Would I have read this book earlier?


The title of this book already guarantees that most people will never pick it up – How To Win Friends & Influence People.

A few weeks ago, when I saw this lady on the train reading this book, I wondered to myself why anyone would need to read such a book. Just read the title – surely I don’t want to be caught reading such a book that indicates I have no friends or I don’t know how to influence anyone! (Talk about judging a book by its cover)

But earlier this week, I saw the Dale Carnegie book again at Popular going for about 17 bucks and I decided to flip through it.

Well, I bought it immediately.

I’m almost done reading the book and think that next to the Bible, this is probably one of the best books to help me become a better person. But one thing struck me very early on as I started consuming it – I was not ready to read this book until this month of my life.

Let me explain why.

My first job, which lasted nearly a decade, consisted of journalism or journalism-related work. In the editorial line, you learn several principles by heart:

  • I have a right to report on the facts
  • You have to tell me what I need to know, and according to my tight deadline
  • All sides of the matter are important, but I can only write so much.
  • I’m only as good as yesterday’s top story.
  • I need to get to the point quickly.

I’m afraid to say living by these principles made me successful in my journalistic work, but also turned me into a person I now wish I didn’t become.

Indeed, on the positive side, I became more emphatic to people’s needs and suffering, more aware of how unfair life was to the masses, and more eager to tell the world about new things.

But I also became aggressive in getting things done on time, being sometimes too assertive about my own abilities and achievements, and often reduced everything to generalizations in order to get the job done quickly. If one doesn’t reduce matters to black or white quickly, the grey will cloud the situation and nothing gets done pronto.

Like them or not, these traits often help journalists become successful at their work and getting them the impactful and timely stories that readers often lap up.

The same traits also helped me quickly ease into my job at Microsoft in 2007 when I transitioned to a public relations and marcoms role.

I thought I had transitioned into the corporate world fully, but certain experiences in the past year have thought me I have much more work to do in order to shake off the shackles of a journalistic mindset. I now know better why so many journalists fail to transition to the corporate world. It’s not for lack of trying, talent or desire, but a sheer mismatch in approaches to solving issues.

Carnegie prescribes several corporate principles which after much thought, I realized were philosophically opposed to how journalists usually think. But what was also interesting is how Carnegie and journalism agree on certain approaches to get things done.

What’s similar between both approaches

From “Begin in a friendly way”, “Let the other person do a great deal of talking” “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view” to “Be sympathetic to the other’s ideas”, these principles focus on the traits of being a good listener and conversation facilitator.

Journalists need to be able to extract information in as neutral or positive an environment as possible, and these traits help anyone in the business world become a great communicator.

However, that’s where the similarities end.

What’s diametrically opposed between both approaches.

Journalism thrives on the following too

  • Conflict and differences of opinion from one or two perspectives (agenda-setting cannot be done by too many folks)
  • Cynicism (many people are trying to pull as fast one on you to exploit your editorial position)
  • Only the extremes matter as news (ie. Singapore is the best in world’s ranking of toilets, Kid tops PSLE despite having no hands etc).
  • Decision-making with little time for consensus building. (Hey, we’re about to go to print in 5 minutes! What’s the headline!?!)

Carnegie’s approach implies the above are too aggressive, too bruising for the common man’s ego, and a demoralizing force at work. Instead, he constantly harps on the reader to keep focusing on the positive, stoking people’s desire to want to be sympathised, appreciated and praised for their unique ideas, and being as non-confrontational as possible in order to achieve the best results.

From a cynical journo’s point of the view, the book may be seen to encourage wanton flattery and hypocritical behavior. However, Carnegie is quick to warn that one’s absolute sincerity is critical to making the advice work.

The most difficult advice from the book is “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” But that’s my daily bread!!

Two years ago, I would have ignored Carnegie’s advice. Up till the day I left my old job, I hardly knew anyone who embodied these principles fully and had no such role models to look up to. I’m not slamming my old employer here, I mean I hardly met anyone in school, ECAs or army that focused on the positive. Everyone just wanted to focus on the ends and not the means. 

Today, I’m thankful to say I work with a few people who do their darnedest to focus on the positive and who ask themselves “if he didn’t perform in his job, what did I not do to help him succeed? How can we help him to be successful?”

You won’t believe how refreshing it is to work this way, and I must admit it’s not easy for me to shake off the old self to learn new habits and approaches. Every day is an ongoing critique of how I’ve handled situations well or awfully and I often end the day on a miserable, contrite note.

Yet at this point in my life, I suddenly have what Carnegie states as one of the top things to do when reading the book – “Have a deep, driving desire to master the principles of human relations.” – in order to make the advice work.

No, I don’t want to be a master of men, but God and good-meaning men have shown me that if I am to master myself, I have to master how I relate to other people. The book is less about “influencing” people’s thoughts than building a positive environment for greater happiness between colleagues and friends for more agreeable results.

I just wish this book had a less direct title so I didn’t feel so paiseh to read it on the train 😀

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