Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defense and usually makes him strive to justify himself… It wound a person’ precious pride.
This is a summary/review of chapter 1 of “How to make friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. It will not necessarily follow the structure of the chapter and additional content may be added in order to complete the explanations.
How many times have we condemned someone beforehand, without even knowing half of the story behind their actions? Instead, how many have we stopped for a moment and tried to understand the impulses that led they to do it? In this chapter, Carnegie encourages the reader to do the last thing and gives a handful of reasons supporting why this behavior will make us obtain better results in a short and long term, build more confident and respectful relationships, and last but definitely not least, be a lot happier in our daily interactions.
In order to fully understand the principles in which this lesson is based, the author supports his theories on real-life examples, extracted either from the research of relevant people throughout History or his own experience.
Firstly, he points out that 99 out of 100 of the most sanguinary, ruthless criminals over the last 150 years, had not declared themselves guilty at all. Rather, they’ve always had a variety of justifications that make them believe they were subject of the worst of the injustices. This leads us to the first lesson of the chapter:
Everyone, even wrongdoers, act in each moment thinking they take the best decision possible at that moment.
If we bear this in mind, we are better prepared to understand the subjective truth underlying people’s actions, instead of simply condemning or censoring them.
The second key of this piece is related to how the human nature is. We are reward-driven creatures, and due to that, we seek those activities, people or situations that make us feel valued and acknowledged. This works exactly the same in the opposite direction: We try to avoid as much as possible the feeling of uselessness and irrelevance.
As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation.
The application of this simple principle in our daily communications can make a huge change in how we impact in the emotions of the people around us and, in consequence, in how we are perceived by the people surrounding us.
How can you apply it in your life?
Since each life is different, the advice given here may need slight modifications to fit in yours. However, I’ll attempt to cover the most general cases.
Let’s start with an easy statement: Everyone expects something from someone. And usually, this is bidirectional. The father expects some things from the son, as well as the son does from the father. The same with employers and employees. I’m not talking only about performance, numbers, or benefits. As I mentioned before, we are emotional creatures, so we inherently need some emotional feedback in order to feel fulfilled.
But what happens when something we care a lot goes wrong? Our first reaction tends to be emotional, and this is often the wrong reaction since it is like being controlled by someone else. A badly chosen word at this point may cause long term resentments that can potentially last forever. At this point, the best thing we can do is try to analyze the situation and extract knowledge to perform better the next time. Carnegie suggests that before trying to change someone, we should begin with ourselves: “it is much more profitable… and a lot less dangerous”.
“Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof,” said Confucius, “When you own doorstep is unclean.”
I honestly think this is a valuable lesson that can be applied in uncountable aspects in my life: from group projects at the university to closest relationships (family and friends). I believe it is worth to stop and think for a moment when the situation becomes tense. I think that if we want to improve our human relationships we need to start changing and improving ourselves, and avoid following the path that most people take if there’s a better one either for us as an individual or for society as a whole.
Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.
But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
What do you think? Is there something you don’t agree about this topic or want to share some of your experiences? Feel free of leaving your thoughts in the comment box. I will be glad of reading them all!