You can Take your Advice and Shove It

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." -Proverbs 15:1

Or to quote a more modern proverb, "You attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."

In other words, you're more likely to win someone over or get what you want when you're sweet, kind, and gentle than when you're harsh, overbearing, and rude.

I got an e-mail recently from a person who seemed to be telling me how to do my job.

My immediate reaction was, "You can go jump."

After a bit more thought, I realized their idea might not be a bad one, but I was still pretty opposed to it because of the source and the tone of the email.

Fortunately, this cooler head prevailed before I responded, and I simply said I'd consider their idea but let them know I might not execute it.

Even still, I wish I had waited a bit longer to reply, as after calming down just a bit more, I would have let them know I truly did think there was value to their idea, which likely would have helped placate them if I decided not to act on their suggestion.

This experience made me realize that I have a tendency to do this same thing: point out where others have gone wrong or how to do things better.  (Actually, my wife pointed it out the night before in an unrelated conversation. Sometimes she's far more observant than I.)

I think there's a significant leadership lesson to be learned here, one that I'm not sure I really understood until I so quickly juxtaposed being on both the delivering and receiving ends of this sort of criticism.  And that is simply that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.

You'll get more done by being kind and persuasive than by being harsh.  A harsh word will really only do three things

  1. Give you short-term satisfaction that you were right and the other person was wrong.
  2. Alienate you from that person, decreasing your influence with them and making it far less likely that they will actually do whatever you were hoping.
  3. Make you bitter.

A soft word—advice delivered humbly, gracefully, and lovingly—is far more effective at both accomplishing a task and building a relationship.

Photo by flickr user Alan Stanton