You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar – but be careful!

You may have heard the truism, ‘You catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ and many of us will have experienced the delights(!) of working with or for someone who just doesn’t get it. They think the way to motivate people is to use a larger stick!

That style of management may have worked once upon a time, but for many in this day and age it is very unproductive. It may even lead to a run-in with the HR department.

That kind of conduct is becoming even more of an issue with younger members of staff, as many more appropriately skilled advisers than I could tell you.

At the other end of the scale, the ‘ask rather than tell’ style of management fits very well with the style expected by these younger people.

But there is a danger with this style. It can be misinterpreted either accidentally or deliberately as a sign of weakness.

There are some who will decide to ignore the ‘request’ you’ve made, knowing full well that it’s a command in disguise. They are testing to see if you are serious – do you really mean it? – or is it just a polite request.

Let me illustrate this. I’m running an engineering business these days and, as part of our quality requirements and our health & safety policy, all drinks in the workshop and assembly areas must be consumed in non-spill containers. We provide suitable containers to all members of staff, of course.

A couple of the older hands have decided that they prefer to drink tea from their own favourite mugs. However, these mugs are not spill-proof – and covering the steaming tea with a piece of paper or card (!) doesn’t comply with company requirements.

When challenged on this infringement, the response is something along the lines of, ‘I’ve been doing this for 40 years’.

The polite request hasn’t worked. I could go as far as instigating disciplinary action – this is a clear breach of company policy – but these guys have worked for the company for a very long time and are also very good at their skilled manual jobs.

My preferred route in this situation is to offer a little bit of sarcasm. There’s a cartoon going up in the canteen showing a mug of tea with a paper lid over it and a message beneath it saying, ‘This isn’t good enough’.

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