When winning friends and influencing people goes awry
Millions of people have read How to Win Friends and Influence People, the classic self-improvement book first published in 1936 by Dale Carnegie — our godfather of leadership studies. One criticism sometimes evoked by the title is that friends should be made rather than won. However, readers who dive into Carnegie's principles quickly realize that the author’s tactics are steeped in kindness, authenticity and humility.
But what about the second half of the best-selling title? You could argue that Carnegie's book should have been called “How to Win Friends and Positively Influence People.” In our modern drive to increase reach and build platform, it is easy to get so caught up in numbers that we forget how influence can be negative as well as positive. Often, negative influence comes in the form of our natural drive to want to win at EVERYTHING, even at the cost of losing loved ones.
What does it mean to win?
What does this idea of "winning" anybody mean? Christians have long spoken of "winning souls" for Christ. Such language goes all the way back to the ancient Proverbs. Do we need to win people to our church or organization? To our way of thinking? Do we just need to win arguments?
When we dig our heels into mountains of our own beliefs, we are in a battle of words. And in battle, we will be either defensive or offensive and should acknowledge the risk of our influence becoming negative. Our nature drives a desire in us to win, which is why it’s challenging to focus on God’s nature rather than our own as we engage others.
In the social media world, disagreements often play out as digital wars. We can lose friends in a hurry these days, and not just in the Facebook sense of the word. Online communication requires restraint since once those messages go out, the shrapnel of graceless engagement can destroy our credibility and relationships in the blink of an eye. For this reason, it's important to develop a social media policy to help guide and protect those representing the voice of the church online.
The more we want to win, the less we seem to love.
We should be careful about arguments. Why must we be in them? Why must we win them? Why must we win anything?
Jesus never built a following by arguing with people just to be right. He didn’t add more darkness to the world but offered the light of truth in love. When he did push back, it was to defend someone.
When it came time to defend himself, Jesus remained silent.
People didn't follow Jesus because he won public arguments. The fishermen laboring along the shore of Galilee did not leave their nets and follow Jesus because he out-argued them. When Nathanael balked at the suggestion of an amazing Nazarene, Phillip didn't lay out a three-point sermon. He simply invited his friend to "Come and see." His offer was one that said, "Here, meet Jesus and decide for yourself if he is a positive influence in your life."
People stuck with Jesus because his message was defined by love and healing. He taught and preached lovingly, with the understanding patience of one who would rather be effective than right.
Would you rather be right or effective?
The people who disagree with the good news of Jesus don't need to be proved wrong; they need to be loved.
Were they even objecting to the teachings of Jesus? Often, people object to those of us claiming to represent Jesus. Yes, we do have beliefs to share. However, this should happen in the context of loving neighbors as ourselves.
We are called to love people, not win arguments.
Sharing what we believe is different than forcing views upon others. We are called to invite others rather than reject them, to convince by example rather than compel by pressure. Jesus simply says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not because we want to win anything but because it’s right and good.
The goal is to build authentic friendships and positively influence people. Here are several principles that Dale Carnegie taught to help us do so:
- Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
- Give honest and sincere appreciation.
- Become genuinely interested in other people.
- If you want to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener.
- To be interesting, be interested.
- Ask questions that people will enjoy answering.
- Encourage others to talk about their accomplishments.
- The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
- Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "you're wrong."
- If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
When we attempt to connect and build relationships with others, do we listen to what they care about or do we focus on what we want to say? Do we just look to promote our own script or, worse, use God's word to shut others down? We should look at others as individuals to be visited and loved. We need to stop talking and start listening to our community.
No one in the Scriptures is argued into the kingdom of God. Persuaded by truth, yes. We can effectively "win" others by being winsome as Jesus was, by showing genuine interest in who people are and what they need. We need not spend time trying to sound brilliant or prove ourselves. Rather, like Philip, we can just introduce others to the one who fulfills all needs.