In the comment field of the current issue of the excellent Behler Blog (recommended, no, compulsory reading for anyone interested in creative writing), there is an interesting discussion going on: one side says “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar,” while the other maintains that “The fly might prefer honey, but the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.

I’ve commented there, but I actually thought it deserved an entire blog post.

My Dad taught me to do business. The teaching consisted of telling me, in some detail and with pertinent examples, a handful of rules at various points in my life. And since this is what brought it up, I’ll start with

Dad’s Rule # 1: If you want things done for you, be nice.

One recent anecdote I have on the topic is about a co-worker of mine who lives no further from me than that he has the same recycling people. Only he has some sort of blood feud going on with them; last I heard anything he was on the phone yelling at them because they hadn’t picked up his garbage. Again. The very same people will, in case I have forgotten to put my bin out on the street as per regulations, wander into my yard, drag it out, empty it and put it back. This behaviour is practically banned by their trade union.

Reason? Well, I never yell at them, for one thing. Also, I started our relationship by leaving a box of chocolates out for them, and have turned this into a Christmas tradition. They’re being nice back.

Of course, being squeaky can have its advantages. Something I occasionally have to do at work is to send emails, very polite and pleasant ones, asking if the task I ordered has been finished yet. Eventually, the person on the other end will want me to stop, simply to reduce the number of emails that have to be read. But I absolutely don’t want my suppliers to associate me with anything unpleasant. If they do, they might simply say they’re too busy next time I ask.

(Oh, I could go somewhere else. To someone who is so desperate that they’ll take on the unpleasant clients. The reason they’re desperate, of course, is that they’re no good.)

Consider this the next time you have a complaint, for whatever reason. Many people spend their entire careers dreading phone calls, because they have a nasty tendency to be from annoyed people. Some people do very little all day except handle people who are angry with them for something they weren’t even involved in. (The staff at HMRC comes to mind – the IRS, in case you’re American. Whenever you feel the urge to yell at them, remember: they did not set the tax rates. They might even have voted for someone who wanted them lowered.)

If you instead start by praising their product or service, and then say that there was this one small thing you would like to have adjusted, chances are they’ll bend over backwards to help you.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Provided the driver lacked the foresight to bring a spare wheel.