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Business

Etiquette at work

The honey-vinegar axiom still holds true at work

My dad (Emily’s grandson) loved sayings like “The best is the enemy of the good.” As kids, we would worry about getting some project ready, and the constant reworking and refusal to declare it “done” would threaten whether it would ever be ready.

Now, I realize his advice flies in the face of the standard to always produce the best. But I can see where he was coming from. The danger of pursuing the best is that you never finish or, in your search for perfection, end up botching something that was perfectly good to start with.

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Another phrase I heard more than once was, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” If you are positive in the way you interact with someone, you have a better chance of a good result than if you treat the person rudely.

Bosses of the world: Etch that phrase in your brain. Every time you’re about to dump on an employee, take a moment to think. Sure, you may be right; the person screwed up. But how will you both correct the situation and move on?

For example: It looks like a supplier is going to miss a deadline. You could rant and rave. Or you could express your frustration, keeping your anger in control. That way the focus stays on the deadline rather than your anger.

Two things accrue to you: You have a better chance of the supplier making an effort to correct the problem, and you have a much better chance that the supplier will deliver future work on time.

The honey and vinegar phrase reminds me of another maxim I came across when researching “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.” I heard it from the Gallup organization: “People join companies; they leave managers.” When a person arrives on his first day at a new job, he’s excited by the new challenge and opportunity. Unfortunately, a boss who dishes out vinegar can quickly turn euphoria into negativity.

The maxim holds true for employees, too. Treat people pleasantly and the entire office atmosphere benefits. But when people grump and grumble and leave a trail of vinegar, the atmosphere turns toxic. That is no good for employees, managers, or the company.

Honey versus vinegar? A little honey makes a difference.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.

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