People think that How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a guidebook for manipulation, but they are gravely mistaken. If you read the book carefully, there’s a line there that says “I am not suggesting flattery. I’m talking about a new way of life.” That new way of life means understanding that “criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself”. He also says, “instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism and it breeds sympathy, tolerance, and kindness.”
In the book, The Virgin Way: Everything I Know about Leadership, it’s author Richard Branson, a serial entrepreneur who is the founder of the Virgin Group of companies, emphasized the importance of listening. He said that the reason why he’s successful is he listens to his employees and other people. It doesn’t mean he’ll follow everything they say, but he is open to hearing them and he values what they’ll say. Many innovations in their company were brought about by the suggestions of their ordinary employees as they are the ones who are there on the ground and who see the needs of their customers.
There was a time when I made this mistake. I asked someone about what he thought about a certain thing, and I didn’t like the answer. Then, I realized that I never asked the question to know what he thought; I asked the question because I wanted someone to approve of what I had already thought. Not a good thing, no.
When I was young, I couldn’t understand why people wrote allegories. I thought, if you wanted to talk about the Stalin era, why do you have to talk about pigs that are more equal than others? Then you grow up and realize, it’s because oppressive authorities who are on a witch hunt for dissenters are ready to take what you’ve said and use it as a tool to justify why you don’t have the right to speak.
Despite such suppression, people still find ways to tell their stories, and they discover it in creative crevices where they are free to be honest—in poems, in songs, and in fiction. If anyone complains, they can always defend themselves with Oh come on, I just invented that. That was just a figment of my imagination.