How To Make Friends And Influence People: Fargo Edition

Recently I was introduced to the movie Fargo, which I had avoided because of the hype around the NetFlix series, but I’m glad I finally watched.

It’s one of those films where the theme, the characters, the story and the pacing all just fit together perfectly. No point in the movie feels like fluff or filler, every scene adds something to the whole, whether it be character building or creating atmosphere.

I’d also just started reading Dale Carnegie’s, “How To Win Friends And Influence People” when I watched Fargo the first time. When I re-watched Fargo, I had finished the book and noticed something; Marge Gunderson, the protagonist, was an excellent example of how the principles from Dale Carnegie’s book would be applied in real life (even though it’s fiction).

Some people might consider the following examples as spoilers, so I’m warning you now that I am going to be referencing some key points from the movie.

When You Know Someone Is Wrong


In an early scene, another officer, Lou, is describing what he’s done so far to locate the vehicle that was involved in the crime they’re investigating. Marge sees an error in his logic and calls it out, but the wording she uses makes it easy for the other officer to take on board:

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your police work there, Lou

At this point, Lou already had other officers looking for the vehicle based on what his thoughts were. Marge doesn’t focus on him wasting time or effort, she just suggests a correction to the conclusion he arrived at. He does show some disappointment as he realises she’s right, but he doesn’t show any resentment for his mistake being pointed out.

After this, Marge also tells him a pretty lame joke to get his mind off it, thereby keeping the whole scene light-hearted. This is a great way to confront people about things without them feeling picked on or belittled.

Being Patient And A Good Listener

In another scene, Marge is questioning two hookers about the suspects:

Marge: Is there anything else you can tell me about him?
Hooker #1: No. Like I say, he was funny lookin’. More n’ most people even.
Marge: And what about the other fella?
Hooker #2: He was a little older. You know, looked like the Marlboro man.
Marge: Oh yah?
Hooker #2: Yah. But maybe I’m sayin’ that, you know, cause he smoked Marlboros.
Marge: Uh-huh.
Hooker #2: You know, like a subconscious-type thing.
Marge: Yah, that can happen.
Hooker #2: Yah.
Hooker #1: They said they were goin’ to the Twin Cities?
Marge: Oh, yah?
Hooker #2: Yah!
Hooker #1: Yah. Is that useful to ya?
Marge: Oh, you betchya, yah

When the scene opens, Marge is talking to the girls about where they met and where they’re from. She keeps the conversation friendly and open, even when they aren’t giving particularly useful answers, until she finally hits on a useful piece of information which is learning about them heading to Twin Cities.

This shows that when you make some effort to let other people speak and keep encouraging them to carry on, even when their answers don’t seem useful at first, being patient and paying attention to what they’re saying can really pay off.


Not Calling People Liars

Marge goes to question a lead on the case, Shep Proudfoot, but he isn’t really cooperating with her. She builds up her case by giving examples of what she already knows and confirming that he is the only one who could have received the call. After he still doesn’t seem to remember the call, Marge offers up what she knows about Shep, including his being on parole.

Marge: Well, associating with criminals, if you’re the one they talked to, that right there would be a violation of your parole and would end with you back in Stillwater.
Shep: Uh-huh.
Marge: Now, I saw some rough stuff on your priors, but nothing in the nature of a homicide… I know you don’t want to be an accessory to something like that.
Shep: Nope.
Marge: So you think you might remember who those folks were who called ya?

She doesn’t call him out directly, because she knows he doesn’t want to talk, instead she gives him multiple opportunities to “remember” what happened.

The way she engages him isn’t accusatory; she plays along with the idea that he doesn’t remember the call at all and just goes through why he should remember. By playing along, she doesn’t give him room to be defensive, but is still able to get her points across.

Letting People Save Face

marge_radissonWhen Marge meets an old friend, Mike Yanagita, for dinner, he doesn’t seem to understand personal boundaries. Shortly after hugging her a little over-enthusiastically, he tries to slide in to the seat beside her.

Marge: No I – Mike – why don’t ya sit over there, I’d prefer that.
Mike: Huh? Oh, okay, I’m sorry.
Marge: No, just so I can see ya, ya know. Don’t have to turn my neck. (turns head side to side)

Even though Mike was clearly making her uncomfortable, he either misread the signs as nervousness or ignored them and overstepped the boundaries. Marge could have told him off and made him feel bad, but that doesn’t fit in with her character, so instead she gave a reasonable explanation for him to sit across from her that allowed him to save face. By doing this and moving the conversation away from his indiscretion, she is able to avoid a potential scene in the restaurant that could have caused them both embarrassment.

Having Faith In People

In the final scene when Marge has apprehended one of the criminals and is escorting him away in her car, she makes the effort to talk some sense into him. She goes over everything that has transpired then compares it to what his reasoning for all of it was, money.

There’s more to life than money, you know.

(She glances up in the rear-view mirror.)

Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day…
… I just don’t understand it.

Despite everything that he did, she still tries to get it into his mind that what he’s doing isn’t worth all of the trouble for the payout.

By always believing that people can be good, even when they’ve been very bad, you show them that you believe in their capacity to change. Some people go through life without that sort of message getting through to them, hearing it from someone who knows the bad things you’ve done and still believes you can listen to reason can be a powerful motivator, even if it doesn’t seem to have any impact at the time.

Well, that’s it for this post. There are probably many more examples and lessons waiting for me in Fargo, so I’ll be re-watching it again in the future and I hope you give it a shot too!

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