August 13, 2009

6 Inspirational quotes by Dale Carnegie for dealing with the reactance effect

Have you read my posts Naïve realism and How do you convince people? These posts show how people will tend to resist when they feel someone tries to convinces them (the reactance effect) and think they see things as they really are so their opponent in a debate must be biased or dishonest (naïve realism). If these findings of social psychology are true what does this mean for how to communicate with other people who have different views. One writer who had some ideas about this is Dale Carnegie. His book How To Win Friends and Influence People, which was first published in 1936 and which sold millions of copies (which made it the one of the first self-help best sellers) contains these quotes on this topic:
  • Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person's precious pride, hurts his sense of importance and arouses resentment.
  • Let's realize that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify himself or herself and condemn us in return; or, like the gentle Taft, will say: "I don't see how I could have done any differently from what I have.
  • Instead of condemning people let's try to figure out why they do what they do. That's a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. To know all is to forgive all.
  • You can't win an argument. You can't because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? you will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. And - A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.
  • You may be tempted to interrupt. But don't. It is dangerous. They won't pay attention to you while they still have a lot of ideas of their own crying for expression.
  • Remember that other people may be totally wrong. But they don't think so. Don't condemn them. Any fool can do that. Try to understand them. Only wise, tolerant, exceptional people even try to do that.


  1. With the risk of sounding like broken record, this is very much like NVC.

  2. Hi Peter, I think there is often a certain amount of overlap between difference schools of thought.

  3. I don't know what NVC is.

    I agree with a lot of this, and I think it can be combined with technology to make even better use of it today.

    I think Carnegie had some good ideas that are very relevant to helping people share information better face to face. And the reactance effect becomes combined and enhanced with even worse things, like groupthink, when there are multiple people meeting.

    An additional approach, more convenient now than it was in Carnegie's day, is to provide informal channels for sharing information in context before meeting face to face.

    This allows people to be reasoning from the more of the same evidence when they meet instead of coming together from different sets of evidence. It also (potentially) makes them more aware of each others' expertise and gaps so that they are less intimidated about sharing original information. In addition, if they are familiar with the shared information just before meeting together, they are more likely to have their own contribution in mind rather than bringing up and defending what is already known by both people.

    Finally, the more relevant information that is shared before meeting face to face, the less needs to be thrashed out face to face, and the more people can use that time to build trust and raise things more out of context put potentially useful or interesting.

  4. Oh right, I read something by Rosenberg a number of years ago. Very powerful, humane approach particularly when dealing with the worst initial phases of conflict. I think his philosophy begins to break down a little once people have already established trust, though, since he shifts the focus away from cognitive understanding of perspectives, but that doesn't seem to be its focus anyway. He's not a technical problem solver, he's a negotiator, and while the two overlap they also have a different focus.

  5. Well, I guess nothing is a panacea.
    I also have some issues with the conflict resolution in couples where there is a predisposition towards conflict, like for example in Conflict type of relations.

    Some things, even if possible in theory, are very difficult to do/sustain because of the energy toll they take.

  6. Hi Todd, your comment on how to prevent group think reminds me of The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki I think you´ll probably know this. If not you might want to take a look.

  7. Hi Peter, I like two things in your latest comment on Dale Carnegie±

    1.nothing is a panacea.
    2.Some things, even if possible in theory, are very difficult to do/sustain because of the energy toll they take.

    Both are very recognizable for me and of course also very true for solution/focused practice± not a fix for everything and sometimes surpirsingly hard to keep doing

  8. I am sorry,
    maybe I am not an advanced soul, or maybe I live in a different world, but I can't really relate to NVC, especially in handling international conflicts. (and no, I do not have an answer or a pet theory).
    But my knowledge is limited - for example I can't get past the first minute of that 10 minute introductory video...

    Back to the topic of Dale Carnegie: I really liked these quotes, Coert. However I think he stands on his own. We can make al the connections we want, but if we claim his thinking as SF or NVC than I believe we are watering down the core of SF and NVC.

  9. Hi Paolo, thanks for the comment. I think I share your reluctance to NVC. Not be accusative, not blaming etc appeals to me and seems to fit with SFC. The focus on feelings and needs appeals less to me.

    On Dale Carnegie, I think he has shows how aspects of SFC have been around for a long time, more than half a century ago. But that is as far as it goes indeed. Nor NVC, nor Carnegie 'are' SFC. And I think in that sense you are right. In fact I don't even think he aderesses something like the core of SFC. Come to think of it, the core of SFC from my perspective has to do with what I have tried to describe here and here

  10. Hi Paolo,

    You don't need to apologize. You are not required to relate to NVC.

    Also, knowing NVC doesn't make you an advanced soul. :D

    As for the video, those 10 minutes express some of the concepts but is far from a proper introduction to NVC. For that I would recommend "The Basics of NVC" which is 4 hours long. :)

    In regard to the issue of NVC being solution focused, the way I view it, they are kindred, part of the same family, similar in spirit. So NVC is not SFC per se, but because they are kindred, ideas from NVC could be used in SFC and vice-versa.

    NVC could assist SFC from the "not knowing" posture, you could in theory try/recommend some of the concepts and see if they work.

  11. Thanks Coert, thanks Peter for your very considerate response.
    I agree they are all in the same family...
    the fact is, I am always looking for ways that help establish a positive relationship, that foster understanding, that help you see the soul, the spark in the other.
    However, when I see them as a theory, I have that frustrating feeling of... almost there, but not quite.
    I apologize if that frustration transpired in my comment.

  12. Yes ... and ... well ... how do I say this in a non argumentative way? ...

    Me, I, personally, myself, as in only me and not the rest of the world necessarily find it utterly condecending when someone does not agree with me but for the sake of keeping the peace, assuming that he would offend me my having a different opion keeps his / her mouth shut. It makes me shivver and I much rather have people tell me their views even in a debate or a argument, and no: for me it does NOT have to be friendly as long as it stays out of personal attacks and on the topic.

    The world has learned so much by people debating ideas, by disagreeing, by arguing and by intelligent people trying to prove each other wrong and if not the world, than certainly I have.

    There is a difference between helping conversations (SF practice is for helping conversations not for discourse on science, philosophy etc.) and other conversations. So as a coach, helping someone with a strong NVC background, I would accept his / her views even when they mistakenly think that there is a strong philosophic connection between SF and NVC because arguing about it would not be helpful (and the conversation is about helping). In any other type of conversation I would argue that in SF we don't use classificatory systems (neither for persons nor for emotions) and we don't precribe what clients may or may not say in a conflict situation. I also don't think that emotions can be taken and influenced outsided of a context.

    Anyway, sorry for the rant ... but people coaching me without a mandate drive me up the wall :-)

  13. Hi Kirsten,

    Thank you for your comment! It is inevitable that people will often disagree on topics and I also think it is important to be honest about where you stand. I agree, a disagreement does not have to be a bad thing. Exploring differences in view can lead to learning and discovery.

    What I find interesting in Dale Carnegie's view is his attention for the downsides of criticizing and condemning people. It is one thing to say you are of a different opinion than someone else, it is another thing to blame, criticize, ridicule, and condemn the person. (Of course, I understand that this not at all what you are arguing for). I tend to agree that criticizing is most unlikely to be effective in nearly any circumstance. (By the way, I am open to be convinced on this).

    I'm intrigued by what he says about debates. I tend to think debates are sometimes valuable. But I do recognize that debates I have observed or participated in, in most cases don't lead to one or the other person being convinced. A function of such a debate may be that spectators can be informed about different arguments and perspectives so that they can form an opinion of themselves.
    When I have a discussion with a colleague, we often create deliberately create a debate setting, explicitly saying something like: shall I defend this side and you the other side of the argument? This way, we create as it were a separate space in which to debate, from which we can return after we finish the debate. This often helps us because it keeps us from feeling we have lost the debate. It makes it clear that there is a common purpose to the debate.
    Just some thoughts that came up
    all the best,
    PS I received the new issues of InterAction today and it looks great, again!

  14. @Coert Thanks for posting these quotes by Dale Carnegie. I've been thinking of picking up his book "How To Win Friends..." but never have. Maybe I will now that I've seen these quotes.

    @Peter Thanks for the intro to NVC. I find it fascinating how people can communicate in ways that allow them to connect with angry people like Rosenberg does. I just ordered "Non Violent Communication: A Language Of Life."


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