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I was reared on the edge of the Jesse James’ country out in Missouri and I visited the James’ farm at Kearney, Missouri, where the son of Jesse James is still living.
His wife told me stories of how Jesse robbed trains and held up banks and then gave money to the neighboring farmers to pay off their mortgages.
Jesse James probably regarded himself as an idealist at heart, just as Dutch Schultz, “Two Gun” Crowley, and Al Capone did two generations later. The fact is that every man you meet – even the man you see in the mirror – has a high regard for himself, and likes to be fine and unselfish in his own estimation.
J. Pierpont Morgan observed, in one of his analytical interludes, that a man usually has two reasons for doing a thing: one that sounds good and a real one.
The man himself will think of the real reason. You don’t need to emphasize that. But all of us, being idealists at heart, like to think of the motives that sound good. So, in order to change people, appeal to the nobler motives.
Is that too idealistic to work in business? Let’s see. Let’s take the case of Hamilton J. Farrell of the Farrell-Mitchell Company of Glenolden, Pennsylvania. Mr. Farrell had a disgruntled tenant who threatened to move. The tenant’s lease still had four months to run, at fifty-five dollars a month; nevertheless, he served notice that he was vacating immediately, regardless of lease.
“These people had lived in my house all winter – the most expensive part of the year,” Mr. Farrell said as he told the story to the class, “and I knew it would be difficult to rent the apartment again before fall. I could see two hundred and twenty dollars going over the hill – and believe me, I saw red.
“Now, ordinarily, I would have waded into that tenant and advised him to read his lease again. I would have pointed out that if he moved, the full balance of his rent would fall due at once – and that I could, and would, move to collect.
“However, instead of flying off the handle and making a scene, I decided to try other tactics. So I started like this: ‘Mr. Doe,’ I said, ‘I have listened to your story, and I still don’t believe you intend to move. Years in the renting business have taught me something about human nature, and I sized you up in the first place as being a man of your word. In fact, I’m so sure of it that I’m willing to take the gamble.
” ‘Now, here’s my proposition. Lay your decision on the table for a few days and think it over. If you come back to me between now and the first of the month, when your rent is due, and tell me you still intend to move, I give you my word I will accept your decision as final. I will privilege you to move and admit to myself I’ve been wrong in my judgment. But I still believe you’re a man of your word and will live up to your contract. For after all, we are either men or monkeys – and the choice usually lies with ourselves!’
“Well, when the new month came around, this gentleman came and paid his rent in person. He and his wife had talked it over, he said – and decided to stay. They had concluded that the only honorable thing to do was to live up to their lease.”
When the late Lord Northcliffe found a newspaper using a picture of himself which he didn’t want published, he wrote the editor a letter. But did he say, “Please do not publish that picture of me any more, I don’t like it”? No, he appealed to a nobler motive. He appealed to the respect and love that all of us have for motherhood. He wrote, “Please do not publish that picture of me any more. My mother doesn’t like it.”
When John D. Rockefeller, Jr., wished to stop newspaper photographers from snapping pictures of his children, he, too, appealed to the nobler motives. He didn’t say: “I don’t want their pictures published.” No he appealed to the desire, deep in all of us, to refrain from harming children. He said: “You know how it is, boys. You’ve got children yourselves, some of you. And you know it’s not good for youngsters to get too much publicity.”
When Cyrus H. K. Curtis, the poor boy from Maine, was starting on his meteoric career which was destined to make him millions as owner of The Saturday Evening Post and the Ladies’ Home Journal – when he first started, he couldn’t afford to pay the prices that other magazines paid. He couldn’t afford to hire first-class authors to write for money alone. So he appealed to their nobler motives. For example, he persuaded even Louisa May Alcott, the immortal author of Little Women, to write for him when she was at the flood tide of her fame; and he did it by offering to send a check for a hundred dollars, not to her, but to her favorite charity.
Right here the skeptic may say: “Oh, that stuff is all right for Northcliffe and Rockefeller or a sentimental novelist. But, boy! I’d like to see you make it work with the tough babies I have to collect bills from!”
You may be right. Nothing will work in all cases – and nothing will work with all men. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, why change? If you are not satisfied, why not experiment?
At any rate, I think you will enjoy reading this true story told by James L. Thomas, a former student of mine:
Six customers of a certain automobile company refused to pay their bills for servicing. No customer protested the entire bill, but each one claimed that some one charge was wrong. In each case, the customer had signed for the work done, so the company knew it was right – and said so. That was the first mistake.
Here are the steps the men in the credit department took to collect these overdue bills. Do you suppose they succeeded?
- They called on each customer and told him bluntly that they had come to collect a bill that was long past due.
- They made it very plain that the company was absolutely and unconditionally right; therefore he, the customer, was absolutely and unconditionally wrong.
- They intimated that they, the company, knew more about automobiles than he could ever hope to know. So what was the argument about?
- Result: They argued.
Did any of these methods reconcile the customer and settle the account? You can answer that one yourself.
At this stage of affairs, the credit manager was about to open fire with a battery of legal talent, when fortunately the matter came to the attention of the general manager. The manager investigated these defaulting clients and discovered that they all had the reputation of paying their bills promptly. Something was wrong here – something was drastically wrong about the method of collection. So he called in James L. Thomas and told him to collect these “uncollectable accounts”.
These are the steps Mr. Thomas took.
1. “My visit to each customer”, says Mr. Thomas, “was likewise to collect a bill long past due – a bill that we knew was absolutely right. But I didn’t say a word about that. I explained I had called to find out what it was the company had done, or failed to do.”
2. “I made it clear that, until I had heard the customer’s story, I had no opinion to offer. I told him the company made no claims to being infallible.”
3. “I told him I was interested only in his car, and that he knew more about his car than anyone else in the world; that he was the authority on the subject.”
4. “I let him talk, and listened to him with all the interest and sympathy that he wanted – and had expected.”
5. “Finally, when the customer was in a reasonable mood, I put the whole thing up to his sense of fair play. I appealed to the nobler motives. ‘First,’ I said, ‘I want you to know that I also feel this matter has been badly mishandled. You have been inconvenienced and annoyed and irritated by one of our representatives. That should never have happened. I’m sorry and, as a representative of the company, I apologize. As I sat here and listened to your side of the story, I could not help being impressed by your fairness and patience. And now, because you are fair-minded and patient, I am going to ask you to do something for me. It’s something that you can do better than anyone else, something you know more about than anyone else. Here is this bill of yours; I know it is safe for me to ask you to adjust it, just as you would do if you were the president of my company. I am going to leave it all up to you. Whatever you say goes.”
Did he adjust the bill? He certainly did, and got quite a kick out of it, The bills ranged from $150 to $400 – but did the customer give himself the best of it? Yes, one of them did! One of them refused to pay a penny of the disputed charge; but the other five all gave the company the best of it! And here’s the cream of the whole thing – we delivered new cars to all six of these customers within the next two years!
“Experience has taught me,” says Mr. Thomas, “that when no information can be secured about the customer, the only sound basis on which to proceed is to assume that he is sincere, honest, truthful and willing and anxious to pay the charges, once he is convinced they are correct. To put it differently and perhaps mare clearly, people are honest and want to discharge their obligations. The exceptions to that rule are comparatively few, and I am convinced that the individual who is inclined to chisel will in most cases react favorably if you make him feel that you consider him honest, upright, and fair.”
So, if you want to win people to your way of thinking, it is a find thing, in general, to follow Rule 10:
APPEAL TO THE NOBLER MOTIVES.