The Big Secret of Dealing with People

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There is only one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything. Did you ever stop to think of that? Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it.

Remember, there is no other way.

Of course, you can make a man want to give you his watch by sticking a revolver in his ribs. You can make an employee give you cooperation – until your back is turned – by threatening to fire him. You can make a child do what you want it to do by a whip or a threat. But these crude methods have sharply undesirable repercussions.

The only way I can get you to do anything is by giving you what you want.

What do you want?

The famous Dr. Sigmund Freud of Vienna, one of the most distinguished psychologists of the twentieth century, says that everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great.

Professor John Dewey, America’s most profound philosopher, phrases it a bit differently. Dr. Dewey said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.” Remember that phrase: “the desire to be important.” It is significant. You are going to hear a lot about it in this book.

What do you want? Not many things, but the few that you do wish, you crave with an insistence that will not be denied. Almost every normal adult wants:

  1. Health and the preservation of life.
  2. Food.
  3. Sleep.
  4. Money and the things money will buy.
  5. Life in the hereafter.
  6. Sexual gratification.
  7. The well-being of our children.
  8. A feeling of importance.

Almost all these wants are gratified – all except one. But there is one longing – almost as deep, almost as imperious, as the desire for food or sleep which is seldom gratified. It is what Freud calls “the desire to be great.” It is what Dewey calls “the desire to be important.”

Lincoln once began a letter by saying: “Everybody likes a compliment.” William James said: “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” He didn’t speak, mind you, of the “wish” or the “desire” or the “longing” to be appreciated. He said the “craving” to be appreciated.

Here is a gnawing and unfaltering human hunger, and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this heart hunger will hold people in the palm of his hand and “even the undertaker will be sorry when he dies.”

The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals. To illustrate: When I was a farm boy out in Missouri, my father bred fine Duroc-Jersey hogs and pedigree white-faced cattle. We used to exhibit our hogs and white-faced cattle at the country fairs and livestock shows throughout the Middle West. We won first prizes by the score. My father pinned his blue ribbons on a sheet of white muslin, and when friends or visitors came to the house, he would get out the long sheet of muslin. He would hold one end and I would hold the other while he exhibited the blue ribbons.

The hogs didn’t care about the ribbons they had won. But Father did. These prizes gave him a feeling of importance.

If our ancestors hadn’t had this flaming urge for a feeling of importance, civilization would have been impossible. Without it, we should have been just about like the animals.

It was this desire for a feeling of importance that led an uneducated, poverty-stricken grocery clerk to study some law books he found in the bottom of a barrel of household plunder that he had bought for fifty cents. You have probably heard of this grocery clerk. His name was Lincoln.

It was this desire for a feeling of importance that inspired Dickens to write his immortal novels. This desire inspired Sir Christoper Wren to design his symphonies in stone. This desire made Rockefeller amass millions that he never spent! And this same desire made the richest man in your town build a house far too large for his requirements.

This desire makes you want to wear the latest styles, drive the latest car, and talk about your brilliant children.

It is this desire that lures many boys and girls into becoming gangsters and gunmen. “The average young criminal, of today”, says E. P. Mulrooney, former police commissioner of New York, “is filled with ego, and his first request after arrest is for those lurid newspapers that make him out a hero. The disagreeable prospect of taking a ‘hot squat’ in the electric chair seems remote, so long as he can gloat over his likeness sharing space with pictures of Babe Ruth, La-Gaurdia, Einstein, Lindbergh, Toscanini, or Roosevelt.”

If you tell me how you get your feeling of importance, I’ll tell you what you are. That determines your character. That is the most significant thing about you. For example, John D. Rockefeller gets his feeling of importance by giving money to erect a modern hospital in Peking, China, to care for millions of poor people whom he has never seen and never will see. Dillinger, on the other hand, got his feeling of importance by being a bandit, a bank robber and killer. When the G-men were hunting him, he dashed into a farmhouse up in Minnesota and said, “I’m Dillinger!” He was proud of the fact that he was Public Enemy Number One. “I’m not going to hurt you, but I’m Dillinger!” he said.

Yes, the one significant difference between Dillinger and Rockefeller is how they got their feeling of importance.

History sparkles with amusing examples of famous people struggling for a feeling of importance. Even George Washington wanted to be called “His Mightiness, the President of the United States”; and Columbus pleaded for the title “Admiral of the Ocean and Viceroy of India.” Catherine the Great refused to open letters that were not addressed to “Her Imperial Majesty”; and Mrs. Lincoln, in the White House, turned upon Mrs. Grant like a tigress and shouted, “How dare you be seated in my presence until I invite you!”

Our millionaires helped finance Admiral Byrd’s expedition to the Antarctic with the understanding that ranges of icy mountains would be named after them; and Victor Hugo aspired to have nothing less than the city of Paris renamed in his honor. Even Shakespeare, mightiest of the mighty, tried to add luster to his name by procuring a coat of arms for his family.

People sometimes became invalids in order to win sympathy and attention, and get a feeling of importance. For example, take Mrs. McKinley. She got a feeling of importance by forcing her husband, the President of the United States, to neglect important affairs of state while he reclined on the bed beside her for hours at a time, his arm about her, soothing her to sleep. She fed her gnawing desire for attention by insisting that he remain with her while she was having her teeth fixed, and once created a stormy scene when he had to leave her alone with the dentist while he kept an appointment with John Hay.

Mary Roberts Rinehart once told me of a bright, vigorous young woman who became an invalid in order to get a feeling of importance. “One day,” said Mrs. Rinehart, “this woman had been obliged to face something, her age perhaps, and the fact that she would never be married. The lonely years were stretching ahead and there was little left for her to anticipate.

“She took to her bed; and for ten years her old mother traveled to the third floor and back, carrying trays, nursing her. Then one day the old mother, weary with service, lay down and died. For some weeks, the invalid languished; then she got up, put on her clothing, and resumed living again.”

Some authorities declare that people may actually go insane in order to find, in the dreamland of insanity, the feeling of importance that has been denied them in the harsh world of reality. There are more patients suffering from mental diseases in the United States than from all other diseases combined. If you are over fifteen years of age and residing in New York State, the chances are one out of twenty that you will be confined to an insane asylum for seven years of your life.

What is the cause of insanity?

Nobody can answer such a sweeping question, but we know that certain diseases, such as syphilis, break down and destroy the brain cells and result in insanity. In fact, about one-half of all mental diseases can be attributed to such physical causes as brain lesions, alcohol, toxins and injuries. But the other half – and this is the appalling part of the story – the other half of the people who go insane apparently have nothing organically wrong with their brain cells. In post-mortem examinations, when their brain tissues are studied under the highest-powered microscopes, they are found to be apparently just as healthy as yours and mine.

Why do these people go insane?

I recently put that question to the head physician of one of our most important hospitals for the insane. This doctor, who has received the highest honors and the most coveted awards for his knowledge of insanity, told me frankly that he didn’t know why people went insane. Nobody knows for sure. But he did say that many people who go insane find in insanity a feeling of importance that they were unable to achieve in the world of reality. Then he told me this story:

“I have a patient right now whose marriage proved to be a tragedy. She wanted love, sexual gratification, children and social prestige, but life blasted all her hopes. Her husband didn’t love her. He refused even to eat with her and forced her to serve his meals in his room upstairs. She had no children, no social standing. She went insane; and, in her imagination, she divorced her husband and resumed her maiden name. She now believes she has married into the English aristocracy, and she insists on being called Lady Smith.

“And as for children, she imagines now that she has had a new child every night. Each time I call on her she says: ‘Doctor, I had a baby last night.’ ”

Life once wrecked all her dream ships on the sharp rocks of reality; but in the sunny, fantasy isles of insanity, all her barkentines race into port with canvas billowing and winds singing through the masts.

Tragic? Oh, I don’t know. Her physician said to me: “If I could stretch out my hand and restore her sanity, I wouldn’t do it. She’s much happier as she is.”

As a group, insane people are happier than you and I. Many enjoy being insane. Why shouldn’t they? They have solved their problems. They will write you a cheque for $1 million, or give you a letter of introduction to the Aga Khan. They have found in a dream world of their own creation the feeling of importance which they so deeply desired.

If some people are so hungry for a feeling of importance that they actually go insane to get it, imagine what miracles you and I can achieve by giving people honest appreciation this side of insanity.

There have been, so far as I know, only two people in history who were paid a salary of $1 million a year: Walter Chrysler and Charles Schwab.

Why did Andrew Carnegie pay Schwab $1 million a year or more than three thousand dollars a day? Why?

Because Schwab is a genius? No. Because he knew more about the manufacture of steel than other people? Nonsense. Charles Schwab told me himself that he had many men working for him who knew more about the manufacture of steel than he did.

Schwab says that he was paid this salary largely because of his ability to deal with people. I asked him how he did it. Here is his secret set down in his own words – words that ought to be cast in eternal bronze and hung in every home and school, every shop and office in the land – words that children ought to memorize instead of wasting their time memorizing the conjugation of Latin verbs or the amount of the annual rainfall in Brazil – words that will all but transform your life and mine if we will only live them:

I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among the men,” said Schwab, “the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement.

“There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a man as criticisms from his superiors. I never criticize any-one. I believe in giving a man incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise. “

That is what Schwab does. But what does the average man do? The exact opposite. If he doesn’t like a thing, he raises the Old Harry; if he does like it, he says nothing.

“In my wide association in life, meeting with many and great men in various parts of the world,” Schwab declared, “I have yet to find the man, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.”

That he said, frankly, was one of the outstanding reasons for the phenomenal success of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie praised his associates publicly as well as privately.

Carnegie wanted to praise his assistants even on his tombstone. He wrote an epitaph for himself which read: “Here lies one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself:”

Sincere appreciation was one of the secrets of Rockefeller’s success in handling men. For example, when one of his partners, Edward T. Bedford, pulled a boner and lost the firm $1 million by a bad buy in South America, John D. might have criticized; but he knew Bedford had done his best – and the incident was closed. So Rockefeller found something to praise; he congratulated Bedford because he had been able to save 60 percent of the money he had invested. “That’s splendid,” said Rockefeller. “We don’t always do as well as that upstairs.”

Ziegfeld, the most spectacular entrepreneur who ever dazzled Broadway, gained his reputation by his subtle ability to “glorify the American girl.” He repeatedly took some drab little creature that no one ever looked at twice and transformed her on the stage into a glamorous vision of mystery and seduction. Knowing the value of appreciation and confidence, he made women feel beautiful by the sheer power of his gallantry and consideration. He was practical: he raised the salary of chorus girls from thirty dollars a week to as high as one hundred and seventy-five. And he was also chivalrous: on opening night at the Follies, he sent a telegram to the stars in the cast, and he deluged every chorus girl in the show with American Beauty roses.

I once succumbed to the fad of fasting and went for six days and nights without eating. It wasn’t difficult. I was less hungry at the end of the sixth day than I was at the end of the second. Yet I know, and you know, people who would think they had committed a crime if they let their families or employees go for six days without food; but they will let them go for six days, and six weeks, and sometimes sixty years without giving them the hearty appreciation that they crave almost as much as they crave food.

When Alfred Lunt played the stellar role in Re-union in Vienna, he said: “There is nothing I need so much as nourishment for my self-esteem.”

We nourish the bodies of our children and friends and employees; but how seldom do we nourish their self-esteem. We provide them with roast beef and potatoes to build energy; but we neglect to give them kind words of appreciation that would sing in their memories for years like the music of the morning stars.

Some readers are saying right now as they read these lines: “Old stuff! Soft soap! Bear oil! Flattery! I’ve tried that stuff. It doesn’t work – not with intelligent people.”

Of course flattery seldom works with discerning people. It is shallow, selfish and insincere. It ought to fail and it usually does. True some people are so hungry, so thirsty, for appreciation that they will swallow anything, just as a starving man will eat grass and fish worms.

Why, for example, were the much-married Mdivani brothers such flaming successes in the matrimonial market? Why were these so-called “Princes” able to marry two beautiful and famous screen stars and a world-famous prima donna and Barbara Hutton with her five-and-ten-cent-store millions? Why? How did they do it?

“The Mdivani charm for women [said Adela Rogers St. Johns, in an article in the magazine Liberty]… has been among the mysteries of the ages to many.

Pola Negri, a woman of the world, a connoisseur of men, and a great artist, once explained it to me. She said: ‘They understand the art of flattery as do no other men I have ever met. And the art of flattery is almost a lost one in this realistic and humorous age. That, I assure you, is the secret of the Mdivani charm for women. I know.”

Even Queen Victoria was susceptible to flattery. [Prime Minister] Disraeli confessed that he put it on thick in dealing with the Queen. To use his exact words, he said he “spread it on with a trowel.” But Disraeli was one of the most polished, deft and adroit men who ever ruled the far-flung British Empire. He was a genius in his line. What would work for him wouldn’t necessarily work for you and me. In the long run, flattery will do you more harm than good. Flattery is counterfeit, and like counterfeit money, it will eventually get you into trouble if you try to pass it.

The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned.

I recently saw a bust of General Obregon in the Chapultepec palace in Mexico City. Below the bust are carved these wise words from General Obregon’s philosophy: “Don’t be afraid of enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you.”

No! No! No! I am not suggesting flattery! Far from it. I’m talking about a new way of life. Let me repeat. I am talking about a new way of life.

King George V had a set of six maxims displayed on the walls of his study at Buckingham Palace. One of these maxims said: “Teach me neither to proffer nor receive cheap praise.” That’s all flattery is: cheap praise. I once read a definition of flattery that may be worth repeating: “Flattery is telling the other man precisely what he thinks about himself.”

“Use what language you will,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “you can never say anything but what you are.”

If all we had to do was use flattery, everybody would catch on to it, and we should all be experts in human relations.

When we are not engaged in thinking about some definite problem, we usually spend about 95 percent of our time thinking about ourselves. Now, if we stop thinking about ourselves for a while and begin to think of the other man’s good points, we won’t have to resort to flattery so cheap and false that it can be spotted almost before it is out of the mouth.

Emerson said: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way, In that, I learn of him.”

If that was true of Emerson, isn’t it likely to be a thousand times more true of you and me? Let’s cease thinking of our accomplishments, our wants. Let’s try to figure out the other man’s good points. Then forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,” and people will cherish your words and treasure them and repeat them over a lifetime – repeat them years after you have forgotten them.