Lessons on Dating from ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’

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htwfaipExperts say (and rightly so) that we’re all getting lazy when it comes to communication. With the abundance of digital tools at our fingertips, the art of getting to know someone in “real time” is getting lost. The good news: you can use this newfound social awkwardness to your advantage, by becoming one of the few people who truly gets what people want (when they aren’t checking Gmail or Facebook). The nine principles I am about to share with you will make you more approachable, likable, and will always leave a great first date impression.

And who better to teach us what people want than Dale Carnegie, whose classic How to Win Friends & Influence People has sold over 50 million copies in 38 languages. While it may have come out 75 years ago, it’s still completely relevant for one reason: human needs (unlike our means of communication) have stayed exactly the same. We relate to those who understand how to relate to us. We prefer positive personalities to negative. We understand the difference between smoke being blown up our butts and an honest, heartfelt compliment. Here are 9 lessons from the Tao of Carnegie that will serve you well on any date — and none of them involve typing.

1. Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain about Your Ex’s
Criticizing other people, including (especially) your ex, is not only damaging to your date’s self-image, but also puts a dent in your own. “Any fool can criticize, condemn, or complain—And most fools do,” Carnegie says. “But it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving [of that jerk who dumped you].”

2. Offer Honest and Sincere Appreciation
Carnegie recommends, “leaving a friendly trail of little sparks of gratitude on your daily trips,” and the same could be said about every first date. Always say thank you for a sincere comment, or a fun evening. Even more importantly, show genuine appreciation to others during your date (such as the waiter or waitress), since this will demonstrate your kindness on a larger scale.

3. Arouse in Your Date an “Eager Want”
Nope, this isn’t referring to sex, but rather to providing your date with a reason to to get to know you better. Carnegie would say the best way to do this is to give every person you interact with something of value. Instead of bragging about yourself, ask questions — find out what your date is looking for in a mate, or just what’s interesting to him or her. Granted, don’t use this information to become somebody you aren’t (though consider that we all have to compromise a little to fit a relationship). Rather, this is your opportunity to discover what your date’s looking for, and then demonstrate how you can give it to them.

4. Become Genuinely Interested in the People You Want to Date
Carnegie would definitely lay down this truth: you will get more dates by becoming interested in the other people than by trying to get those people interested in you. Don’t think of asking for a date as something only for your own benefit (sex, companionship, etc.). Instead, demonstrate a genuine interest in WHO somebody IS, and that will pay a long way towards positioning yourself for a “yes” once you do get around to asking them out.

5. Smile
A lot of attention goes into your clothes, hair, and makeup during a first date. But there’s something more important. Research shows that a smile can instantly make anyone more likable and attractive. As Carnegie would say, “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back.”

6. Your Date’s Name is the Sweetest and Most Important Sound (and Sight)
“The average person is more interested in his or her own name than all other names on earth put together,” advises Carnegie. While this tip is generally used in business meetings, there’s some gold here, especially when it comes to digital communication. When you include someone’s name in an e-mail or text message, you pay them a compliment. Though remember, if you misspell it (or any other word, for that matter), you’ll negate all the good that was intended.

7. Be a Good Listener
One of the most common complaint among first dates (or any dates) is that one person does all the talking. If you’re the one talking, shut up, take a breath, and ask a few questions. If you’re always the one listening, speak up! You’ll create a better first date experience if you take turns. It’s normal to want to list your credentials, to show why you’re deserving of your date’s company. BUT don’t forget this key truth: in order to impress anyone, first you have to know what impresses them. Your GPA in college may impress, or it may not.

8. Talk in Terms of Your Date’s Interests
In order to grasp someone else’s interests, it helps to know what they are. The late President Roosevelt used to sit up the night before receiving a guest, and read up on any topics he thought they might enjoy discussing together. You can do the same. NOT by Googling him or her for hours before the date (though that’s fine too) but rather by asking questions during the initial introduction, or the earliest part of the date. Then, if there’s a next time, research a few of his or her favorite things, so you’ll have a better sense of how to capture their attention and start a great conversation. NOTE: This is NOT to say “pretend to like everything they like.” Rather, it’s a generous way of getting into someone else’s world via the things they love.

9. Make Your Date Feel Important, and Do It Sincerely
This is particularly effective if you find yourself butting heads with a date. If you get mired in a disagreement on politics, sports teams, whether Prometheus was a terrible movie, etc., accept their opinion respectfully, and politely move onto a new topic. Remember, people don’t need to agree on everything to have a great relationship. Plus, by acknowledging their ideas as valid, whether you agree with them or not, you show that you respect them, and that you can deal with someone else having a point of view that differs from your own.

Remember, you can’t force other people to be the way you want them to be, or to want to go out with you again. But you can influence their thinking, and in the process, develop some good habits for yourself.

Eric Leech writes at on gear, cars, careers, fitness, dating, and how to be a better man.