How to lose friends with bad writing: Dale Carnegie updated

New edition of Dale Carnegie’s little masterpiece is rewritten

Result is appalling, as Times scribe notices

General trend of German replacing Anglo Saxon?

Simplicity and clarity is the sign of good writing, and of a good mind. But the publishers, editors and rewriters who till the publishing plains rarely climb to the top of the mountain, and gain this perspective. In every study a legion of journeymen complicate and obscure by immersing their minds and ours in detail without ever understanding the overall scheme. Better minds complete the circle by enlarging their grasp until they return to simplicity. As Einstein is said to have remarked, you don’t understand a complicated proposition until you can explain it to the chambermaid. Straightforward language and simple words indicate that the speaker knows what he or she is talking about, because familiarity with complex ideas allows their difficulties to resolve, just as coffee grounds settle at the bottom of the pot over time.

The simple truth is that truth is simple, and simplicity emerges from a complete grasp of a topic, and that clarity is not to be confused with the simple minded foolishness of ignorance. Long words do not mean greater understanding, but almost always lesser understanding. Complications and long words and sentences which will end where only knows God are marks of lack of grasp, and of the stage where the writer has not yet managed to get everything organized in his or her mind into a neat pyramid, from the top of which we can see over all.

One book that shows this principle off very well is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People. Its language was straightforward. Dale Carnegie expressed himself in a simple way which allowed readers to get his message and believe it, without having to decode the kind of verbiage in which so many rival best sellers on advice and self help now bury their points, as if clarity was not impressive.

Well, guess what. The classic has been rewritten with the language updated to suit modern expectations, or at least those in the crass minds of those who have perpetrated this literary crime.

Here’s the complaint by Dwight Gardner in the Times, itself a fine piece of clear writing that in itself makes the point:

October 5, 2011
Classic Advice: Please, Leave Well Enough Alone

Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” which turns 75 this year, has sold more than 30 million copies and continues to be a best seller. The book, a paean to integrity, good humor and warmth in the name of amicable capitalism, is as wholesome as a Norman Rockwell painting. It exists alongside Dr. Spock’s child-rearing guide, Strunk and White’s volume on literary style and Fannie Farmer’s cookbook as a classic expression of the American impulse toward self-improvement and reinvention. Testimonials to its effectiveness abound. It’s said that the only diploma that hangs in Warren Buffett’s office is his certificate from Dale Carnegie Training.

The book’s essential admonitions — be a good listener, admit faults quickly and emphatically, and smile more often, among them — are timeless. They need updating about as much as Hank Williams’s songs do.

Yet now comes Dale Carnegie and Associates Inc., which offers leadership and public speaking classes, with the news that it has rewritten and reissued Carnegie’s book for the laptop generation under the title “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age,” written with Brent Cole. It’s not the only advice classic that’s been updated this fall for the era of Facebook and Google Plus. There’s a new edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette” as well, which bears the forward-looking subtitle “Manners for a New World.”

Both books offer sensible new advice about being a polite e-mailer and navigating the pitfalls of Twitter. But while it’s hard to blame those charged with caring for the Dale Carnegie and Emily Post brands for wanting them to remain relevant, attempts to tweak favorites are fraught with peril. And “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” in particular is such a radical — and radically hapless — retooling of Dale Carnegie’s text that it feels almost like an act of brand suicide.

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” has undergone previous revisions. In 1981 the book was slightly condensed, and some dated and vaguely racist language was removed. But the new adaptation is necessary, its authors write, because so much of Carnegie’s advice concentrated on how to win people over face to face. Thanks to e-mail and texting, however, the authors write, “we lose a critical aspect of human interactions: nonverbal cues.” It’s hard to indicate a smile in an e-mail or an instant message unless you are willing to go the emoticon route, and then all is lost either way.

The authors look to place Carnegie’s advice in new contexts. They hold up Tiger Woods as an example of how not to behave when caught in an embarrassing situation. Andrew Sullivan, the blogger, is singled out for making a point of interacting with his readers. We’re advised to pay attention, at least on occasion, to our friends’ Facebook postings, and to take the time to reply when appropriate. Alongside this new material, a bit of Carnegie’s original advice remains more or less intact.

The problem with “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” is that its verbal DNA has been not merely tweaked but scrambled. Carnegie’s great virtue, beyond the simplicity of his core ideas, was his unadorned prose. “Try leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips,” he advised in a typical passage. “You will be surprised how they will set flames of friendship that will be rose beacons on your next visit.”

That homespun virtue has been obliterated here. This new adaptation seems to have been composed using refrigerator magnets stamped with corporate lingo: “transactional proficiency,” “tangible interface,” “relational longevity,” “continuum of opportunities,” “interpersonal futility,” and “our faith persuasion.” The devastation, in terms of Carnegie’s original charm, is nearly complete. Were Carnegie alive to read this grievous book, he would clutch his chest like Redd Foxx in “Sanford and Son,” smile wanly for a few minutes (he didn’t like to make others feel bad), then keel over into his cornflakes.

The following sentence, which appears on Page 80, is so inept that it may actually be an ancient curse and to read it more than three times aloud is to summon the cannibal undead: “Today’s biggest enemy of lasting influence is the sector of both personal and corporate musing that concerns itself with the art of creating impressions without consulting the science of need ascertainment.”

Dale Carnegie, that master of graceful temperament, would not approve of kicking a book when it was down. So let me conclude with the good news. His original book, unmolested, can still be found on bookstore shelves. Life can go on as if this new one simply did not exist.

Here is the modern rewrite:

October 4, 2011
‘How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age’
Why Carnegie’s Advice Still Matters

In 1936, Dale Carnegie made a compelling statement to his readers: “Dealing with people is probably the biggest problem you face.” This is the foundation of How to Win Friends and Influence People, and it is still true today. However, developing strategies for dealing with people is more complex.

Messaging speed is instantaneous. Communication media have multiplied. Networks have expanded beyond borders, industries, and ideologies. Yet rather than making the principles in this book obsolete, these major changes have made Carnegie’s principles more relevant than ever. They represent the foundation of every sound strategy, whether you are marketing a brand, apologizing to your spouse, or pitching to investors. And if you don’t begin with the right foundation, it is easy to send the wrong message, to offend, or to fall embarrassingly short of your objective. “Precision of communication,” insisted American writer James Thurber, “is important, more important than ever, in our era of hair-trigger balances, when a false, or misunderstood, word may create as much disaster as a sudden thoughtless act.”

Consider the era of hair-trigger balances in which we live today, more than fifty years after Thurber penned the phrase. The stakes are higher. Amid the amalgam of media, distinction is more difficult. Every word, every nonverbal cue, every silent stare is scrutinized as it has never been before. One wrong move can have far greater implications. Still, every interaction from your first good morning to your last goodnight is an opportunity to win friends and influence others in a positive way. Those who succeed daily lead quite successful lives. But this sort of success comes at a philanthropic price some aren’t willing to pay. It is not as simple as being ad-wise or savvy about social media.

“The art of communication is the language of leadership,” said the presidential speechwriter James Humes. In other words, people skills that lead to influence have as much to do with the messenger—a leader in some right—as with the medium. This book will show you how and why this is true, just as it has shown more than fifty million readers around the globe, including world leaders, media luminaries, business icons, and bestselling authors. What all come to understand is that there is no such thing as a neutral exchange. You leave someone either a little better or a little worse. The best among us leave others a little better with every nod, every inflection, every interface. This one idea embodied daily has significant results.

It will improve your relationships and expand your influence with others, yes. But it will do so because the daily exercise elicits greater character and compassion from you. Aren’t we all moved by altruism?

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming more interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” Carnegie’s assertion remains relevant, albeit counterintuitive, because it reminds us the secret to progress with people is a measure of selflessness swept under the drift of the digital age.

We live in an unprecedented era of self-help and self- promotion. We watch YouTube videos like the Double Rainbow go viral in a matter of weeks and garner the sort of global attention people used to break their backs for years, even decades, to obtain. We witness allegedly leaked sex videos create overnight celebrities. We watch talking heads and political pundits tear down their competition and elevate their ratings. We are daily tempted to believe that the best publicity strategy is a mix of gimmick and parody run through the most virally proficient medium. The temptation is too much for many. But for those who understand the basics of human relations, there is a far better, far more reputable, far more sustainable way to operate.

While self-help and self-promotion are not inherently deficient pursuits, problems always arise when the stream of self-actualization is dammed within us. You are one in seven billion—your progress is not meant for you alone.

The sooner you allow this truth to shape your communication decisions, the sooner you will see that the quickest path to personal or professional growth is not in hyping yourself to others but in sharing yourself with them. No author has presented the path as clearly as Dale Carnegie. Yet perhaps even he could not have imagined how the path to meaningful collaboration would become an autobahn of lasting, lucrative influence today.

More Than Clever Communication

While the hyperfrequency of our interactions has made proficient people skills more advantageous than ever, influential people must be more than savvy communicators.

Communication is simply an outward manifestation of our thoughts, our intentions, and our conclusions about the people around us. “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” These internal drivers are the primary differentiator between today’s leader and today’s relational leech.

The two highest levels of influence are achieved when (1) people follow you because of what you’ve done for them and (2) people follow you because of who you are. In other words, the highest levels of influence are reached when generosity and trustworthiness surround your behavior. This is the price of great, sustainable impact, whether two or two million people are involved. Yet it is only when generosity and trust are communicated artfully and authentically that the benefits are mutual.

Because we live in an age when celebrity influence can be borrowed like credit lines and media coverage can be won by squeaky wheels, it is all the more critical that every communication opportunity matter—that every medium you use be filled with messages that build trust, convey gratitude, and add value to the recipients. The one thing that has not changed since Carnegie’s time is that there is still a clear distinction between influence that is borrowed (and is difficult to sustain) and influence that is earned (and is as steady as earth’s axis). Carnegie was the master of influence that is earned.

Consider a few of his foundational principles—don’t criticize, condemn, or complain; talk about others’ interests; if you’re wrong, admit it; let others save face. Such principles don’t make you a clever conversationalist or a resourceful raconteur. They remind you to consider others’ needs before you speak. They encourage you to address difficult subjects honestly and graciously. They prod you to become a kinder, humbler manager, spouse, colleague, salesperson, and parent. Ultimately, they challenge you to gain influence in others’ lives not through showmanship or manipulation but through a genuine habit of expressing greater respect, empathy, and grace.

Your reward? Rich, enduring friendships. Trustworthy transactions. Compelling leadership. And amid today’s mass of me-isms, a very distinguishing trademark.

The original book has been called the bestselling self-help book of all time. From a modern standpoint this is a misnomer. “Self-help” was not a phrase Carnegie used. It was the moniker assigned to the genre created by the blockbuster success of How to Win Friends. The irony is that Carnegie would not endorse all of today’s self-help advice. He extolled action that sprang from genuine interest in others. He taught principles that flowed from an underlying delight in helping others succeed. Were the book recategorized, How to Win Friends would be more appropriately deemed the bestselling soul-help book in the world. For it is the soulish underpinning of the Golden Rule that Carnegie extracted so well. The principles herein are more than self-help or self- promotion handles. They are soulful strategies for lasting, lucrative progress in your conversations, your collaborations, your company. The implications are significant.

By applying the principles you will not only become a more compelling person with more influence in others’ lives; you will fulfill a philanthropic purpose every day. Imagine this effect compounded over the dozens of daily interactions the digital age affords you. Imagine the effect if dozens of people throughout an organization followed suit. Winning friends and influencing people today is no small matter. On the continuum of opportunities, it is your greatest and most constant occasion to make sustainable progress with others. And what success does not begin with relationships?

From ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie & Associates. Copyright © 2011 by Donna Dale Carnegie. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.

The absurdity of substituting this porridge for Carnegie’s steak tartare is self evident. But this kind of braying by literary donkeys has taken over the world, as any visit to Barnes and Noble will prove. Thank God for BookSpan, where intelligence still reigns.

But then, Americans have always trended toward German roots rather than Anglo Saxon in public discourse. We like to change nouns into verbs, and when it comes to impressive words, the longer the better. Only good writers remember that truth is clear and simple.

The comments on Dwight Garner’s piece are worth reading:

October 5th, 2011
10:15 am
Daily, if not hourly, I see writing along the lines of what was quoted from the updated Carnegie book. Supposedly educated people write like this now. They’re oblivious to how cringe-worthy this drivel is. I’m embarrassed for them. I’m a proofreader/copyeditor in an ad agency. Enough said, right?
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One Response to How to lose friends with bad writing: Dale Carnegie updated

  1. nyeinaung says:

    I love this book!

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