HOW TO WIN PEOPLE TO YOUR WAY OF THINKING
1. You Can’t Win an Argument: The Only Way to Get the Best of an Argument Is to Avoid It
One night, while at a banquet in London, Dale Carnegie was seated between his old friend Frank Gammond to his left and a stranger to his right.
The stranger told a humorous story punctuating with the following quote: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.” Then, the stranger mentioned the quote was from the Bible. Carnegie knew he was wrong. Because he was absolutely sure of it, and he wanted to feel important, he tried to demonstrate his superior knowledge by correcting the poor man.
The man would not be corrected. “What? From Shakespeare? Impossible! Absurd! That quote is from the Bible; and, I know it!” Carnegie’s friend Gammond had studied Shakespeare for years, so Carnegie and the stranger agreed to let Gammond settle their argument.
Gammond kicked Carnegie under the table and said, “Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from the Bible.”
Later, on their way home, Carnegie said to Gammond, “Frank, you knew that quotation was from Shakespeare.”
“Yes, of course,” he said. “Hamlet. Act Five. Scene Two. But we were guests at a festive occasion, my dear Dale. Why prove to a man that he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle.”
That’s when Carnegie realized that, not only had he made the storyteller uncomfortable, he had put his friend in an embarrassing situation. It would have been so much better if he had not become argumentative.
This was a lesson Carnegie desperately needed. He had been a habitual arguer since he was a child when he argued nonstop with his brother. When he was in college, he studied debate and argumentation and participated in debating contests. Later, he taught debating and argumentation in New York. He was ashamed to admit that he once thought about writing a book on how to do it. Since that time, he had listened to, participated in, and watched the results of thousands of arguments. After all that, he came to the conclusion that the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it completely.
Usually, an argument ends with both sides more convinced than ever that they are right. And, even if you win, you don’t really win. If you succeed in shooting the other person’s argument full of holes, you might feel fine, but you made the other person feel inferior. You hurt his pride, so he will resent your triumph. Carnegie quoted: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
Patrick O’Haire had little education, but a lot of fight. He was a chauffeur but switched jobs to sell trucks for the White Motor Company in New York. The problem was if any of his prospects criticized his company or their trucks, he became fighting mad. He argued with them angrily about why they were mistaken until he felt he had taught them a thing or two, then walked out, victorious in debate but empty in commissions.
Carnegie did not teach him how to talk. Rather, he taught him how not to talk and how to avoid verbal fights. As a result, he became one of the star salesmen for his company. In O’Haire’s own words, this is how he did it:“If I walk into a buyer’s office now and he says, ‘What? A White truck? They’re no good. I wouldn’t take one if you gave it to me. I’m going to buy the Whose-It truck.’
“I say, ‘The Whose-It is a good truck. If you buy the Whose-It, you’ll never make a mistake. The Whose-Its are made by a fine company and sold by good people.’
“He is speechless then. There is no room for an argument. If he says the Whose-It is best and I say sure it is, he has to stop. He can’t keep on all afternoon saying, ‘It’s the best’ when I’m agreeing with him. We then get off the subject of Whose-It and I begin to talk about the good points of the White truck.
“There was a time when a remark like his first one would have made me see scarlet and red and orange. I would start arguing against the Whose-It; and, the more I argued against it, the more my prospect argued in favor of it; and, the more he argued, the more he sold himself on my competitor’s product. As I look back now, I wonder how I was ever able to sell anything. I lost years of my life in scrapping and arguing. I keep my mouth shut now. It pays.”
Frederick Parsons, an income-tax consultant, had been arguing for an hour with a government tax inspector. The argument was over $9,000 that the government wanted to tax Parsons. But, as Parsons explained, it was a bad debt that he could never collect, so it should not be taxed. The inspector was cold, arrogant, and stubborn. He wouldn’t listen to reason or facts, so Parsons decided to change his tactics. He avoided further arguments, changed the subject, and showed his appreciation. He said: “I suppose this is a very petty matter in comparison with the really important and difficult decisions you’re required to make. I’ve made a study of taxation myself. But, I’ve had to get my knowledge from books. You are getting yours from the firing line of experience. I sometimes wish I had a job like yours. It would teach me a lot.” And, he meant all of it.
The inspector said, “Well.” He straightened up in his chair, leaned back, and talked for a long time about his work, telling Parsons about the clever frauds he uncovered. The inspector’s tone became friendly. Soon, he began telling Parsons about his family. As he left, he told Parsons he would think about the problem and call him with a decision in a few days. Three days later, he called Parsons and told him his tax return would be accepted exactly as filed!
This tax inspector’s behavior demonstrated a basic human need—the need to feel important. As long as Parsons argued with him, he felt important only by loudly asserting his authority. But, as soon as the argument ended, his authority was admitted, and his stories about his importance were listened to and appreciated by Parsons, he became a sympathetic and kind human being.
Benjamin Franklin taught this important lesson: “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but, it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.” So, the next time you are tempted to argue with someone, ask yourself if you prefer to win an argument or keep that person’s good will.
President Abraham Lincoln once gave this advice to a young army officer who was in a violent controversy with an associate: “No man who is resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take the consequences, including the vitiation of his temper and the loss of self-control. Yield larger things to which you show no more than equal rights; and yield lesser ones though clearly your own. Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.”
2. A Sure Way of Making Enemies and How to Avoid It: Show Respect for the Other Person’s Opinions; Never Say, “You’re Wrong”
You can tell people that they’re wrong with a look, tone, or gesture just as clearly as if you had said it with words. And, if you tell them they’re wrong, they will not want to agree with you. On the contrary, you have attacked their intelligence, judgment, pride, and self-respect, so all they want to do is attack you back. Attacking them does not make them want to change their minds. No matter how eloquent or logical you are, after you tell them they’re wrong, they won’t listen to you because you hurt their feelings.
Never begin a conversation with “I am going to prove this to you.” That’s bad. That’s like saying, “Shut up and listen. I’m smarter than you are. So, I’m going to teach you something that will make you change your mind.” That’s a challenge to the listeners and makes them want to disagree with you even before you start. It’s difficult under any circumstances to change people’s opinions, so don’t make it harder for yourself.
If someone says something you think or know is wrong, why not try saying something like, “Well, now, look, I thought otherwise. But, I may be wrong. I frequently am. And, if I am wrong, I want to be put right. Let’s examine the facts.” There’s magic in these words because no one gets upset if you say, “I may be wrong. Let’s examine the facts.”
Harold Reinke, a Dodge dealer, admitted he was tough and mean when dealing with customer complaints. His bad attitude caused tempers to flare, loss of business, and general unpleasantness for him at home and at work. Realizing he needed to change, he tried a totally different approach. When customers complained to him, he tried saying things like, “Our dealership has made so many mistakes that I am frequently ashamed. We may have erred in your case. Tell me about it.”
This method disarms the customers, who after getting their complaints off their chest, are usually reasonable about settling the matter. Some of his customers thanked him for being so understanding, and a few brought their friends to the dealership to buy new cars!
You will never get into trouble by saying you may be wrong. That should stop all arguments and may inspire yours opponent to be just as fair and open-minded as you are. It will make them want to admit that they also might be wrong.
One day when Benjamin Franklin was a young man, an old Quaker friend took him aside and told him some truths about some of his unpleasant habits. Carnegie paraphrased it as follows: “Ben, you are impossible. Your opinions have a slap in them for everyone who differs with you. They have become so offensive that nobody cares for them. Your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything. Indeed, no man is going to try, for the effort would only lead to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little.” Franklin realizing this was all true, and not wanting the consequences of continuing in his bad habits, did an immediate about-face.
In his autobiography, he wrote, “I made it a rule to forbear all contradiction to the sentiment of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbade myself the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as ‘certainly,’ ‘undoubtedly,’ etc. And, I adopted, instead of them, ‘I conceive,’ ‘I apprehend,’ or ‘I imagine’ a thing to be so or so, ‘or it so appears to me at present.’ When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition. And, in answering, I began by observing that, in certain cases or circumstances, his opinion would be right, but, in the present case, there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc.
“I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner. The conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction. I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong; and, I more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.
“And, this mode, which I initially put on with some violence to natural inclination, became, at length, so easy and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatic expression escape from me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had earned so much weight with my fellow citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for, I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and, yet, I generally, carried my points.”