How to Win Friends and Influence People

A strange thing happened recently…

Having lived on our street for 2 years and met no-one, we suddenly made friends with three of our near neighbours in a week.

We were invited to a house party, and the street Christmas get-together, almost out of the blue.

How did we get so popular?

We have a small front yard and I’m ashamed to admit that until recently it was a disgrace.

We had a world class collection of dandelions and other weeds, two grotty old dustbins overflowing with rubbish and rotting old leaves strewn around.

Given the state of this, passers-by took this as an invitation to throw in their rubbish and bags of dog-doings.

Even the local foxes chose our garden to do their business.

You get the picture.

Time to Clean Up our Act

In November, we finally did something about it.

Picked out the weeds, cleared away the rubbish, painted the wall, put in some shiny new dustbins.

Shiny New Window Box

We even got ourselves a sparkling new window-box with lovely heathers and cyclomen.

Within a week, all our close neighbours stopped to introduce themselves to us – and to their parties.

We no longer get a shred of rubbish thrown in.

Even the foxes have abated (for now).

The Broken Window Theory

Our change in popularity seems attributable to the Broken Window theory.

This well documented phenomena is often cited as one of the key ways that Rudolph Guiliani helped to transform New York in the 1990s.

The theory is that the way an area is maintained affects how people treat it.

If you allow mess, damage and graffiti, people will take that as a green light to join in with the abuse.

If you keep somewhere spotless and well maintained, people are more likely to respect the space.

Our neighbours had clearly noticed our mess and made up their minds about us.

Lo and behold!

Yet within a week, they changed their mind.

Funnily, a week later, the houses on both sides both had new windowboxes of a very similar design (see photos).

The ultimate seal of approval!

Your own broken window effect

This episode reminded me that each of us creates our own broken window effect every day.

The way you carry yourself and  the attitude you choose influence how people treat you.

The scary thing is how quickly we are judged.

The great news is how quickly things can change.

To win friends and influence people, take a minute to think about these questions:

What message are you sending to the world right now?

What attitude would you like to project to the world?

How would you like others to think about you?

What can you do differently to change how you show up?

It’s fun to revamp your personal front garden and you’ll see a real difference in the way the world responds to you.

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Photo credit - Nina Matthews Photography (Flickr Creative Commons)

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  1. Phil
    December 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen the broken window effect in action?
    How do you win friends and influence people?
    Please share!

  2. December 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Phil, this is such a great and inspirational post. I was struck by an article on some organization/zen blog that stated, “The ultimate act of self respect is making your bed.” You are so right! In my self-development journey, I’ve been more and more attuned to my desire to increase self respect in my actions and attitudes. The more I work on that, the more I have to offer to those around me, and the more I get, through the Law of Indirect Effort.
    Steve-Personal Success Factors recently posted..Check Out This Goal Setting Template For 2011

  3. JimF
    December 7, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but… Well done for cleaning the yard Phil.

    But your broken window theory isn’t that sound. Freakonomics memorably took it apart:
    In the best-seller Freakonomics, economist Steven D. Levitt and co-author Stephen J. Dubner both confirms and casts doubt on the notion that the Broken Windows theory was responsible for New York’s drop in crime. Levitt noticed that years before the 1990s, abortion was legalized. Women who were least able to raise kids (the poor, drug addicted and unstable) were able to get abortions, so the number of children being born in broken families was decreasing. Most crimes committed in New York are committed by 16-24 year old males; when this demographic decreased in number the crime rate followed. At the same time, Levitt also found that the greater number of police as well an increased incarceration rate had contributed to the decline in crime. Levitt’s book is based on published scientific studies that have been subject to peer-review.

    You’re right about presentation of course. Judgements are formed scarily quickly so it’s worth considering someone else’s perspective of you.

    Right now the rest of your readers will be thinking I’m more than a little argumentative.

    And they’d be right…

  4. Phil
    December 7, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Steve – thanks for the kind words and glad you enjoyed the post.

    Jim – thanks for being argumentative. It is good to have some debate on here. The broken window theory is very controversial and there is science in both directions regarding it’s impact. For me, there is a degree of common sense that can apply here. The environment around us does have an impact on the way we behave. I know in this case that the critical factor was getting dustbins with lids on – before that point people used our bins to dispose of their rubbish. Now they have to make an effort to do so. As for the foxes, who knows – maybe they like window boxes. Still think it’s funny that our neighbours are suddenly wanting to be best friends and copying our moves (we just put up a wreath on our door and now they have one).

    I’ve read Freakonomics which likes to look at social phenomena from a fresh angle. I am a massive pragmatist when it comes to explaining why things happen and always think it is naive to just isolate one factor as the sole driver. Society is way too complex for that. Levitt and Dubner have identified other reasons for the changes in New York and I think they are valid. However I think it is difficult to say that some things definitively didn’t contribute including the broken window effect. Again, common sense but I know people respond differently to environments and also to ourselves as individuals depending on presentation. Fair to raise it though.

    If you’re interested here is another pop psychologist, El Gladwell on epidemics, New York crime and broken windows –

    Oh and keep being controversial!

  5. December 11, 2010 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Good stuff. So many things come down to setting the stage and the example you want to see.
    J.D. Meier recently posted..Insightful Personal Development Books

  6. December 20, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Excellent post Phil, great counterpoint Jim. Phil, I have to concur with your response to Jim’s post – there’s likely not a single factor that contributes to changes (Broken Window or the Freakonomics), rather a combination of things.

    I’d offer to blur the lines even more with the Pygmalion effect or, self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps the Pygmalion effect has been externalized, to some extent in these examples?

    Reality can be influenced by expectations. Your overt actions of cleaning up your area set expectations for others that it is to be kept clean as well.
    Nick Liberati recently posted..Moving Right Along

  7. Phil
    December 22, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Nick – thanks for stepping in as referee. i like the pygmalion effect too. I really think the broken window effect is a subset of the cause / effect relationship you outline. Pleased to report that the front garden is still litter free despite the snow!

  8. May 20, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Great insights. Truly if we want to win and influence people we have to clean our act. As Confucius said, “Don’t complain about the snow on your neighbor’s roof,when your own doorstep is unclean.”


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