If you asked me to list everything I’ve ever learned, in some sort of useful groupings, it would look like this:
2. Dale Carnegie’s techniques
3. Everything else I have ever learned
Hypnosis taught me how to understand people. It’s the useful core of psychology, sales, marketing, love, sex, crime, religion, patriotism, writing, creativity, and anything else involving the human mind. Hypnosis isn’t intended to be all that, but for me, it was the missing link that tied everything together. There’s no way to truly understand how irrational the human brain is just by reading about it; you need to see it in action. Once you get that, everything else in life makes sense.
The Dale Carnegie course is second on my list because it taught me how to operate socially, and that is the essential component of happiness, right after health and safety.
On its surface, the Dale Carnegie course I took (there’s more than one flavor) was about public speaking. Most of our time was spent simply listening to our classmates speak, or doing our own speaking. That’s what I signed up to learn.
I was working at the phone company, and a director of Dale Carnegie did a sales presentation in the auditorium at work. My company was willing to pay for anyone who signed up. I was curious, so I went. I saw the best sales presentation of my life.
The local director for Dale Carnegie went onstage. He had no Powerpoint presentation. After introducing himself, his entire sales presentation went like this: “I’d like to ask two of your coworkers who took the course to come on stage and tell you about it.”
The ex-students were brief. They were persuasive. They were animated. They were spontaneous. They used no notes. They prowled the stage. They owned it. But most important, and the dealmaker for me, was that they so obviously enjoyed doing it. I signed up.
I think there were about 25 people in the class. On day one, our instructor described the method he would use. It was simple to the point of making me think it couldn’t work. The Dale Carnegie approach to teaching public speaking is to compliment the speaker for whatever he or she does well, and never mention any flaws.
That’s it. That’s the entire technique.
The theory is that when you focus on flaws, you don’t address the underlying problem of being uncomfortable in front of people. If you tell someone to take his hands out of his pockets, he will, but he’ll transfer his nervous habit to some other mannerism. At best, you end up with robotic speakers afraid to do something wrong. I had already taken a few public speaking classes that focused on flaws, and I can confirm that the successful graduates were a bit like R2D2.
Most of my classmates in the Dale Carnegie course were basket cases when it came to public speaking. Some knew they had a serious problem and others were forced by their bosses to attend. The first day was grim. One woman stood frozen in front of the group, unable to generate an intelligible word. Beads of sweat literally dripped off her chin. It was horrible to watch. She choked out a few words and returned to her seat, defeated. Our instructor came to the front of the room and said, “Wow. That was really brave.”
And it was. We all knew it was true. This woman had put her head in the lion’s mouth. Suddenly we all realized we had witnessed something important. We applauded. And it changed her. Each week, she managed a little bit more. And each week the instructor and the class recognized her achievement. By the end of the course, everyone in the class was an exceptional speaker, and we all looked forward to our few minutes in front of the class. It was like witnessing a frickin’ miracle.
There were side exercises, designed to get us out of our shells. And we learned some tricks for making conversation that added immensely to my social wellbeing. But the most fascinating exercise involved compliments. Compliments were the only tool the instructor used to turn a room full of bad speakers into a room full of pros. And he demonstrated the power of compliments with a little exercise.
He asked us to write a brief compliment on a piece of paper for every other student. Keep in mind that we didn’t know each other. Coming up with a compliment for each of 25 strangers is no easy task. You had to dig deep. Perhaps you noticed how well someone dressed, or how much progress he made in the class, or her cheerful disposition. We each wrote our compliments and handed them in. The instructor sorted them by student and mailed them to our homes a few weeks later.
I remember opening my little package of compliments. Like everything else in the Dale Carnegie course, it seemed silly at first. How much impact would a bunch of mandated compliments from strangers have on me? Surely they would seem insincere to the point of humorous. I started to read them, one by one, and they blew me away. It was a powerful experience, and that was the point of the exercise. When we compared notes later, we all had the same experience. Compliments are powerful things, even from strangers who barely know you.
Allow me to demonstrate. I’m going to give you some compliments right now, to kick off your weekend. You might be surprised how good it makes you feel.
First, if you are reading The Dilbert Blog, I already know something about you: You have an open mind, and that’s a rare and wonderful quality. Most people only enjoy seeing their preconceived ideas fed back to them. That doesn’t happen here. Open-mindedness is one of the most important qualities a person can have. You have it, my friend.
You’re also well above average in intelligence. This blog is designed to appeal to people like you. So unless it’s your first time here, I have no doubt that you’re one of the smartest people you know. Check out the quality of the comments to yesterday’s post, for example. Not many spelling errors, if you know what I mean.
You also have a wonderful sense of humor. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. A good sense of humor is another indicator of intelligence. I expect you’re well-liked by the people who know you best because you’re rational, curious, eclectic, and fun-loving.
Have a great weekend.