9 Friendly habits that will make you successful in any business

or ‘How I “Met” Dale Carnegie’

It was my first job right out of college—a legal assistant at a firm known for its hard-driving, aggressive attorneys.

These were not easy people to work for—and the legal assistants got the worst of it. The lawyers shouted, criticized, and commanded—and none of them ever smiled.

No one except for Bruce, that is. Bruce was the rock star of the firm—the partner who brought in the most new clients.  All of us paralegals competed to be assigned to Bruce’s accounts—and he handpicked the ones he wanted on his team. Once chosen, we all went above and beyond assigned duties to stay on his team.

Why were all of us low-paid non-lawyers willing to work long hours to please such a perfectionist boss?

Simple. Because he was friendly.

Genuinely, warmly friendly. When Bruce smiled, it wasn’t just a polite upturn of the mouth. It was a beaming, crinkly-eyed, all-out smile.  And he actually addressed us all by name, noticed when we put extra effort into a project, and listened without ever interrupting.

While traveling once with Bruce for a case, I blurted out the question that had been burning in my mind since I’d begun working for him.

“Bruce, um…why are you so nice to all the paralegals and secretaries?”

He laughed over my blunt, out-of-the-blue query. Then he opened up his briefcase.

“Let me introduce you to a mentor of mine.”

The mentor was Dale Carnegie

A Midwestern traveling salesman born in 1888.  And the book Bruce pulled out of his briefcase was a dog-eared copy of Carnegie’s classic guide, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Of course I dived right into the book in my hotel room that night. The ever-practical Carnegie didn’t promise to make you a better person—just to optimize your interactions with other people. It was a “fake it ‘til you make it” proposition. Just try this stuff out, the book urged, and see for yourself how it works.

The result? Just as he had done for my boss, Dale Carnegie mentored me in practical, effective interpersonal skills. Even more important, he taught me that simple appreciation is a powerful form of leadership.

This year is the 125th anniversary of Carnegie’s birth.

And I’d like to pay tribute to this common-sense salesman who taught that influence begins with a set of simple, other-centered habits. Here, in an ultra-condensed format, are Carnegie’s nine tried-and-true principles of friend (and client) winning.

1.     Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.

Once you take these three C’s out of the “interaction equation,” you’re left to ask yourself what positives you can respond to in another person. It’s a whole different lens through which to view another’s performance or approach. When you deny yourself the right to criticize, you open the door to trust and rapport.

2.   Give honest, sincere appreciation.

You can always find something to sincerely appreciate in another person. Always. So make a game out of finding it—and then offer the praise cheerfully. It won’t cost you a penny.

3.   Arouse in the other person an eager want.

No one else actually cares what you want. Motivate others by appealing to their desires, not your own. Financial incentives are effective—but sometimes it is enough simply to feel a part of something rare and special. My boss Bruce managed somehow to turn dreary regulatory research into an elite team effort.

 4.   Become genuinely interested in other people.

Are you convinced you’re talking with the dullest person on earth? No problem. Ask the questions you’d ask if you actually did find the person’s activities and reflections fascinating. You might just find (as I did) that somewhere along the way, you do begin to identify with that “boring” person’s passions.

5.    Smile.

Smiles build emotional connection. Smiles trigger more smiles. If you want to test the validity of this principle, ask any restaurant professional about the effects of smiling, on wait staff tips and customer satisfaction.

6.   Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most 
important sound in any language.

The first habit I adopted after reading Carnegie’s book was to remember the name of every person I was introduced to and then address them by name during conversation.

Instantly, I began to see people respond with warmth and energy—and to follow up first meetings with invitations to other events. All because I made that one small “tweak” to the way I dialogued with others.

7.    Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

Clue in to one thing at a time in the course of conversation—and follow it up with something like this: “How interesting that you [insert activity/desire/plan here]. Can you tell me more about that?” The freer others feel to talk about themselves, the happier they will become in your presence.

8.   Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

What topics light up the other person’s face? You don’t have to be a brilliant conversationalist, and you don’t have to interrogate or cross-examine. Try opening by tying the current weather or season to an interest of your own. “Are you enjoying this sudden warm spell as much as I am? I’m finally finding the motivation to train for a 5K!” Most people will quickly turn the dialogue to their own pursuits and interests.

9.   Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

No, we can’t always manage every interaction with 100 percent sincerity. But after 25 years of practicing these nine rules, I can make you one exciting promise: The more you see others respond to your smidges of of appreciation and attention—even the not-quite-sincere ones—the more fun and natural (and sincere!) it will all become.

Let me know in the comments what works for you in your business relationships!

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.


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