“Sorry, but you’re wrong. That isn’t the right way to make crème brûlée.”
A woman I know (let's call her Kelly) threw out this comment at a dinner I recently attended. She went on to explain the correct way to make the dessert to a bunch of people who all looked taken aback.
Maybe she was right—she could have been Julia Child’s protégé, for all anyone knew. But correct or not, no one wanted to chat with her after this mini lecture. She was (unintentionally) abrasive, cutting, even a little unkind. This is precisely how to behave if you want to lose friends and repel people.
The thing is that I know Kelly is a warm and generous person who just happens to be passionate about cooking (among other things). But because of this one personality trait, she is limited in her relationships, her work, and her life. And she has absolutely no idea this is the case.
Whether you're prone to slip-ups like Kelly or you're the type to make BFFs wherever you go, one book holds the keys to creating and strengthening any type of relationship. How to Win Friends and Influence People—the timeless best seller written by Dale Carnegie—has been heralded as the most successful personal development book of all time. It has remained in print since 1936!
In it, Carnegie teaches us how to inspire others and endear them to you based on raw human truths. And the best part? His techniques can be applied with ease and full integrity in your own life. All it takes is some tweaking in your style and delivery.
And it works like magic. Below are seven lessons I’ve learned from his book that have helped me make friends wherever I move, advance professionally, and maintain a total of zero enemies.
7 Tips to Improve Any Relationship
1. Say other people’s names often.
This is so easy! “A person’s name to him or her is the sweetest and most important sound in any language,” Carnegie writes. Use names more in everyday encounters, including emails and even texts. Even a simple, “How are you, Lewis?” over “How are you?” works. People love, love, love hearing the sound of their own name.
2. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
Negative people are not attractive—period. Being optimistic and positive, on the other hand, is very alluring. Next time a negative thought arises or remark wants to pass your lips, crush it. Release it. Say nothing.
If two things are true, choose the more positive option!
It may be easier said than done, but try to think of something good to say instead. You can switch from, “This food is lame” to “Isn’t this view lovely?” in an instant. If two things are true, choose the more positive option! And when you look for something nice to say, there is always something at the ready for you.
3. Show appreciation and compliment others.
And do so sincerely. Why hold back? Everyone loves a sincere compliment. Carnegie says, “The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important.” Do you know someone who is a great mother/artist/manager/friend? Tell them—today!
We all deeply crave appreciation, so value others openly and frequently. This will not only boost your own spirits (because we always energetically keep what we give away), but over time, you will become the biggest friend magnet on the planet. Just ensure your compliments come from the heart. Insincere flattery has the opposite effect, and everyone can tell the difference.
4. Ask questions.
It’s baffling how so few people do this. A lot of people will ramble on and on about themselves without offering a single question to their companion. I dread seeing a friend’s husband who can drone on about himself for hours without asking how I might be doing. I’m always quick to excuse myself from his company whenever I can.
Natural curiosity makes you more of an interesting conversationalist than any witty story or intellectual anecdote you recite ever could.
Talking about yourself endlessly is dull. It’s boring. It’s rude. Being genuinely interested in other people is charming. Wherever you go, ask questions: “How is work?” “What are you doing this summer?” “Seen any good movies recently?” Be interested in other people! Natural curiosity makes you more of an interesting conversationalist than any witty story or intellectual anecdote you recite ever could. And remember to be an engaged listener too.
Easy, right? You’d think so until you take a walk down the street and see so many scowling faces. More often than not, a simple smile from you will beget another smile from someone else. Plus, there’s a personal bonus: Research shows smiling can help boost your own mood, since we feel the way we act—not just the other way around.
6. If you need to confront someone, begin and end with the positives.
This is a concept commonly known as “the feedback sandwich.” Always cushion your intended message with positive statements on both sides. Instead of “You’ve been such a flaky friend recently. I’m tired of it!” Say “Jane, I really value our friendship. I miss you when we don’t hang out. Lately, I’ve felt a bit let down when you cancel our plans at the last minute. Can I ask why? I’m asking because you matter to me.” Honest praise and appreciation are powerful.
7. Remember: There is no way to win an argument.
As Carnegie says, “The only way to win an argument is to avoid it.” I wish Kelly knew this during that uncomfortable dinner last month. An argument is not communication. Arguing causes people to shut down and prevents any real flow of information. An argument is just an awkward, stinging ball of bad noise and bad vibes. And 99 percent of the time, the topic or truth does not even matter (like a crème brûlée recipe). So let it go or convey your point of view kindly.
If Kelly had said, “Oh that sounds like an interesting way to make crème brûlée. I also heard you can use X and Y,” people's reactions would have been so different! Show respect for other people and never, ever, ever say, “You’re wrong.” Ouch!
All leaders and all likeable people encourage, support, and elevate others. They call attention to people's good points, not their mistakes. They ask questions. They make other people feel heard. And because they do this everywhere they go, more often than not they get their way. Why wouldn’t they? They have a long list of friends, and they influence people indirectly with a quiet confidence and humility. If you want to be important, make everyone around you feel important first.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for her free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest column!