How to Win Friends & Influence People: Summary & Criticism

how to win friends and influence people

How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) is one of the most popular social skills books in the world in which Carnegie, the author, shares his advice on how to communicate and to behave with others.


Bullet Summary

  • Put yourself in their shoes: appeal to their needs, understand their motives, etc.
  • Protect and boost people’s ego: help save face, make them feel great, let them think it was their idea, etc.
  • To be interesting and make friends, be interested and curious about them

Here’s a pictorial summary of all of Carnegie’s principles:

how to win friends and influence people infographic summary


About The Author:
Dale Carnegie was an American writer and author and one of the first “self-help gurus” in history.
How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the best-selling books ever and the best-selling book in the self-help genre.
He is also the author of How to Stop Worrying and Start Living“.

Part 1
Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

Principle 1: Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain

Criticism is terrible when you want to influence people or change their behavior.

It’s because criticism will put the recipient on the defensive and he can’t listen to you or focus on changing when he is busy defending himself.

The opposite might actually happen: to protect his ego, he will make up a story to rationalize that he isn’t so wrong after all… And that you’re a jerk.

My note:
Criticism indeed often raises the fight or flight response in people. HOWEVER… Criticism and disappointment work great if you have a very strong emotional leverage on people.
See our article on “judge power dynamics“:

The Judge Role: A Tool For Emotional Control

Principle 2: Give Honest and Sincere Appreciation

Appreciation takes out the best in people.

Dale Carnegie says that appreciation leverages one of the most difficult needs for people to meet: the need to feel important –check Tony Robbins’ 6 human needs.

Carnegie says that also flattery, such as fake appreciation, might also work.
It worked for Disraeli with Queen Victoria, he says (Greene describes it in The Art of Seduction).
But that doesn’t mean it will work for you as well. Instead, always make your appreciation sincere.

My Note:
Later social experiments showed how flattery, even when people suspect second motives, is still effective. Check Cialdini’s Influence.

If appreciating anything in people is difficult for you Carnegie recommends you adopt Ralph Emerson‘s mindset when he says -I paraphrase-:

Every man you meet is superior to you in something. And you can learn from him

Principle 3: Arouse in the Other Person an Eager Want

To get what you want from people, you must first understand what they want.

This is the What’s In It For Me principle and it’s also a law of power in Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power“.

And then you can present your wants and needs in a way that will satisfy their wants and needs.

Also, read:

Social Exchange Theory: 5 Laws of Social Success

Part 2
Six Ways to Make People Like You

Principle 1: Become Genuinely Interested in Other People

Dale Carnegie says that the only way to make solid and lasting relationships is to be genuinely interested in them.

As the author is famously quoted as saying: to be interesting be interested.

You make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years making them interested in you

Principle 2: Smile

Dale Carnegie says that a smile is a way of saying “I like you and you make me happy”.

So smile at people when you greet them.

My note:
Schaefer in The Like Switch recommends you also flash your eyebrows upwards, which is an unconscious indicator of liking and acceptance.

Carnegie says that our actions influence our feelings as much as our feelings influence our actions.
So by smiling, you will also be naturally happier (Tony Robbins says that “motion creates emotions”).

My Note:
That might be somewhat true, albeit there has been valid and scientific criticism of what’s been later dubbed the “facial feedback hypothesis“, see “self-help myths” and “pop psychology“).

Pop Psychology Myths

Principle 3: Remember Their Names

People love the sound of their name more than any other sound in the world.

Remember their names, which will make them feel valued.

His name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language

Principle 4: Be a Good Listener

The most important element of being a good conversationalist is being a good listener.
And to become a good listener, the number one rule is to care.

To become a great listener: care about the speaker

Principle 5: Talk in Terms of His Interests

Most people like to discuss their interests and hobbies.

And that’s why Dale Carnegie recommends you talk about what interests them.

Principle 6: Make Him Feel Important

To make others feel important Carnegie recommends you ask yourself what is it about them that you admire.

Once you know what you admire about them, it will reflect in your demeanor and you can also tell them about your admiration.

Part 3
How To Win People To Your Way of Thinking

Principle 1: To Get The Best of an Argument, Avoid It

Carnegie says you will always lose in an argument.

If you lose, you lose, and if you win, the other will feel resentful and you still lose.
The only way to win an argument is by avoiding it.

Principle 2: Show Respect For His Opinions

When you attack someone’s opinion, you will push them on the defensive.

And again, if you get into an ideological battle, you only always lose.

Principle 3: If You Are Wrong, Admit It

… And do so quickly and emphatically, says Carnegie.
It will boost his ego and confidence, because, if you’re wrong, he must be right.

My note:
Another great advantage of admitting fault is that it shows a strength of character. Most people shift blame, and those who take full ownership set themselves apart.

I particularly loved the answer from Elbert Hubbard that Carnegie used as an example.
When a reader sent an irate mail to attack the author’s opinion, Hubbard replied (I paraphrase):

Come to think it over, I don’t think I completely agree with it myself.

Not everything I wrote yesterday appeals to me today. I am glad to learn what you think on the subject.

The next time you are in the neighborhood, please visit us and we’ll talk about it.

Yours Sincerely…”

Principle 4: Begin in a Friendly Way

Anger against anger is the fool’s way of discussing and solving issues, implies the author.

It will get you nowhere -except maybe to trading blows-.

Begin in a friendly way instead and you will immensely lower his guard, lower the tension and dramatically increase the chances of a resolution.

Also, read:

Principle 5: Get Him Saying “Yes” Immediately

Never start with disagreement as that’s a slippery slope.

Start with what you agree on instead.

Carnegie says that when someone starts out saying “yes” a few times the natural tendency is to keep going with “yeses”.
And he will immediately place himself in a more positive and conducive mental disposition.

My note:
That’s what the sales technique “yes ladder” is based on. Check out my article on the nasty effects of a “no ladder to understand the opposite effect.

Principle 6: Let Him do a great deal of the talking

Carnegie recommends you never brag and never monopolize the conversation.

Do the opposite: let the others do most of the talking.

In truth, if you know how to brag, bragging can work.
See here how:

How To Brag Without Bragging: The Covert Brag Technique

Principle 7: Let Him Feel That The Idea Is His

People embrace ideas quickly and work harder on them when they feel it’s their own brainchild.

So don’t push your ideas on others and fight to convince them. If you want cooperation let people feel it was their own idea.

That’s also a good way to stimulate what psychologists call “intrinsic motivation”. Also see Daniel Pink’s Drive.

Carnegie provides a very good example here.

He tells the story of a customer who was stumped among different choices -of course, see The Paradox of Choice-.
Instead of pitching the products the salesman asked the person what kind of product he would select best.
As he described the product, the prospect came to his own conclusions as to what he should buy.
And he happily bought: it was his own idea.

Principle 8: Try to See Things From His Point of View

Our natural tendency is to judge people and immediately think we’re right and they’re wrong.

But the world is rarely, if ever, so cut and dry.
And one of the biggest secrets to doing well with people is always to see the situation from their point of view as well.

Dale Carnegie says if you only take one thing away from How To Win Friends & Influence People, it should be making a habit of looking at interactions from other people’s perspectives.
Not to simply understand their opinion, but why they are even having those opinions in the first place.

Principle 9: Be Sympathetic To His Ideas and Desires

Carnegie says that people ache for understanding and sympathy.

Instead of giving them the battle they expect, he suggests one sentence that will put to rest any argument (I paraphrase):

I don’t blame you for feeling the way you feel. If I were you, I would feel the exact same way.

So simple, yet so genius.

Principle 10: Appeal to The Nobler Motives

Dale Carnegie says that when you appeal to nobler motives, you will make people want to rise up to the noble trait that you bestow upon them.

Principle 11: Dramatize Your Ideas

Dramatizing your idea basically means having good marketing for your product.

Simply stating the truth is not enough, you have to make it appealing.

Principle 12: Throw Down a Challenge

When nothing else works, Dale Carnegie recommends you make it a challenge so that people want to win as if it were a game.

This is the same concept games use and which has become famous today as “gamification”: put a score on the game, and people will work hard to increase that number.

Part 4
Be a Leader: How To Change People

Principle 1: Begin With Praise and Honest Appreciation

Dale Carnegie says that if you must criticize someone, first find something good they have done and begin with that.

The author also highlights the danger of the word “but”, which negates anything you previously said.

Don’t say:

Poor Communicator: you did great, BUT…

but say:

Influencer: you did great and you can do even better if… “.

My note:
Carnegie also gets into the “sandwich feedback technique”. But it’s so popular today that you better stay away from it.
Everyone knows the praise is setting the stage for the critique and they won’t even believe it. Check out Daring Greatly for a great feedback example instead (Ctrl+f and write “feedback”).

Principle 2: Call Attention to People’s Mistakes Indirectly

Same as for criticizing, directly pointing out people’s mistakes is a surefire way to put them on the defensive.

Telling someone “you’ve done a mistake” is like telling people “you’re wrong”.
And it hurts the most when done publicly.

My note:
Simon Sinek says in Leaders Eat Last that the task of a leader is to defend his team.
And well, sometimes you also need to defend their ego.

Principle 3: Talk About Your Own Mistakes Before Criticizing Him

Dale Carnegie says it’s easier to take criticism when the person criticizing us admits to his mistakes or his own imperfection.

When we can share the blame, blame hurts less.
And when we make ourselves imperfect, we are more likely to be accepted.

Principle 4: Ask Questions Instead of Giving Direct Orders

Dale Carnegie says that nobody likes to take orders: it makes us feel subordinate and less important. So give suggestions instead of orders.

Principle 5: Let the Other Person Save Face

People will resent us if we hurt their egos or insult their skills, especially if publicly.
Always think of a way to save people’s faces instead.

For example:
General Electric had a brilliant engineer who was doing very poorly as a department head.
Demoting was likely going to be very costly to his ego.
So the company instead gave him a big title and moved him somewhere else in a way that if felt he was being promoted.

Check this article for an example of saving face or this video:

Principle 6: Praise Every improvement

If you want people to keep improving, give them praise for every improvement.

He will feel good for doing well and will be motivated to keep going.

My note:
Carnegie is basically suggesting here to use of positive reinforcement in what in psychology is known as operant conditioning.

Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise

Principle 7: Give Him a Fine Reputation to Live Up To

When you give people a good reputation the tendency is to act in accordance with that reputation.

It’s partly because being found out not as good would hurt us, and partially because we want to keep that good trait real.

Identity drives behavior, so when people start liking and believing in a new identity, they will act accordingly.

Principle 8: Encourage. Make The Fault Seem Easy to Correct

If a task seems too big or if people feel like they are far too unskilled to accomplish it, they will lose their heart and fail to act.

Encourage them instead, build up their ego.
And make the effort seem within their grasp. Then they will be motivated to act.

Principle 9: Make Him Happy About Doing What You Suggest

When you want someone to do something, make them feel happy and proud of the task at hand.

Tell them their rare skills and talent make them the best fit for the job.

Part 5
Making Your Home Life Happier

This section was included in the original book, but not in the revised version.

It could indeed be easily summarized as saying that all previous principles apply to your relationship as well. The most interesting for me were:

  1. Don’t nag/criticize
  2. Don’t try to change your partner
  3. Give honest appreciation
  4. Don’t over-emphasize the details
  5. Read a good book on the sexual side of marriage

If you’re interested in relationship books, head over to my relationships book summaries.

how to win friends and influence people

Real-Life Applications

Appreciate More
Most of us would do great in remembering this very simple advice: appreciate, compliment, and encourage more.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Whether you need to engage someone for a crucial conversation, to better understand their needs, or to lead with what’s in it for them, it’s a great habit to always put yourself in their shoes first. It doesn’t mean you concede they are right, but it means you consider their perspective.


I’d like to start with a quote from our power-aware community:

What a crappy world we live in if everything I learned in How to win friends and influence people is actually counterproductive! 🙂

Ben R.

Power University Alumni (public comment)

Yep, that’s exactly our main criticism.

It’s a great book that can easily turn counter-productive without power skills, manipulation awareness, and strategies.

And another one from an introduction in TPM’s discord server:

travis power univeristy testimonial

PU definitively changed my life!
I basically lived my life by the book „How to Win Friends and Influence People“ by Dale Carnegie. I gave and gave and even when nothing came back I gave more for absolutely nothing. I was an altruistic giver and a people pleaser. One of my friends introduced me to sociology and after a bit of research I stumbled across PU.
Long story short – It was an eye-opening experience. It felt like learning the ability of the next higher layer of language. As if my vision became enhanced on so many levels. I slowely started to understand the true meaning of words, sentences and behavior. Thanks to PU I now was able to build strong win-win friendships and I feel more and more people start to look up to me.

Travis S.

Power University Alumni (TPM Discord comment)

It’s still a great book.

But you MUST be aware of the limitation.

My answer was:

Man, I got some love/hate with that book and some personal beef.

Everyone applauds it, including the people that you KNOW are doing something else to do well in life.

And it IS a greatbook, which makes it even more challenging to put it in perspective.

Because it must be put in perspective as it’s incomplete and can easily take people off track -similar to “The 48 Laws of Power”-.

Lucio Buffalmano

No Advanced Material For Status, Respect & Attraction

There is no advanced stuff here.

There is no way to social strategize like Machiavellians.

Or how to handle value-takers, and assholes.

And that’s what makes you most effective in life.

How to Win Friends is still a fantastic book.
Best for those who can come across as awkward, who struggle to make friends, or who couldn’t even persuade a nice guy to get Power University.

Nuances Missing

Carnegie’s principles are solid.

But the advanced game is in the nuances and exceptions.

For example, the highest achievers often want truth, not to be coddled by someone afraid to speak his mind.

Also read this:

Ceiling Effect: Why 99% of Self-Help Leads to Plateaus

It Can Make You Come Across As Weak

The various ego-protecting and indirect approaches can easily come across as weak, too passive, or submissive.

Make sure you use these techniques because you care about people or because you want to achieve certain results.
But NOT because you’re afraid of being blunt and honest.

More Cons

  • Structure: Principles Last 

Carnegie first tells the examples and then gives readers the principle.

While we do learn via examples and the “aha moment” is great to burn concepts in our minds, I think it’s most useful to give the main concept first.

As I explain in my reading effectively guide, when we know what’s coming we prepare our minds for learning.


How to Win Friends and Influence People presents great and timeless social advice.

It’s based on sound advice and even if you’re an advanced student of the social arts, it’s still a great refresher.

Also great is that Carnegie uses many real-life examples to back his principles.

On the negative side, it also has some catch-all ceiling advice that’s not always the most effective for all situations.

And it lacks power dynamics, a crucial element for social success.

For status and power, we help our students with Power University.

Get the book
Check the best books on influence and persuasion or learn how to make friends and get this timeless book on Amazon.

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