The classic book, How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie has stood the test of time because its insights have been proven to be true and very helpful. Whether you are preparing for an oral argument, a hearing, or a trial, you can benefit from Carnegie’s analysis of how you can persuade others. His tips are also applicable for dealing with clients.
Carnegie presents the fundamental techniques in dealing with people. At the outset of the book, he emphasizes that you should change yourself before trying to change others. He summarizes this lesson into Principle 1: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain about others. Although you might badly want to change others, “start with yourself. It is more profitable and less dangerous. When dealing with people, remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic, but emotions. People are full of prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.” Carnegie then quotes Dr. Johnson who said, “God himself does not propose to judge man until the end of his days” and adds, “Why should you and I?”
Carnegie then relates two anecdotes to support his principle. The first story involved an extremely ruthless and remorseless criminal named “Two Gun” Crowley. The police had surrounded this cop killer in his girlfriend’s apartment and Two Gun Crowley fired his gun as he was surrounded by 150 police who fired at him. As he was being fired upon, he wrote a note that said, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one¬–one that would do nobody any harm.” (p. 2) A few hours earlier he had killed an officer at a traffic stop without provocation.
The warden at Sing Sing said that few of the prisoners see themselves as bad me. Carnegie’s point is that “ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.” Consequently, “criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.” (5) The person you criticize will justify himself and condemn you in return. (8)
One of Lincoln’s favorite quotes was, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (9). The Battle of Gettysburg took place in early July 1963. After the battle, Lee’s retreat was impeded by the Potomac River which was swollen with rain. Lincoln ordered General Meade to attack. But Meade refused. The delay allowed for the river to subside and Lee to escape.
Lincoln wrote a letter to Meade. In part, it said that if he had attacked, it would have ended the war: “Your golden opportunity is gone.” (10). But Lincoln never sent the letter. Carnegie believes Lincoln thought better of it after he wrote it and did not want to second guess Meade.
Do you know someone you would like to change and regulate and improve? Good. But why not start with yourself. It is more profitable and less dangerous. When dealing with people, remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic, but emotions. People are full of prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity. (13)
Instead of condemning people, try and figure out why they do what they do. It is a lot more useful and intriguing. Dr. Johnson said, “God himself, sir, does not propose to judge man until the end of his days.’ Why should you and I?”
The point for trial lawyers is that the key to persuasion is to begin by not trying to change others but change yourself. Once you do that, you will be able to connect with others better. Once you are connected with them you can then try to persuade them.