When was the last time you succeeded in your efforts to influence someone? How about the last time you gained a real friend? One of the greatest capacities we have as human beings is our ability to influence others, yet most of us don’t realize that it requires a foundation of true relatedness if not intimate friendship. Influence is about changing hearts, minds, and behavior to get meaningful and sustainable results. But it’s hard to accomplish that with someone who is just an acquaintance. The relationships needed are developed over time with investment by all parties, not within minutes of meeting one another. The key to building such relationships? Being likeable. 

In his bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie offers six rules for getting people to like you. At first glance, these may seem to encourage superficial interactions like flattery or pleasantries, but they can actually lead to deeper intimacy and relatedness. Here are Carnegie’s tips:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  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. 
  5. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

At the heart of Carnegie’s rules is the notion of putting other people and their concerns first. This is something Sara Ines, who I interviewed for my book on #remarkablewomen, knows a bit about. In addition to being a journalist and engineer, Sara is a self-taught coder and people leader at a tech startup in Austin, Texas. Sara was excited to land this job when she moved to Austin because it’s a tough job market for junior coders. Unfortunately, her first day at the company left her feeling a little less enthused. She was the only woman at the company and, despite being in her early thirties, someone welcomed her by saying, "It's so great to have a girl on the team." Then another colleague proceeded to ask why she wrote a lot about Latinos on her blog. She was perturbed to hear these comments, especially at a job that had taken some time to find, but she didn’t say anything. As time passed, Sara continued to witness other subtle forms of bias. 

For example, a male colleague who had joined the firm on the same day she did was taken under the wing of the project lead. Sara kept hearing the lead say, "Hey Tony, come check this out" while she was left to figure things out on her own. Patterns like these made it challenging for Sara to perform at her best, so she decided to take intentional steps to influence how her colleagues treated her and how they viewed women and Latinos. 

Drawing upon her experience as a journalist and guidance she got from mentors at Women Who Code, Sara made a point of listening to her boss more intently and asking him more questions. “As a result,” she says, “I learned a whole lot about his pool remodeling project and his Disneyland vacation.” But these conversations also helped her achieve her intended purpose. Showing genuine interest and curiosity about her boss led to their having an authentic relationship, and that was crucial to her winning him over and influencing how he viewed women and other traditionally underrepresented groups. It also enabled her to feel more comfortable in that highly male-dominated workplace.

Codie Sanchez, an entrepreneur and senior banking executive, is another woman I interviewed for my book. She says showing up every single day in words and deeds is her way of influencing her male colleagues. “When they say something that is misaligned with my values and the principles they claim to espouse, I respond without shaming them or myself.” For instance, she might ask, “Why do you think that would be the right way to do it?” or “Have you thought about it like this?” Only after listening intently and respectfully does she respond with her perspective. In our interview, she told a story that illustrates this approach.

A male entrepreneur she regards highly shared in a group of mostly men and three women that his advertising agency has a distinct bro culture. He described how the first woman they ever hired ended up leaving and suing the agency – they lost the case. He went on to say that he wants to do better by inviting other women into the workplace, but he’s afraid of hiring them because of this experience. 

Two of the women in the group were quick to judge his thinking, but Codie listened patiently. Then she engaged him in a conversation that showed genuine interest but also prompted him to think in new ways about the issue. 

“How are you doing on winning business from woman-led companies?” she asked. 

“Not well at all,” he admitted. “It’s hard to win those accounts.” 

“Do you know what percentage of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are owned or led by women?” 

“A large majority. And that’s important for us because we're big in healthcare and beauty.” 

Codie went on to ask, politely, how he thought he could sell to a group of people that he didn’t represent and that were not represented on his team. Then she pointed out his two options as she saw them: (1) play in the “man-space” forever and watch his market share dwindle or (2) tackle the cultural issues and make it safe and comfortable for women to join and stay in the organization. In that moment, he was won over because he could see the win-win for his business and for women. By treating this male entrepreneur with dignity and respect, Codie had created a situation where he could remain open to new ideas and create a vision for how to move his company forward both financially and culturally.

In our world of hyper-attachment to strong opinions, we are further polarized by our own reactivity and our desire to get what we want at all costs. It’s not easy to influence others and build authentic relationships in such an environment. As such, Dale Carnegie’s principles for how to be likeable are as relevant today as they were 82 years ago when his book was first published. Sara and Codie offer us great examples of how the principles pay off. They didn’t have to change who they are but simply adjust their approach. A perceptive Dilbert comic once showed the caption, “Change is hard, you go first.” Sara and Codie and hundreds of other women have gone first. Now it’s our turn.