How to Win Friends…

NOTE: If you prefer listening to reading, listen now to our Reconnection Club Podcast audio adaptation of this article. It’s Episode #47: How to Win Back Your Estranged Adult Child.

Parents often ask me for practical tips on how to get through to adult children who estrange themselves.

I’m pleased to say that I recently discovered a new resource in an old classic.

You may have heard of Dale Carnegie’s 1930 best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People … but have you ever read it?

As easy as it may be to make fun of books like this, a recent reading of an updated version convinced me of something: There’s a reason it’s been a best-seller for the better part of 100 years.

The book might just as well be called How to Win Adult Children’s Hearts, and Influence Them Too. The tips in the book are solid.

Here are a few tips selected at random to whet your appetite, but I recommend reading (or re-reading) the entire book with your child in mind.

1. You can’t win an argument

Carnegie suggests that winning an argument can be a hollow victory. You may be right about the facts, but if you lose the other person’s goodwill, what have you really gained?

There’s value in maintaining connection, and sometimes you need to lose a few points in order to win the whole pot.

In Carnegie’s words, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”

2. Give honest and sincere appreciation

Even in our strongest relationships, we sometimes find ourselves craving the oft-neglected gift of appreciation.

Everybody wants to be appreciated, but that’s hard to come by. Providing this gift will make others flock to you.

Appreciation is expressed by noticing something good about someone, and offering genuine, specific, positive feedback about it.

E.g., “You are one of the most generous people I’ve ever met; I don’t know anyone who gives as much time to good causes as you do.”
This is different from saying, “You’re a nice person.”

Both are appreciative, but the first example is more specific and therefore comes across as not only sincere but valuable to the person receiving the feedback.

3. Talk about your own mistakes first

If you find yourself in a position where you have to criticize someone’s behavior, Carnegie suggests leading with your own shortcomings.

E.g., “You didn’t pay that bill on time, and lord knows I haven’t always been good at paying bills on time myself. It’s taken me years to get better at it.”

This minimizes their defenses because you’re admitting you’re imperfect, too.

Note: Avoid this tactic if your estranged child has ever accused you of “making everything about you.” Be extremely careful with references to yourself in this case. DO find someone you can talk to about yourself; we all need to be seen and heard.

Carnegie illustrates dozens of tidbits like the ones above. Some will be obvious, but others may provide “a-ha” moments that will take your relationship to another level.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is available wherever books are sold, and it’s recommended reading for parents of estranged adult children.

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