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How to Win Friends at Sea


There have been some very sad stories lately of seafarers being beaten, and of relationships breaking down at sea. There can be a pressure cooker atmosphere on some ships. So what can seafarers do to build relationships and make life at sea one of friendship and camaraderie? Let’s look at the 12 steps to making good things happen.


Way back in 1936, a man called Dale Carnegie published a book which has gone on to set all kinds of records and has even changed lives. “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, was one of the first best-selling self-help books ever published and has sold over 30 million copies world-wide.


Lack of communication at sea

It even went on to be named #19 on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books. This is a book which has shaped the way that millions of people try to get along in life. It has shaped their view of the people around them, and of their own personal self-image.

At sea today it can be hard to make friends, it can be hard to influence people and it can be really difficult to build the kinds of relationships that seafarers of the past probably took for granted.

Today the atmosphere on many ships is of quiet disconnection, just a group of people trying to get along while they wait to get home. It doesn’t have to be like that. Seafaring can still be about friends and the bonds made at sea – but what would Dale Carnegie say today?


When you walk up the gangway, there are chances to make improvement to the dynamic onboard your vessel, and to make your own trip more rewarding and even enjoyable.

These are the 12 steps to winning friends onboard and to influencing people…and the word “winning” is a key. This is a game of relationship chess, where your every move is so important. So to get mates you need to check mate…

  1. Avoid criticising, condemning, or complaining: “Any fool can criticise, condemn, and complain — and most fools do,” Carnegie writes. “But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” You need to rise above and avoid the trap of negative thinking. Yes some people may not always meet expectations, but learning to address this in a positive way will help to avoid conflict and resentment and may even encourage improvement.
  1. Praise others’ achievements: “Abilities wither under criticism; they blossom under encouragement,” Carnegie wrote. Be lavish with praise, but only in a genuine way, the wise man once said. “We all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it,” he said. “But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery.” Say nice things, but only when you really mean them!
  1. Be empathetic: Carnegie writes that “the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.” He refers to a quote by Henry Ford: “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.” Understanding what people are going through or feeling is a hugely powerful and compelling skill. It helps you to avoid trampling on feelings, or making situations worse. So spend time getting to know what makes others tick.
  1. Smile: The American steel magnate Charles M. Schwab once claimed his smile was worth a million bucks. Yours may not be quite as dazzling, but it is still powerful. Deploy when needed.
  1. Encourage people to talk about themselves: Most people loosen up even in tense situations if they start talking about what they know. Namely, themselves. Listening closely to someone “is one of the highest compliments we can pay anyone,” Carnegie writes. This is especially true at sea – people want to talk about their homes, loved ones, all the things they are working hard for. So allowing them to do so makes you a really valuable sounding board. Just by listening you become more important.
  1. Know when to use suggestions instead of direct orders: Carnegie learned that the industrialist Owen D. Young, rather than barking commands to his subordinates, would lead them along with suggestions (“You might consider this…”) or questions (“Do you think this would work?”). Ok, so when you want Full Ahead or hard to Port, then that is no time for people to be on a journey of management discovery. Away from such pressing operations, perhaps there is scope to give people the opportunity to do things themselves, to think and to learn.
  1. Acknowledge your own mistakes: The best leaders, Carnegie said, do not try to appear flawless. “Admitting one’s own mistakes — even when one hasn’t corrected them — can help convince somebody to change his behaviour,” Carnegie wrote. Letting people see that you are willing to try ideas and attempt things which may not always work is a really great way to open barriers, and shows that you know what others may be going through.
  1. Respect others’ dignity: People are inherently proud, so respect and understand that. Don’t belittle or shame, don’t shout or bully.
  1. Don’t try ‘winning’ an argument: Even if you manage to tear apart someone else’s argument, you don’t actually achieve anything. People like winners, except when it comes to arguments. If you’re looking to actually persuade somebody, avoid an argument in the first place.
  1. Be friendly, no matter how angry the other person may be: It is human nature to meet aggression with aggression. But if you take the high road and try to persuade someone while maintaining a smile and showing appreciation for their situation, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve. Kill them with kindness.
  1. Reach common ground as soon as possible: “Begin by emphasising — and keep on emphasising — the things on which you agree,” Carnegie writes. “Keep emphasising, if possible, that you are both striving for the same end and that your only difference is one of method and not of purpose.” Find the common ground between you, and make a camp on it.
  1. Get others to think your conclusion is their own: No one can be forced to truly believe something. That’s why the most persuasive people know the power of suggestions over demands. Plant a seed and when that’s blossomed, avoid the urge to take credit for it.

What do you think? Is it important to win friends and influence people onboard? What lessons have you learned about life at sea? Let us know what you think…we’d love to hear from you.