Part One Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
1 “If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive”
On May 7, 1931, the most sensational manhunt New York City had ever known had come to its climax. After weeks of search, “Two Gun” Crowley—the killer, the gunman who didn’t smoke or drink—was at bay, trapped in his sweetheart’s apartment on West End Avenue.
One hundred and fifty police officers and detectives laid siege to his top-floor hideaway. They chopped holes in the roof; they tried to smoke out Crowley, the “cop killer,” with tear gas. Then they mounted their machine guns on surrounding buildings, and for more than an hour one of New York’s fine residential areas reverberated with the crack of pistol fire and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns. Crowley, crouching behind an overstuffed chair, fired incessantly at the police. Ten thousand excited people watched the battle. Nothing like it had ever before been seen on the sidewalks of New York.
When Crowley was captured, Police Commissioner E. P. Mulrooney declared that the two-gun desperado was one of the most dangerous criminals ever encountered in the history of New York. “He will kill,” said the Commissioner, “at the drop of a feather.”
But how did “Two Gun” Crowley regard himself? We know, because while the police were firing into his apartment, he wrote a letter addressed “To whom it may concern.” And as he wrote, the blood flowing from his wounds left a crimson trail on the paper. In his letter Crowley said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.”
A short time before this, Crowley and his girlfriend were parked in a car, necking on a country road out on Long Island. Suddenly a policeman walked up to the car and said: “Let me see your license.”
Without saying a word, Crowley drew his gun and cut the policeman down with a shower of lead. As the dying officer fell, Crowley leaped out of the car, grabbed the officer’s revolver, and fired another bullet into the prostrate body. And that was the killer who said: “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one—one that would do nobody any harm.”
Crowley was sentenced to the electric chair. When he arrived at the death house in Sing Sing, did he say, “This is what I get for killing people”? No, he said: “This is what I get for defending myself.”
The point of the story is this: “Two Gun” Crowley did not blame himself for anything.
Is that an unusual attitude among criminals? If you think so, listen to this:
“I have spent the best years of my life giving people the lighter pleasures, helping them have a good time, and all I get is abuse, the existence of a hunted man.”
That is Al Capone speaking. Yes, America’s most notorious Public Enemy—the most sinister gang leader who ever shot up Chicago. Capone did not condemn himself. He actually regarded himself as a public benefactor—an unappreciated and misunderstood public benefactor.
And so did Dutch Schultz before he crumpled up under gangster bullets in Newark. Schultz, one of New York’s most notorious criminals, said in a newspaper interview that he was a public benefactor. And he believed it.
I have had some interesting correspondence on this subject with Lewis Lawes, who was warden of New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison for many years, and he declared that “few of the criminals in Sing Sing regard themselves as bad men. They are just as human as you and I. So they rationalize, they explain. They can tell you why they had to crack a safe or be quick on the trigger finger. Most of them attempt by a form of reasoning, fallacious or logical, to justify their antisocial acts even to themselves, consequently stoutly maintaining that they should never have been imprisoned at all.”
If Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley, Dutch Schultz, and the desperate men and women behind prison walls don’t blame themselves for anything—what about the people with whom you and I come in contact?
John Wanamaker, founder of the stores that bear his name, once confessed: “I learned thirty years ago that it is foolish to scold. I have enough trouble overcoming my own limitations without fretting over the fact that God has not seen fit to distribute evenly the gift of intelligence.”
Wanamaker learned this lesson early, but I personally had to blunder through this old world for a third of a century before it even began to dawn upon me that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, people don’t criticize themselves for anything, no matter how wrong it may be.
Criticism is futile because it puts people on the defensive and usually makes them strive to justify themselves. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts their sense of importance, and arouses resentment.
B. F. Skinner, the world-famous psychologist, proved through his experiments that an animal rewarded for good behavior will learn much more rapidly and retain what it learns far more effectively than an animal punished for bad behavior. Later studies showed that the same applies to humans. By criticizing, we do not make lasting changes, and often incur resentment.
Hans Selye, another great psychologist, said, “As much as we thirst for approval, we dread condemnation.”
The resentment that criticism engenders can demoralize employees, family members, and friends, and still not correct the situation that has been condemned.
Remember: It’s honey you want—without the bee stings. George B. Johnston of Enid, Oklahoma, the safety coordinator for an engineering company, had to ensure, as one of his responsibilities, that employees wore their hard hats whenever they were on the job in the field. He reported that when he came across workers who were not wearing the hats, he would tell them, with the menace that comes with authority and the wagging finger of regulation, that they must comply. The result? He got a sullen acceptance, and heard that after he left, the workers would often remove the hats.
So he decided to try a different approach. The next time he found a small group of workers not wearing their hard hats, he asked if the hats were uncomfortable. Did they not fit properly? Then he reminded the men in a pleasant tone of voice that the hat was designed to protect them from injury and suggested that it always be worn on the job. The result was increased compliance with the regulation, and free of resentment or emotional upset.
You will find examples of the futility of criticism bristling on a thousand pages of history. Take, for example, the famous quarrel between Theodore Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft—a quarrel that split the Republican Party, put Woodrow Wilson in the White House, and wrote bold, luminous lines across the First World War and altered the flow of history. Let’s review the facts quickly. When Roosevelt stepped out of the White House in 1908, he supported Taft, who was elected President. Then Roosevelt went off to Africa. When he returned, he exploded. He denounced Taft for his conservatism, tried to secure the nomination himself for a third term, formed the Bull Moose Party, and all but demolished the G.O.P. In the election that followed, William Howard Taft and the Republican Party carried only two states—Vermont and Utah. It was the most disastrous defeat the party had ever known.
Roosevelt blamed Taft, but did President Taft blame himself? Of course not. With tears in his eyes, Taft said: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
Who was to blame? Roosevelt or Taft? Frankly, I don’t know, and I don’t care. The point I am trying to make is that all of Roosevelt’s criticism didn’t persuade Taft that he was wrong. It merely made Taft strive to justify himself and to reiterate, with tears in his eyes: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
Or take the Teapot Dome oil scandal. It kept the newspapers ringing with indignation in the early 1920s. It rocked the nation! Nothing like it had ever happened before in American public life. Here are the bare facts of the scandal: Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior in President Warren G. Harding’s cabinet, was entrusted with the leasing of government oil reserves at Elk Hills, in California, and Teapot Dome, in Wyoming—oil reserves that had been set aside for the future use by the Navy. Did Secretary Fall permit competitive bidding? No, sir. He handed the fat, juicy contract outright to his friend Edward L. Doheny. And what did Doheny do? He gave Secretary Fall what he was pleased to call a “loan” of one hundred thousand dollars. Then, in a high-handed manner, Secretary Fall ordered United States Marines into the district to drive off competitors whose adjacent wells were sapping oil out of the Elk Hill reserves. These competitors, driven off their ground at the ends of guns and bayonets, rushed into court—and blew the lid off of the Teapot Dome scandal. A stench arose so vile that it ruined the Harding administration, nauseated an entire nation, threatened to wreck the Republican Party (again), and put Albert B. Fall behind prison bars.
Fall was condemned viciously—condemned as few in public life have ever been. Did he repent? Never! Years later Herbert Hoover intimated in a public speech that President Harding’s death had been due to mental anxiety and worry because a friend had betrayed him. When Mrs. Fall heard that, she sprang from her chair, she wept, she shook her fists at fate and screamed: “What! Harding betrayed by Fall? No! My husband never betrayed anyone. A whole house full of gold would not tempt my husband to do wrong. He is the one who has been betrayed and led to the slaughter and crucified.” Mrs. Fall may have been deluded in believing her husband’s innocence but one thing is clear: She would have defended him to the death!
There you are; human nature in action, wrongdoers blaming everybody but themselves. We are all like that. So when you and I are tempted to criticize someone tomorrow, let’s remember Al Capone, “Two Gun” Crowley, and Albert Fall. Let’s realize that criticisms are like homing pigeons. They always return home. Let’s realize that the person we are going to correct and condemn will probably justify themselves, and condemn us in return; or, like the gentle Taft, will say: “I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
On the morning of April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln lay dying in a hall bedroom of a cheap lodging house directly across the street from Ford’s Theater, where John Wilkes Booth had shot him. Lincoln’s long body lay stretched diagonally across a sagging bed that was too short for him. A cheap reproduction of Rosa Bonheur’s famous painting The Horse Fair hung above the bed, and a dismal gas jet flickered yellow light.
As Lincoln lay dying, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton said, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever seen.”
What was the secret of Lincoln’s success in dealing with people? I studied the life of Abraham Lincoln for ten years and devoted all of three years to writing and rewriting a book entitled Lincoln the Unknown. I believe I have made as detailed and exhaustive a study of Lincoln’s personality and home life as it is possible for any being to make. I made a special study of Lincoln’s method of dealing with people. Did he indulge in criticism? Oh, yes. As a young man in the Pigeon Creek Valley of Indiana, he not only criticized but he wrote letters and poems ridiculing people and dropped these letters on the country roads where they were sure to be found.
Even after Lincoln had become a practicing lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he attacked his opponents openly in letters published in the newspapers. But he did this just once too often.
In the autumn of 1842 he ridiculed a vain, pugnacious politician by the name of James Shields. Lincoln lampooned him through an anonymous letter published in the Springfield Journal. The town roared with laughter. Shields, sensitive and proud, boiled with indignation. He found out who wrote the letter, leaped on his horse, started after Lincoln, and challenged him to fight a duel. Lincoln did not want to fight. He was opposed to dueling, but he couldn’t get out of it and save his honor. He was given the choice of weapons. Since he had very long arms, he chose cavalry broadswords and took lessons in sword fighting from a West Point graduate. On the appointed day, he and Shields met on a sandbar in the Mississippi River, prepared to fight to the death, but at the last minute their seconds interrupted and stopped the duel.
That was the most lurid personal incident in Lincoln’s life. It taught him an invaluable lesson in the art of dealing with people. Never again did he write an insulting letter. Never again did he ridicule anyone. And from that time on, he almost never criticized anybody for anything.
Time after time, during the Civil War, Lincoln put a new general at the head of the Army of the Potomac, and each one in turn—McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Meade—blundered tragically and drove Lincoln to pacing the floor in despair. Half the nation savagely condemned these incompetent generals, but Lincoln, “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” held his peace. One of his favorite quotations was “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
And when Mrs. Lincoln and others spoke harshly of the Southern people, Lincoln replied: “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”
Yet if any man ever had occasion to criticize, surely it was Lincoln. Let’s take just one illustration:
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought during the first three days of July 1863. During the night of July 4, American Confederate General Robert E. Lee began to retreat southward while storm clouds deluged the country with rain. When Lee reached the Potomac with his defeated army, he found a swollen, impassable river in front of him, and a victorious Union Army behind him. Lee was in a trap. He couldn’t escape. Lincoln saw that. Here was a golden, heaven-sent opportunity—the opportunity to capture Lee’s army and end the war immediately. So, with a surge of high hope, Lincoln ordered Mea...