iStock_000000672950XSmallOne thing we all want to know is whether we have made a difference. Some people attempt to achieve this in negative ways, while most of us go about our lives just hoping that something we’ve done matters. Although I am firmly entrenched in middle-age I have noticed that as I have gotten older my desire to leave a legacy and ensure that I have had a positive impact on the world grows with every passing year.

Dale Carnegie said that we all have an innate, unquenchable desire to know we are valued and that we matter (Carnegie/Cole 17). Affirming the good in others is a key principle to winning friends and influencing people in an ethical and sincere way (Carnegie/Cole 17). But he is careful to note that these affirmations should not be confused with flattery – the difference is that when you affirm others, you feel genuine concern for and about them (Carnegie/Cole 18).

Emerson wrote: “Every man is entitled to be valued for his best moments.” (Carnegie/Cole 19)

Dale Carnegie believed that when we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be (Carnegie/Cole 19). I believe today we call this the Peter Principle. People will rise to the level of expectation that you set for them. But let’s deal in the real world. There have been numerous times were expectations have been set high, for either ourselves or others and we have not met them. So what’s the deal?

I think that in order for people to achieve these highest expectations we must not simply just require it of them, we must provide them support, including celebrating their small victories along the way, and as any good leader would do, clearing obstacles that lie in the path of their success. I’m not talking about solving all of their problems for them, but there are certain obstacles that people typically cannot clear at their station and that is the leaders job. For example, Denver Broncos coach John Fox does not require Peyton Manning to worry about off-season trades and player scouting. Fox’s job is to support Manning by finding people who can block for him, while Manning’s job is to be superhuman and not get hurt.

Recently, a shot was publicly fired across my bow, by an individual who I am sure intended the comment to be well-meaning but seemed to imply much more. Some thought I would retaliate in-kind, and publicly, but that rarely helps us achieve our long-term objectives and does not help us build relationships. Not to say I have not taken the low road in the past (and I considered it here too), but we all make mistakes; in this case, I just elected to talk about what I appreciate in the other individual, publicly. I’m not sure if that individual even realized I was trying to show my appreciation for his good qualities, but that is beyond my control. All I can control in that situation is my reaction and my response.

Plus, there is a slightly sinister side to this. Let us go back and revisit the principle of what comes around goes around. Something that the 21st century has brought to us is the fact that the person who you work for today may one day work for you or be coming to you for a job referral. In the future, you may be in the position of being asked for a reference or in a hiring or firing capacity over the person who has previously taken advantage of you.

Even God said that one day there would be a reckoning.

Whether it is the political world for the business world, the person who can speak and respectful and genuine affirmation always wins more friends and influence as more people than the one who communicates in criticism, condemnation and condescension (Carnegie/Cole 23). And the digital world can enhance this relationship building (Carnegie/Cole 23). We do not have to wait for some sort of public event, at any moment we can spread our messages of affirmation over email, Facebook, Twitter, texts, blogs or even YouTube (Carnegie/Cole 23).

An understated but essential component of affirming another is to recognize their value and not, as the Bible says, with the same measure that you use. I know the Bible reverses this and says with the same measure that you measure others you will also be measured (I’m paraphrasing because I’m too lazy to look it up – but you get the point), but I’ve found that in order to truly appreciate someone else, we have to put our measuring stick down.

Carnegie and Cole tell a story in the book about a father who has constantly been too rough on his son. When the father comes to the moment of truth these are his thoughts: “It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of you. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.”  (Carnegie/Cole 25). This passage particularly slammed home for me. I know that I do this to my kids way too often. For some ridiculous reason I expect kids who have been on this earth for just a few years to somehow have the decision-making capability of someone five times their age.

In the case where I was recently slammed, I believe that the person who made the comments has not been through my personal experience and therefore was commenting from a position of “what-if,” rather than “been there done that.” Maybe I was getting a dose of my own medicine. In Carnegie’s story, the father says that I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: “He is nothing but a boy – a little boy!”  (Carnegie/Cole 26). Sometimes we have to remember that even when we’re talking about a fully grown adult.

So far we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about how to win friends, but how do we influence people, and do it in a way that’s ethical? The two concepts go hand in hand – affirming qualities in another makes it easy to then influence them – think about the opposite. How easy is it to influence someone that you’ve been extremely (or even slightly) critical of? Another component is something that Apple founder Steve Jobs was a master at – connecting with people’s core desires (Carnegie/Cole 27-28).

  • Influence requires more than intellect, you must also use intuition (Carnegie/Cole 29). Something Jobs seemed to know, is that most people don’t want to learn how to program their computer, they just want the damn thing to work. He also seem to understand that the future of the personal computer was the hub of a digital media management center connecting cameras, camcorders, MP3 players and eventually downloadable and streaming media. This flew in the face of the computer industry and critics mocked him. I would bet even money that many of those shortsighted critics were soon looking for a job themselves. Influencing others doesn’t mean outsmarting them, it means figuring out what they truly want and giving that to them in a mutually beneficial way (Carnegie/Cole 30).
  • Influence requires a gentle hand (Carnegie/Cole 30). I suppose the argument could be made that waterboarding also works but that may only give us a short-term cooperation. True influence is about arousing in the other person an eager want (Carnegie/Cole 30). Once we have started to argue with people we are failing to connect with their core needs and we are moving in the opposite direction of influence (Carnegie/Cole 31). Although my Waterboard comment was only slightly tongue-in-cheek, there is a truth that lies within: when we coerce and cajole someone into a course of action or belief, the power of those methods immediately begin to ware off. When we truly influence someone, they will truly change – in fact, the change will pull them along, rather than an external force having to push them.

The digital world has made understanding others easier for us. Today, with the Internet we can better educate ourselves about other peoples perspectives and goals (Carnegie/Cole 35). Want to get inside someone’s brain a little, start with their LinkedIn profile and move from there. Review their profile, their recommendations and the groups they have joined. Review their connections and you will soon start to see some patterns. While this may not provide the total picture of their core desires it can at least open the door to conversation which can lead to further exploration.

Remember that we all want to know that we are making a difference. When you take a genuine interest in another person, and get to know them, then begin to engage in conversation with them about things that are important to them, they may start to believe that whatever it is they are doing it is having a benefit and adding value to the lives of others. And the digital world provides multiple opportunities beyond the phone, snail mail and face-to-face connection.

Affirm the good in others and connect with their core desires – in this way, you’ll win both a friend and the door to influence will be opened. As Brad Hamilton (actor Judge Reinhold) said in Fast Times at Ridgemont High: Learn It, Know It, Live It (I know he was talking to Jeff Spicoli about the restaurants shirt policy but it works well here too).

Carnegie, Dale, and Cole, Brent. How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012. Print.

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