Nice vs. Annoying: Who Gets More Accomplished?

naughtyniceWhen I was growing up my mother had two sayings, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” and “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both made sense to me and to some degree I think both are true. Now that I am in the workforce and deal with people a lot, these come to mind more often. Recently something hit me, don’t these sayings contradict each other? So are they both true?

My understanding (and the context my mother used them) of these sayings are:

  • You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar: You can get what you want, if you are nice. 
  • The squeaky wheel gets the grease: If you are a pest about something, your issue will get attention.

So let me get this straight, if you are sweet you will get what you want, and if you are a pest you will too?

Is the lesson you have to be one or the other to get anything done?

When I was in a support role I responded quickly to the people who were nice because I appreciated the way they were treating me. I also responded quickly to the people I knew would keep hounding me until I responded to get them off my back. It was the middle ground people who would have to wait the longest for an answer.

I get requests from people who I know will e-mail, call, instant message,  and track me down even if I’m in the ladies room, parking lot, or at lunch. But, I was reinforcing their behavior by completing the task ASAP so it was off my plate. I should have just ignored the stalking, let them know I would get to their need in the order I received it, and stick with that. That may have trained them to know everyone was just as important and should be patient. 

What do other people in the workplace do?  I decided to see if this was the way others operated, so I send out an informal survey at work to the people here who are in supporting roles (sales engineers, managers, IT helpdesk, customer service, and product support).

The question I posed to my co-workers was: when supporting people at work who do you respond to first? I received 60 responses and here is what they shared:

  • 55% said nice people (You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar)
  • 8% said people who bug you until you respond (The squeaky wheel gets the grease)
  • 35% said it does not matter. I help everyone at the same pace.

I think the lesson maybe that the squeaky wheel gets the attention but the honey people get what they need faster.

Related Courses:
How to Communicate with Diplomacy, Tact, and Credibility
Negotiating to Win
Project Management, Leadership, and Communication
Responding to Conflict: Strategies for Improved Communication

In this article

Join the Conversation