This week, I picked up Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic, How To Win Friends And Influence People from my book shelf. I’ve read this book several times but each time I read it, something changes in my life, a whole new perspective comes up. This is indeed a classic book every man must read before they die. First published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and is officially one of the most influential books in the world.
This time around, one of the illustrations which caught my attention the most was in Chapter 6 of Part IV. Dale Carnegie wrote about the inspiration behind the formation of the man we all know as Charles Dickens. You know him, that English author who wrote timeless classics himself such as Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. I delighted in reading Charles Dickens’ novels while growing up. But his story could have ended differently, he could have lived a life unworthy of remembrance and applause.
As a young man in the early 19th century, he aspired to be a writer but everything seemed to be against his dreams. He had little formal education, his father was in jail for debts, he was poor and homeless and was a factory worker. ‘He had so little confidence in his ability to write that he sneaked out and mailed his first manuscript in the dead of the night so nobody would laugh at him. Story after story was refused. Finally the great day came when one was accepted. True, he wasn’t paid a shilling for it, but one editor had praised him… He was so thrilled that he wandered aimlessly around the streets with tears rolling down his cheeks.’
Hear how Carnegie described that encounter; ‘The praise, the recognition that he received through getting one story in print, changed his whole life, for if it hadn’t been for that encouragement, he might have spent his entire life in rat-infested factories.’ That is the power of giving praise and sincere appreciation of people’s efforts, especially those who look up to us for mentor-ship.
I could liken the illustration to one encounter that changed my own life in 2009. I used to read newspapers a lot and was an avid reader of a particular column of one editor in Daily Sun. It took a lot of courage to write to him one day to plead with him to write his autobiography, saying I would like to know him more. I wrote without even dreaming of getting a reply in my mailbox, I was too humble to expect such, a lowly boy like me.
But surprisingly, I got a reply from this columnist who doubled as the editor. He even invited me to his office and we shared several correspondences from then. That day after reading his calm reply, I wandered around emotionally and was jumping and leaping for joy en-route home! I couldn’t believe my eyes. My family had just moved to a new place in the outskirt of town and I somehow didn’t even imagine a simple letter of mine would find its way to my favorite writer in Nigeria’s most important city. That’s probably why I’ve continued writing till today!
I had another experience 2 years ago, of how sincere appreciation of little efforts inspires people to go the extra mile and succeed. My barber had an apprentice who I noticed was always in the bad books of his boss whenever I went for a cut. The young man made one mistake or another leading his boss to yell at him almost all the time. One day, I went to barb and met the boss busy working on someone else’s hair. The logical thing would have been to wait till the expert was done but I’m too illogical, I requested the apprentice’s service.
Several weeks after, I went to the same barber shop and met this young apprentice alone, working. Words cannot explain the reception he gave me. He said I was the first person who gave him confidence when I allowed him make my hair. I found it funny because I didn’t actually think what I did was special, I didn’t even remember the things I had said. He reminded me how I requested him to do a style he had never done before, and when leaving I gave him money asides the service fee. He said that built his confidence forever.
He referenced how his boss now leaves the shop in his care, out of trust in his expertise (He was working alone when I met him). He even said he has gone on to barb for so many other people and the customers also like his service. Until now, he never had confidence to barb for those people till he got a shot heavy enough to spur him further in the echelon. Today, he has his own shop!
A boy in London worked as a clerk for a dry-goods store. Every morning, he woke up by five o’ clock to sweep the store & slave for 14 hours a day. He could no longer stand it one day so he walked 15 miles to complain to his mother, a housekeeper. He wept and wanted to die. He wrote a sorrowful letter to his old schoolmaster on his suicidal tendencies. This old schoolmaster praised him and assured him that he was really intelligent and smart, even offering him a job as a teacher. That praise changed his life and that boy wrote his name in the sands of time in the world of literature and we all know him as Herbert George Wells. His writings have inspired most of us today, but he could have died unknown!
That is the beauty of praise and sincere appreciation. So next time we’re tempted to disgrace our subordinates for an error, let’s remember there’s at least one good quality worthy of appreciation and recognition in these people. The great contemporary psychologist, B.F. Skinner was able to show through his experiments with animals and humans that when criticism is minimized and praise emphasized, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.
A passage in Dale Carnegie’s same book reads thus;
“You deserve very little credit for being what you are- and remember, the people who come to you irritated, bigoted, unreasoning, deserve very little discredit for being what they are. Feel sorry for the poor devils. Pity them. Sympathize with them. Say to yourself; ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.'”
We are what we are today because someone recognized our talents and inspired us. Someone lifted us. Someone mentored us. Someone was our role-model. It happened to every successful person living or dead.
Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends And Influence People (first published 1936, Simon & Schuster)