I have a bone to pick with Dale Carnegie.
He states that in order to “to win friends and influence people” you should “talk about your own mistakes first.” He provides several examples, stating “Admitting one’s own mistakes–even when one hasn’t corrected them–can help convince somebody to change his behavior.” Carnegie suggests humility, then praise, then criticism. For example: “I’m not nearly as capable of the work as you are, John, and that’s why I’m surprised you performed so poorly.”
While I’d taken the 12-week Dale Carnegie course in 1997 and served as a Graduate Assistant for other classes, I’d forgotten this particular rule. My memory was refreshed by a participant in a workshop I led last week at Catherine Place. We were in the midst of a lengthy discussion about disclaimers (i.e. prefacing a statement with “I don’t know about this, but…” or “It’s just my opinion…”), when someone mentioned the Carnegie advice.
My position–and that of many others I know–is that disclaimers put the person speaking in a position of weakness. It’s like saying “I don’t trust what I know or think. Whatever I say after this could be wrong, and I don’t take total responsibility for it. I’m not confident. I don’t want you to secretly think I’m an idiot, so I’ll call myself that out loud, and it relieves the pressure of having to be right.”
In some situations, a person with a strong opinion or personality might use the disclaimer as Carnegie suggests: to soften criticism, or to put the speaker on a more even playing field with someone else. So, it’s not that he’s totally wrong; he simply shares an idea that if not thoughtfully applied can lead to habitual disclaimers that diminish the speaker and what’s being shared.
Disclaimers can seem charming or humble. They are, however, rarely necessary. The same charm can be applied through tone of voice or by asking “what do you think?” after making a statement.
This week, pay special attention to disclaimers and self-deprecating remarks and humor. Resolve to eliminate disclaimers; Reclaim and trust your truth.
Where are you thinking or speaking small? What do you say when you aren’t sure about something? How can you share that you’re not sure while still respecting your knowledge and experience?