegie offers us the story of C.M. Knaphle of Philadelphia, who was frustrated that he could not sell coal to a chain store. The chain hauled coal in from out of town, right past Knaphle's office, causing him to "pour out his hot wrath upon chain stores, branding them as a curse to the nation."

Knaphle unburdened himself on the subject of chain stores in a class on human relations. His teacher, Carnegie, decided not to criticize or contest Knaphle, but to offer instead a chance to understand. He assigned some students to stage a debate: "Resolved that the spread of the chain store is doing the country more harm than good."

The idea of a debate came easily to Carnegie because he'd been a debating champion in school. (He didn't want to be on the school debate team; he wanted to play football. But after getting cut from the football squad, his mother pushed him into debate as a way to shore up his faltering confidence.)

As for Knaphle, he contacted an executive of the local chain-store, and asked for one minute of his time to help with preparations with the debate. They talked for nearly two hours. Knaphle reported to the class that "His eyes fairly glowed as he talked, and I must confess that he opened my eyes."

Then, "As I was leaving, he walked with me to the door, put his arm around my shoulder, wished me well in my debate, and asked me to stop in and see him again and let him know how I made out. The last words he said to me were: 'Please see me again later in the spring. I should like to place an order with you for coal.'"

Is there a modern book on sales that has a better story? Is there a better modern advice book? No. His book was the original American self-help book, and it has yet to be surpassed. Read Carnegie and then read, say, Tony Robbins, and you will scoff at the notion of progress in thinking on human relations.

How was it that Carnegie, son of poor farmers, educated at the State Teachers College in Warrensburg, Missouri, came to write the ultimate Western advice book? He was NOT he a consultant, professor, or lawyer; he was a learner, perhaps the greatest in American history. He spent years studying human relations, and even hired a researcher to help.

He claimed to have read over a hundred biographies of one man alone - Teddy Roosevelt. But then - and here is the secret of his greatness, and the secret of the Carnegie courses that still continue - he didn't just tell people what he learned, but created ways for them to learn for themselves. That's the beauty of the story of the Knaphle, the man who couldn't sell coal. It was not a story of teaching, but learning.

When I was a boy, my father gave me a copy of Dale Carnegie's book. As the author was a fellow Dale - I've never met a Dale I didn't like, have you? - and from Warrensburg, where we had lived, I was prepared to love the book.

Then again, it's easy to charge a young and nearly empty mind. What surprises me is how well the book holds up whenever I've reread it - so well that How To Win Friends and Influence People earned its spot at Number Four on my list of the "Greatest Advice Books of All Time."

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

"The Five Greatest Advice Books of All Time" Series

  1. Letters From A Stoic
  2. Climbing the Blue Mountain
  3. The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence People
  5. Bushido: The Way of the Samurai

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