Being asked ‘what is the best book you’ve ever read?’ is a difficult and multifaceted question to contend with. Are you talking fiction or non-fiction? Entertainment or attainment?
In this case, I am going to define the ‘best book’ as the book that has most significantly changed my life for the better. It is a book that I read, aged 15, following the recommendation of my grandmother. This choice of ‘best book’ is far from original – of the 30 million copies owned, I’m sure a few millions owners at least would attest to it being their most impactful book. It is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
The most striking aspect of this book is that it is in its 86th year since publication. It is the silver fox of self-help that has aged beautifully. Since 1936, we’ve seen everything from pandemics and threatened nuclear holocaust to Tik Tok and Justin Bieber. Though society has, certainly, changed a great deal, individual interactions between human beings has changed very little, as Carnegie’s book shows.
I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone. Provided you take on board its wisdom, you will become a more interesting and more likeable person. Just a quick disclaimer…when you start reading the book, you may think ‘This is all so obvious, what’s the big deal?’ but that’s exactly why this book is phenomenal. Carnegie describes very basic principles that, at first glance, don’t seem particularly enlightening. The point Carnegie is trying to make is that we are all aware of features that we desire in a conversation partner, however, we are often unwilling to demonstrate these features for others.
So, here are my three life-changing tips from Carnegie’s book.
1. Become genuinely interested in other people
On the whole, people love talking about themselves. If you ever take a moment, in public, to subtly eavesdrop on a nearby park bench or coffee shop conversation, I can bet that, 99% of the time, the conversation will consist of two individuals taking it in turns to monologue about their experiences and views.
Therefore, by breaking this trend and being that 1% that takes a genuine interest in others, you set yourself apart from the crowd. Try it next time you meet someone new, and see how it goes…
2. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language
When living in a cosmopolitan society, there are a myriad of excuses for forgetting names. Some say that certain names are ‘too difficult’ to remember or that they are just ‘bad with names’. I personally don’t buy into that at all. Firstly, one would expect unique names to be easier to remember than the 300 James’ you’ve met in your life and, secondly, a name is an identifier that is attached to a number of supplementary bytes of sensory information (i.e. face, hair colour, clothes, profession etc), thereby making it more memorable. I, therefore, parenthetically add that remembering someone’s name is largely a matter of attention.
The context of meeting someone new, whether one to one or in a group, can be an unnerving experience for some. Such exchanges stimulate a degree of social angst at varying levels in different people, but this background noise may divert attention from a key aspect of that initial exchange – the name.
Next time you meet someone new, find out their name, write it, visualise it and use it as soon as you can.
3. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
This one is a double whammy of self-improvement. We have and know our interests and experiences inside out. None of it is new information. By reciting it to someone else, we do little but consolidate pre-existing knowledge. By speaking to someone about something that they are interested in, you will learn something new.
However bizarre their passion may be, there is nothing more awe-inspiring than hearing someone speak passionately about something. It essentially gives you an opportunity to probe the brain of an enthusiastic expert on a topic that you know little about. Whether it be Liverpool’s summer signings or egg-laying mammals, by exploring another person’s interests, you will diversify your knowledge-base whilst making the other person feel valued and respected.
All in all, I can’t think of a book I would ever recommend more than Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.