Monday, March 28, 2016

how to lose friends and annoy people

I just came across a reference, in a New Yorker review of "secrets of productivity" books, to Dale Carnegie's once-famous How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book I've never read, and judging from this I wouldn't want to. One of Carnegie's "Six Ways to Make People Like You" is "Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language."

To which the reviewer, Louis Menand, wryly appends, "I can tell you from experience that this is true only if you know how to pronounce it correctly."

But that's not the only error. There's also the more general case of not knowing what name a person goes by: people who go by other first names than the ones they're formally addressed by, people who always use nicknames despite being known by formal first names (e.g. Robert Silverberg), people who never use nicknames, people who use non-obvious nicknames, people who don't use obvious nicknames, etc. Plus the occasional person like me who defies Carnegie by not being very fond of his own name.

And, more broadly still, the general fact about any rule of social ingratiation: that if it doesn't come naturally, if you have to follow it as a rule, you'll almost certainly do it wrong. I can easily imagine someone reading Carnegie's rule and then following it eagerly, using other people's names so over-frequently or so clumsily as to be annoying or even creepy.

In fact, I don't have to imagine it. I shouldn't have to tell you where this comes from:
Dave. Stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave? Stop, Dave. I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave.
I have no doubt that Hal has read Dale Carnegie, or had something like it programmed into his ingratiation circuits, but Hal is wrong. Dave has firmly made up his mind, and rightly so, and isn't going to be dissuaded by any number of times of calling him Dave. (I'm reminded of our cat who would meow in the car all the way to the vet, trying out a wide variety of pitches in evident hope that eventually she'd hit on the one that would persuade us to turn around and take her home.) Actually, all that Hal has achieved by this pathetic pleading is to make himself sound even creepier than he already was.

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