Dale Carnegie (1888-1955) was a pioneer in self-improvement, and became famous for courses he developed that emphasized public speaking and interpersonal skills. He was the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1937, which has sold over 10 million copies through many editions and remains popular today. He also wrote a biography of Abraham Lincoln titled Lincoln the Unknown and several other books.
Carnegie was an early proponent of what is now called responsibility assumption. One of the core ideas in his books is that it is possible to change other people's behavior by changing one's reaction to them.
The Dale Carnegie Course
The Dale Carnegie Course is a self-improvement program conducted using a standardized curriculum by franchised trainers throughout the world. Several variations on the course exist, including a sales course and a course intended for people about to become managers for the first time.
The basic course consists of twelve evening sessions lasting three hours each. Courses are scheduled in the evening, one night per week. Typically there are 10-30 attendees in a course. Unpaid assistants, who are "graduates" of the course seeking to meet the experience requirement for becoming an instructor, are on hand to assist with logistics and work with small groups.
Instructors are college graduates who have experience working as managers in a business setting.
A good deal of the time each evening is spent in short presentations given by each of the participant to the rest of the attendees. Though the format varies slightly from week to week, usually about half of the available time is spent on presentations. Presentations are always based on personal experience rather than a topic that has been researched. This is a unique aspect of the Dale Carnegie Course that sets it apart from otherwise similar programs, and it is a core belief of the program that ease and experience with public speaking produces a wide range of secondary benefits.
The remainder of each session is spent in lecture and small group exercises. Lecture topics cover memory techniques, the importance of learning names, conversational techniques, and problem resolution and small group skills.
The Dale Carnegie Course enjoys a positive reputation among many business people and, particularly, is seen as a powerful transitional tool for shy people unaccustomed to working with others. Many employers pay for their employees to take the course.
Criticisms of the Course
Most people who take the course have good things to say about it.
Common criticisms are in three major areas. First, a great deal of time is spent listening to speeches given by other participants, particularly in classes with larger numbers of participants. Some critics state that this time is not well spent.
Second, there is criticism that some techniques taught are manipulative. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand included a lengthy subplot where one character feigns an interest in the hobby of another in an effort to become a partner in an architectural firm. This is a direct attack on Carnegie's techniques. The course teaches that students should "take a genuine interest in other people" (emphasis added), though some present-day critics consider this a band-aid for a fundamentally manipulative activity.
Finally, critics of responsibility assumption attack that aspect of the program.