The Need to Feel Important

I’ve had the opportunity lately to revisit an old friend, the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. If you haven’t read it, put it at the top of your list. If you have, pull it off the shelf and refresh your memory. If you’re at all interested in getting along well with others, this book will tell you precisely how to do so.

I was struck by how often Carnegie discusses people’s need for importance. He quotes many wise minds including Dr. John Dewey who said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.”

important / adj / 1: marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence: valuable in content or relationship 2: giving evidence of a feeling of self-importance

Whenever I read something that strikes a chord of truth within me, I begin to wonder how it relates to the Law of Attraction which says, “You get what you focus on.”

If an individual feels important, she will naturally attract others who agree. The more people surrounding her who agree, the more important she feels. This leads to enhanced self-esteem, generated both internally and externally.

On the other hand, when an individual feels unimportant, he also attracts others who agree. His desire to feel important becomes increasingly urgent as he notices that people are treating him as unimportant. The more he focuses on being treated poorly, the stronger his urge for importance. This often turns into frustration and eventually anger. The more he demands to be treated as important, the less people listen to him. It is a demonstration of the worst possible consequences of the Law of Attraction.

So how do we make sure that our need to feel important is met? Ironically, it’s by treating others as important.

When I was in the 9th grade, I was jealous of my older brother Dennis who, in my eyes, was favored by my parents. In an effort to win their attention, I looked for ways I could emulate Dennis who was so popular that he was elected Student Body President. I wondered how I could be elected to a position of importance in my own class. I read Carnegie’s book and realized that people feel important when you call them by name. I decided to memorize and always greet by name each of my 220 classmates. That year I was elected to Student Council. I had learned a valuable lesson about people’s need to feel important. And guess what? As a result of reaching out to make others feel important, I began to feel important myself. It’s a demonstration of the best possible consequences of the Law of Attraction.

If you want to know who doesn’t feel important, look for those around you who are the most cynical or negative. People become that way because of a lack of feeling important; as if what they think or do does not matter to anyone. The more you reach out to those people with respect, the more you will see them transform.

Most of us have heard of the experiment in which researchers proved the power of suggestion in making someone feel ill. By having people intermittently walk up to the subject and say some version of, “Bill, are you feeling okay? You don’t look so good,” they found that Bill eventually started to complain about feeling sick, even though he was perfectly fine before the experiment began.

So it is with the suggestion of importance. Try your own experiment. Over a period of time, repeatedly greet your office-mate Sarah (for example) by name and say some version of, “I’m glad to see you.” Then begin to ask her opinion by saying, “You always have such good insights.” When the time is right, mention to someone else within Sarah’s earshot, “You know I like to run things by Sarah and get her input.” You will be able to see Sarah transform before your very eyes.

It worked on me as follows: I remember how important I felt the day I overheard my mother say to my father, “You know, I wish Dennis could be more like Silver. She always picks up after herself.” Now that I’m somewhat wiser, I’m pretty sure mom knew I was eavesdropping because, after hearing her say that, I made it a point to pick up around the house as often as possible. The more I think about it, the more I realize that mom was just a real smart manager who understood my need to feel important, especially more important than Dennis! (Good heavens, do we ever get over this childhood stuff?!?)

Download a PDF of
this column