Welcome to our first book review, a fast and fun look at the books we’ve been reading from the Key 3 Media shelf.

Now, we might be different people entirely, but self-help book titles that begin “How to” tend to turn me off instantly. I understand that they appeal to our desire for fast answers and simplification of complex subjects… But you can’t distil ‘how to’ change your life into one slim, non-fiction paperback. If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it, surely?

Maybe that’s why I decided to challenge myself and pick up one of those very books. You can hardly bash something until you’ve properly given it a chance, after all. We’ve got a few of these books on our office shelf, but I decided to go for perhaps the original how-to book (I haven’t fact-checked that): How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

First impressions

How to Win Friends and Influence People is a staple of the modern age’s self-help literature. Originally written in 1936 by Carnegie, who beforehand was teaching the subject matter as lectures, I’m not exaggerating when I say every single one of its thirty principles hold true today. His radical suggestions of how to treat others caused a small revolution in personal skills at the time he was teaching them. Among them: “you can’t win an argument”, “give honest and sincere appreciation” and “be a good listener”.

These may seem obvious, but let’s be honest, we all regularly meet people who don’t practice them in their relationships and interactions. If it was mandatory that everyone read this book in their youth, the world would be a different place. Admittedly, it’s not just reading How to Win Friends and Influence People that fundamentally changes anything. It’s the commitment to practice what you learn from it.

Timeless advice

I read an updated version of the book from 2006, but the reading experience is still extremely different from most of its 21st century self-help equivalents. It’s a kind of sprawling, fascinating adventure, where Carnegie shares everything from his students’ experiences to lessons we can learn from past American presidents. It’s as much an insight into life in the mid-twentieth century as it is an illumination of principles to change your life. The examples are sometimes a little dated – bosses wanting to improve their factory workers’ efficiency or convince their secretaries to make less spelling mistakes – but the lessons are strikingly relevant.

If you are a manager I would highly recommend reading Part Four. It covers how to be a leader, or “how to change people without giving offence or arousing resentment”, and it was genuinely enlightening.

‘Soft skills’?

Although How to Win Friends and Influence People isn’t specifically about improving your business, the methods it suggests you practice can take you a long way in the workplace.

I dislike the term ‘soft skills’, because it implies that emotional intelligence and personal development are naff and less important than ‘hard skills’, like knowing how to use Microsoft Word or set up an AdWords campaign. The reality is that the business world isn’t an area of our lives where we can get away with not having good social skills. If anything, the better your people skills the more you will flourish, whether that’s in networking, sales, management or just day-to-day office life.

The lessons that Carnegie is trying to teach us are invaluable. Without being able to handle people, you couldn’t get very far with your Google PPC skills alone (however hard I might wish it was true!).

It turns out I may have judged how-to books too harshly. When it comes to How to Win Friends and Influence People, I firmly believe everyone should read the timeless advice that lies within its pages.


louise's book review