Thirty years ago, someone gave me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. I read it dutifully along with many other books recommended to help me build a successful career in sales.

I’ve read many self-help and career guides since then, but I never bothered to crack Dale Carnegie’s book again. It sat on my bookshelves for a long time. Without a second thought, I recently sold it to Half Price Books in one of my minimalistic fits. Unconsciously, I lumped it into a category of books that were probably more quaint than relevant. A few months ago, I discovered the error in my thinking.

It’s certainly true that the principles in How to Win Friends are old. Dale Carnegie began teaching them in the early 1900s after leaving his Missouri home and making his way to New York, where he founded the company that still bears his name. Over a lifetime, Carnegie authored several books and was a respected counselor to leaders of all stripes. 

In February, I was reintroduced to Dale Carnegie through the Tampa Bay franchise, one of the company’s top-performing offices globally, owned by Rick Gallegos. I sponsored a meeting by the Tampa chapter of the American Marketing Association, where Dale Carnegie’s vice president of marketing was our speaker. Michelle Bonterre shared how the company is overcoming perceptions such as mine. They have repositioned their once vintage brand as a vibrant resource for cultivating soft skills that are still vital for people who want to become their very best. Check out this video and learn how Bonterre and her team updated the 105-year-old Dale Carnegie brand. 

Here’s what I learned at a free Dale Carnegie workshop prior to the February AMA meeting.

At first blush, I doubted How to Coach Your Employees to High Performance would have much relevance for me since I don’t have employees. Wrong again.

The workshop’s careful exploration of coaching and feedback helped me see that I could use Dale Carnegie’s time-tested principles to improve relationships with my customers and subcontractors. I was surprised to learn how well they work at home and in personal relationships, too.

It’s human nature to determine the expected performance level in any role and settle in there—even when we are capable of much more. It’s called the Law of Restricted Performance, and it can be disrupted with a few surprisingly simple practices. To illustrate the point, I’m sharing an example of how a married couple could use these ideas to avoid drifting apart because they aren’t spending enough time on casual communication.

Building rapport. Express appreciation for positive behaviors. Example: “I love the fact that you read in such a disciplined way and that you save things for me to read around my interests. I like to read, and I know it sometimes subtracts time from our relationship.”

Relating to the situation—not the person. De-personalize the problem. Emphasize values and listen for pushback. Example: “Making time to talk without distractions is important to our relationship. It’s easy to fall into a habit of going our own separate ways and pursuing our own interests. We could easily neglect or damage our relationship if we aren’t more conscious about spending quality time with each other.”

Restoring performance. Explore ways to restore good relations or performance. Example: “What do you think we can we do to make sure we are both nurturing our relationship the way we should?”

Reassuring the person whose performance is lacking. Let the person you’re coaching know that you are committed to their success, growth and well-being. Example: “You are the most important person in the world to me. I want to do everything I can to keep our relationship healthy. Let’s check in with each other in a week or so and see how we both feel about the balance of effort and time we’re contributing.”

Too often, at work or at home, separations occur without adequate effort to find a person’s strengths, interests and goals. Imagine the jobs and marriages that could be saved using these winning ideas.

I’m also keen to master Principle #4 from Dale Carnegie’s Golden Book: Become genuinely interested in other people. Want to be unique? Don’t conform to a culture that increasingly encourages us to put ourselves at the center of the world, document our every move, panhandle our lives and measure ourselves by the number of “likes” we get. 

One of the most cherished people of my life was Sherry Bolen, a woman whose curiosity and concern for other people was her trademark, or in today’s term’s “her personal brand.” She is gone from this life now, but how well I remember what it was like to be in the presence of someone who took such a heartfelt interest in me. What a worthwhile legacy—one worth striving for.

Have you read Dale Carnegie’s work or taken a class recently? What’s your favorite success tip?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.