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“How To Win Friends and Influence People” aka Being a Mediator

Recently, my husband and I met a friend for dinner. During dinner, she noted that she had discovered a book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, asking me if I had ever read it. I mentioned I had heard of it but had not read it. She started to tell me a little bit about the book, and I noted that the points sounded a lot like what one learns in mediation training. She proudly noted that the book is now her bible; she reads it at least once a year as a refresher.

Curious, I obtained a copy of the book and read through it. Published originally in 1936, it was recently ‘freshened” in 2022 without changing its essential messages by his daughter- Donna Dale Carnegie. While the preface explains the origins of the book- why it was written- (to teach adults “… the fine art of getting along with people in everyday business and social contacts”( Id. at xx.)), Ms. Carnegie notes that “…the overriding theme and lynchpin of this book is to see things from the point of view of others” (Id. at xvii). This sentence struck me like a thunderbolt as this is essentially what mediation is all about: to have each party see the issue or the dispute from the perspective of the other party. That is the first step toward compromise!

In the first chapter, Carnegie sets out the basics of what every mediator knows: parties are not logical; they are emotional, “… bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.” (Id. at 14.) As a result, “criticism is futile because it puts people on the defensive and usually makes them strive to justify themselves.” (Id. at 6.) Rather than criticize when someone is speaking to us, we should “just listen”: “people are “… desperate to be heard, valued and respected….” (Id. at 16.) That is, listen with compassion and without judgment; suspend our criticism. (Id. at 17.) Carnegie sums up the chapter stating that rather than condemning or criticizing people, try to understand where they are coming from. Show some sympathy (empathy?) (Id. at 20.)

This chapter struck me as mediation training 101- active listening, listening without judgment and perspective taking.

Chapter 2 discusses the concept of appreciation: People have a “craving to be appreciated”; to have “a feeling of importance.” (Id at 22.) It is important to let others know with sincerity that you appreciate them, that they are special. Carnegie stresses the importance of being sincere and honest in your appreciation of others and that we must remember that everyone is human just like us and craves appreciation. (Id. at 21-33.)  This chapter reminded me of the 5 core concerns of appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status and role set out by Daniel Shapiro and Roger Fisher in Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate. (Penguin Books, New York, 2006)

Chapter 3 discusses what Ms. Carnegie describes as the lynchpin of the book: it is paramount “… to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” (Id. at 40-41.) The author notes that by doing so, it will help each party gain something from the discussion (or negotiation). (Id. at 49.) Sounds like integrative or win-win negotiations, doesn’t it? Carnegie notes: “The best way to motivate someone to do something for you is to show it would benefit them as well” (Id. at 49.) Isn’t this what integrative bargaining is all about; finding common ground so that everyone gains something from the discussion/negotiation?

Part two in the book discuss additional attributes of mediators. “Become genuinely interested in other people” (Chapter 1); “Smile” (Chapter 2); “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language” (Chapter 3); “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” (Chapter 4); “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests (Chapter 5) and make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.” (Chapter 6.) (Id. at 117.)

The succeeding chapters in Parts 3 and 4 discuss some basic concepts in handling disputes. Again, they reminded me very much of what a mediator does. For example, be positive in your criticism or at least start out on a positive note (Id. at 210-214.), never use the word ”but” (Id. at 215-217.), begin any discussion by what the parties agree on rather than what they disagree on (Id. at 157.), let the other person think the idea originated with her (Id. at 173-178.), admit your mistakes (Id. 141-7.), be friendly rather than confrontational (Id. at 149-155.), ask questions as a way to guide someone to the “correct” answer (i.e. Socratic method)(Id. at 157-163.), and let the other person save face.(Id. at 227-229.) And as important, remember that people are not logical, but rather emotional, biased, prejudiced, and filled with suspicion, fear, envy and pride. (Id. at 131.) Their self-esteem is being threatened. (Id. at 132.)

One of the courses I teach is online employment dispute mediation in which the students are taught the art and science of mediation. After reading this book, I am quite tempted to make this book required reading as in its own way, it is right on point!

… Just something to think about.


Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE

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