I bought and started to read this book under the impression it was good. I have had people at work and in private conversation sing the praises of the programs related to it, the seminars and the classes and everything else.
I only read completely the first few chapters, after which I started skimming to see if the new impression that I was forming was wrong. It wasn't.
You must consider is that this book was originally published in 1936. The United States was still in the grips of the Great Depression, and WWII wouldn't formally be recognized as starting for another three years. This book was first accepted and its advice followed by the generation that would birth and raise the Boomers.
Why the short history reminder? Because we have the benefit of being able to see the effects of the advice played out over the decades, and because the Boomers who were raised in it have also gone on to have children of their own.
Take the three summary ideas from the first three chapters:
1) Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
2) Give honest and sincere appreciation.
3) Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Nothing terrible, right? Well, to get to these summaries, you need to wade through a series of anecdotes, varying from the famous to the mundane, about how people using the advice achieved a positive outcome. The belief then is supposed to be along the lines of "it worked for them, it can work for you too!"
Does that kind of tagline sound familiar? If you've ever watched an advertisement on TV relating to anything about improving aspects of your lifestyle, you've heard it a million times, and that's because it works as a tool for persuasion. Diets, home gym equipment, food gadgets, technological toys, things to make life more convenient and you would be foolish to miss out on this great offer.
In short, it works because it sounds good and is appeals to the ego, and whether rich or poor, people by default certainly enjoy their vanity being catered to.
This becomes especially obvious when the book also regularly references the successful people of the era, like the Rockefellers and Carnegies, as if they'd not already been convicted in courts of law as having been guilty of corruption and criminal activity in their brutal climbs to power and influence. Their success in the book is credited to the principles the book is trying to teach, blissfully ignoring any reasons why some of these same champions of industry were referred to as "robber barons".
The assertion is that all those "champions" were so because they followed the advice captured in this book, not because they broke laws, created and sustained monopolies, paid off government employees, treated people like slaves while always clawing for more power and influence.
Let that sink in for a bit.
You ever hear "rich" people give advice that sounds dumb? Do remember that almost everyone in Hollywood is "rich" if you aren't sure who would qualify and need some examples.
The next set of summaries, under the heading of "Six Ways to Make People Like You":
1) Become genuinely interested in other people.
3) Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4) Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
5) Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
6) Make the other person feel important-and do it sincerely.
You see, you don't get people to actually like you, you act like what you think people already like and feed their vanity. All you need to do is put on a facade that is agreeable and everyone will like the real you, not just the facade you put on for their benefit. What could go wrong with that, right?
There are two big problems with this, and they're tied to each other. The first is that you should look at what people do, not what people say, and the second is that one of the the best ways to take advantage of someone is to give them bad information cloaked as good information that they then act on to your benefit.
In looking at what people do, not what people say, the Boomer generation is a fantastic example of saying one thing and doing another. They'll denigrate younger generations for "being lazy", but not realize that the entry-level jobs they started in don't exist anymore, the career paths they enjoyed having been destroyed in the search of profits, and because of the Boomer trends of still trying to increase value while not actually producing anything of value, the costs of living have all increased across the board.
How is it anything but lazy to expect your house, which you likely pay someone else to fix for you, to gain in value just because it still stands? Laziness is turning everything into an investment, and then having the gall to pretend like those who missed the boat were ever even given a chance to get on board.
Minimum wage in 1976, for example, was $2.30/hr. Adjusted for inflation to 2017 that is around $10. The current national minimum wage in 2017 is $7.25.
Guess who was largely responsible for legislation relating to minimum wage since 1976? It hasn't been the Millennials that are now demanding to at least have some parity in the wage growth since the same people who didn't want to raise it also don't ever want to see deflationary trends in the monetary policy either.
Boomers complain about how children are staying home longer, not buying houses or cars, settling down, having families, etc. Yet my neighbor pays more to rent a 2 bedroom house than I do for my mortgage on a house one with three bedrooms. My house is also currently estimated at almost $30k more than it did in 2007, the peak of the last real estate bubble, and that's already considerably higher than what we paid for it just a few years ago, and much more than $100k above where it bottomed out in 2011.
The actual material value of my house is probably less than $200k, which it saw in 2011, but due to how older generations were sold on the idea of their homes as "an investment", it's "worth" considerably more than that. Who wants to sell their investments to a first-time home buyer at anything less than a profit fit for a real estate tycoon?
What else could you expect from the same generation that wanted their kids that lost in competition to be lauded as much as the ones which won?
The advice my generation was given was to work hard and save money, but if the cost of rent and home ownership, let alone gas (don't even get me started on oil futures) and groceries has gone up faster than the ability for individuals just entering the job market to keep up, all while the older generations are at the same time trying to cut costs to earn just that much bigger a margin so they can blow it on a luxurious retirement, who is really benefiting from the advice?
And what does this have to do with advice on interpersonal relationships?
That's where the second item comes into play: they're giving you advice that helps them at your expense.
Who benefits the most from someone who is willing to put up a facade and avoid direct competition?
The people who don't put up a facade and instead assert their own will on others.
Who benefits the most from the hard work of someone today that is saddled with debt just to get started as a homeowner, to rent a house or apartment, or to go to college?
It certainly isn't helping the people the advice is intended for, as they'll still be stuck paying the bill when those that added to it are long dead.
In school, one of my math teachers would put a wrong answer up on the board to see if anyone was paying attention and call it out. This book feels like that, only that the author seems to genuinely think it was decent advice, and many have joined in to create a chorus.
Like being on the inside of a practical joke, folks will giddily play along as the target thinks that everyone else is behaving in good faith. The advice in this book is designed to create people who are malleable, compliant, willing to lie about who they are just to get along with people, and following its advice is a signal to the competitors that you aren't in on the joke.
Pray tell, when a book insists that you don't tell someone else that they are wrong, what is someone who follows this advice supposed to do when they interact with people who do not follow the advice of the book, or act in complete contradiction to it?
Material success in life is guided by the simplest of mechanics: might makes right.
Without the supernatural, without God, to ground objective moral values, the appeals to higher morality are a literal waste of time that should be otherwise spent acquiring resources and refining the techniques to acquire resources.
Whether intelligence or muscle is your forte, the material life is a struggle over finite resources. Debt has hidden that struggle for a time, but all that does is push the struggle into the future, not eliminate it completely.
The advice in this book is a lot like the libertarian movements over the past decades. It appeals to higher ideals, to a superior moral fiber, and so it is lauded for its ideological purity. The problem is that humans aren't pure, and so the advice in the book comes across as either dangerously naive or sinisterly manipulative.
Lies and deception about your true intent is not a morally or ethically superior position, and absent God, the superiority is immaterial anyway. If you really want to "Win Friends and Influence People", read something else.