7 Tips on How to Make Friends and Influence People–18th Century Version.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven tips for “pleasing in company,” from 1774.

I love reading lists of happiness tips from days of yore — for example, I loved Sydney Smith’s nineteen tips for cheering yourself up, from two hundred years ago.

Here’s another olde liste, from Lord Chesterfield, a British statesman and man of letters was very preoccupied with worldly success. In his Letters, he bombards his son with advice about how to succeed in society.

Samuel Johnson remarked that these letters “teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master” — not exactly a rousing endorsement. Nevertheless, I think Lord Chesterfield has some provocative insights. Here’s an assortment of his advice:

1. “Pleasing in company is the only way of being pleased in it yourself.” Agree, disagree?

2. “The very same thing may become either pleasing or offensive, by the manner of saying or doing it.”

3. “Even where you are sure, seem rather doubtful; represent, but do not pronounce, and if you would convince others, seem open to conviction yourself.” This is very, very hard for me. I’m a real know-it-all.

4. “You will easily discover every man’s prevailing vanity, by observing his favourite topic of conversation; for every man talks most of what he has most a mind to be thought to excel in.”

5. “The sure way to excel in any thing, is only to have a close and undissipated attention while you are about it; and then you need not be half the time that otherwise you must…

6. “Dress is a very foolish thing, and yet it is a very foolish thing for a man not to be well dressed.” As an under-buyer, I have to remind myself of this.

7. “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” I disagree here. As part of my resolution to “Enjoy the fun of failure,” I’ve taken up the motto, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” There’s merit to both approaches. Once again, it happens, the opposite of a great truth is also true.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with his advice?

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  • peninith1

    I understand that George Washington also made quite a collection of tips for how to behave in society. Would be interesting to see those as well. And yes, I too, have a lot of trouble with #3–I am often convinced I am right and not reluctant to say so in rather absolute terms! Oh dear!
    And ‘a thing worth doing is worth doing badly’ is pretty much one of my personal commandments!

    • Heidi

      So I have a question for you and for Gretchen – Do you think you are fairly good at convincing people (of whatever), in spite of being opinionated, which is the opposite of this advice? I can easily follow his advice, and I could argue either side of nearly any argument. I’m also rather indecisive. And I think I’m not at all good at convincing people, so my own experience does not support his viewpoint.

      • peninith1

        My experience is that people are deeply bonded to their opinions. Even factual evidence presented before their very eyes does not matter very much. The hotter the button, the more firm the conviction. It’s all very emotional. Our current ‘choose the news that confirms your beliefs’ media environment only intensifies this. Sometimes I state my opinion firmly just to make clear who I am. I don’t ever expect to convince anyone.

  • Keith

    I think it all sounds pretty fair to me. Doing a job well to my mind, means doing it to the best of your ability.
    Regards, Keith.

  • Adrianna

    I think this advice is about winning politically, not finding success in real life. It’s OK, just not where my OWN head is.

  • gwen

    Personally, I have trouble following #3, but it is probably wise to say little when you REALLY have an opposite opinion, in social situations. The quote on anything worth doing is worth doing well, I think of as motivation for TRYING to do things, even those I’m not good at, so I can stretch my abilities. I don’t beat myself up because I can’t do something perfectly the first time. I just try to enjoy the learning.

  • Lindsay Rice-Carleton

    I think that much of this advice still holds true today. Including #7. While I believe there is value in learning from your mistakes, there is also an “upside to quitting [things which you are not good at]”: http://freakonomics.com/2011/09/30/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-upside-of-quitting/.

  • peninith1

    Day 8–Regarding my 2 1-day project, oh my, I do recognize that over and over again the ball is being tossed back into my lap to deal with myself and not the other person. And you know, I know perfectly well this is how it truly IS and how I am supposed to deal with it–by dealing with myself, my perceptions, my reactions, my attitude. Well, I can tell you I’m trying, but having a moment of feeling much more like Eeyore than like Tigger! So, on with the day.

    • gretchenrubin

      I know—it is easier said than done!

  • crj

    #7, I think a wise person knows when its not worth their time to do a great job. Just get it done! ie: I used to sew Halloween costumes with patterns, zig zag seams… now we create them with glue, safety pins, and fast seams. Or sometimes projects my kids have can just be speedily finished. You don’t have to “do your best” with everything.

  • mohamad reza-ebrahimi

    Hello, you Jyh field

  • Celeste Holda Lux

    This was great, and #4 is spot on. Conversely, I’ve observed that you can get a good idea of a persons character if you listen to the things that concern them. If they are overly concerned with people taking from them or taking advantage of them for example, they have those tendencies themselves.

  • Molly NYC

    Not that anyone asked: Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his son (from which, I believe, these rules are taken) were his efforts to groom his boy (born, as they say, on the wrong side of the blanket) for the diplomatic service.

    If you are interested, not merely in making friends, but in flat-out social climbing, you can hardly do better than to read his advice, old though it is.