Remember the old saying, “you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”?
It still holds true.
Recently I had a not-so-pleasant encounter with someone. They took offense to something I did and rather than calmly ask for what they wanted, they were rude and confrontational. It was a situation where a simple, “please, would you mind…” would have solved the problem but the other party made the decision to go the route of “legal jargon, angry tone, CAPITAL LETTERS.”
Now this person got the reaction that they were looking for. Well, let me correct myself there. They got the result they were looking for, but not the reaction.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen. People spend most of their time these days with their fight-face on, ready to pick a battle with everyone they encounter because they think that these people will be planning to fight no matter what the issue is.
Towards the end of the summer I was taking a train out to Connecticut to visit Boo, as per usual for a Friday afternoon. Since we had summer Fridays I was leaving from my apartment instead of the office and it was so hot and humid that I really didn’t feel like taking the subway to Grand Central so I went out to my corner to hail a cab. As soon as I got outside I saw a mother with her newborn trying to hail a cab from the sidewalk. Normally she might have had success but there was a truck parked on the previous block which was ruining any chance she had of a cab seeing her until it was too late to pull over. So I walked past her, threw my arm up and, in all of 3 seconds, got a cab–for her. I knew there was no chance she was going to catch a cab from there and no chance she was going to push her stroller into the street so I thought I was doing a nice thing.
She. Freaked. Out.
She ran up to me and the cab, yelling “you KNOW I’m taking that cab! I’ve been here longer!” I looked at her, calmly, and said “yeah, I got it for you because I didn’t think you’d want to take your baby into the street and I knew I couldn’t catch a cab until you did.” And then I walked away and tried to catch my own cab. She had nothing to say. She tried to open her mouth and mutter something before I walked away but she was far too embarrassed (or shocked by someone doing something nice) to comment.
But the frustrating thing about that whole situation was that I left feeling like I was somehow to blame. I was trying to do a nice thing for someone and this woman was so quick to assume that I was a bad person, snaking her out of what was rightfully hers, that she flipped out, yelling at me, accusing me, and looking for a fight. She could have said “would you mind if I take that cab, I’ve been trying to hail one for awhile” and I would have said the same thing– “yes, of course, I thought I’d try to help you out.”
Sure, I could have said something first, but the light had just changed and I knew I needed to just move. So I did. If I had stopped to ask her if she wanted me to hail a cab, we would have had to wait for a whole second crop of cabs. Plus, let’s be honest, she probably would have been offended that I thought she was incapable of hailing her own cab. And if I had just crossed the street and grabbed a cab from the other side, she probably still would have yelled at me.
This most recent encounter doesn’t leave me completely blameless. It was a situation in which there was an annoying amount of ambiguity that led to the misunderstanding. But my point is the same. If you ask nicely for something you can get the same result as yelling and threatening someone but in the end, you’ll look like less of a jerk than if you do take the vinegar route.
But hey, some people prefer vinegar to honey and who am I to say they shouldn’t?