Study debunks Dale Carnegie advice to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’

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Study debunks Dale Carnegie advice to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’

Contrary to what is often thought, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t an accurate way to determine what they’re thinking or feeling, conclude the researchers behind the new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.   

What the researchers say: “We incorrectly presume that taking someone else’s perspective will help us understand and improve interpersonal relationships,” they say. “If you want an accurate understanding of what someone is thinking or feeling, don’t make assumptions, just ask.” Yes, yes, and yes again!   The researchers debunk the theories canonized in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People that assuming you understand someone else’s thoughts, feelings, attitude, or mental state is a correct approach to interpersonal insight. On the contrary, as we say, “never assume.”   The study included an exhaustive series of 25 experiments designed to separate accuracy from egotism. 

The researchers asked participants to adopt another person’s perspective and predict their emotions based on facial expressions and body postures, identify fake versus genuine smiles, spot when someone is lying or telling the truth, and even predict a spouse’s activity preferences and consumer attitudes.   “Initially a large majority of participants believed that taking someone else’s perspective would help them achieve more accurate interpersonal insight,” the researchers said. “However, test results showed that their predictive assumptions were not generally accurate, although it did make them feel more confident about their judgment and reduced egocentric biases.”   

Ultimately, the researchers confirmed gaining perspective directly through conversation is the most accurate approach.   

So, what? Nice to have confirmed experimentally what we surmised through observation and prior neurogenetic studies of human behavior. The most powerful dialogue tools we have—and the only way of accurately gauging what people are thinking or feeling—is skilled questioning and really mindful listening. Listening is about using your curiosity to hone in on the words that people use and then use them to frame questions that get below the surface of what they’re saying.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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