Sweet as Honey

Sweet as Honey by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Have you ever heard the saying, “honey attracts a lot more flies than vinegar”? … If not, you have now. While this expression seems obvious (especially to a gardener), what may not be as obvious is the relevancy to your daily life.

Let’s start by assuming you want to attract something. You want to get something done. Something accomplished. You want to build relationships with others.

Most of us deal with other people on a daily basis. Our families. Our co-workers. Our neighbors. Our friends. We interact with those we know well and those we really don’t know at all. In some instances, these people might be under our authority. Such as subordinates in the workplace. Some of the people you come into contact with are peers, colleagues, co-workers. In the formal hierarchy, you are “equals.” You might also have a boss to whom you’re subordinate.

You come into contact with people daily and, often, you need them. You need their support, their work output, their commitment, their buy-in, their respect, etc. You need them for tangibles and intangibles. Let’s face it, they need you too – for, essentially, the same reasons.

There are really just two options for getting someone to do something. You can ask them or tell them. If you are in a position of authority over them, you can tell them. They still may or may not listen to you. If you’re a peer, you ask them. Ok, some of you tell them (because you’re bossy), but that usually doesn’t work out well over the long-term.

Now, let’s discuss this honey and vinegar thing. Honey is sweet. It’s being polite. Professional. Using manners. Demonstrating respect. Getting the facts before jumping to a conclusion. Honey is sweet. It’s saying please and thank-you. It’s smiling. It’s caring about others. Honey is sweet. It’s recognizing others for their contribution. It’s celebrating victories. It’s empowering others. Now, how ‘bout vinegar? Vinegar is sour/bitter. It’s being rude. It’s being insensitive. It’s demanding. Vinegar is sour/bitter. It’s selfish. It’s hateful. It’s being tactless. Vinegar is sour/bitter. It’s belittling. It’s unforgiving. It’s lack of acknowledge. Honey attracts a lot more flies than vinegar.

You can all the intelligence, brain, IQ and all the degrees/certifications, but without honey, you’re not going to enjoy sustainable results. Without honey, you’ll never maximize the sustainable output of your organization. Without honey, you’ll never build and grow others. Without honey, you’ll never truly be a success (any “success” that comes from using vinegar, isn’t truly success).

Also, let’s clarify that honey isn’t flattery. Honey is being sincere and recognizing that you, too, have something to contribute to the relationship. It’s not a one-way street. Honey isn’t manipulative. Pure honey is honest, healthy, and attractive.

A quick story. At one point, I worked with an executive. Occasionally, we had to work together on a project. Our organizations also had to work together. It did not always go smoothly. He was difficult.

Let’s say his name was John. Well, John used vinegar. Not all the time, but most of the time. His own organization was known for delivering late, being over budget and experiencing high turnover. John always complained that he couldn’t hire good talent. John always complained that you couldn’t trust people because they’d let you down. John always made excuses for his lack of performance and his organization’s failures. You get the idea.

I’ll be frank, it was difficult to work with John. He rubbed me the wrong way too. I don’t like vinegar any better than you. It’s bitter/sour. I like honey. My organization dreaded joint projects. The sad thing? John didn’t get it. He didn’t understand leadership starts at the top. He set the tone. He used vinegar. He slowly destroyed the organization. I was not successful helping him see the value of using honey. Of course, the fruit a tree bears depends on the type of tree it is. John was producing vinegar because he was a vinegar tree. It’s difficult for a vinegar tree to produce honey.

Please, be the type of leader that uses honey. If you are a vinegar tree, transformation is possible. It will require work and it starts with you, but you can do it. If you’re a honey tree? Thank you. Thank you for providing healthy encouragement and sustainable results. Thank you for developing others. For respecting others. For being professional. For being kind. For being helpful.

Do you use honey or vinegar in your daily interactions with others? How’s it working out?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

5 thoughts on “Sweet as Honey

  1. I watched this happen at the last company I was in. The new VP was vinegar most of the time. The company is now losing money and the people working there are miserable.

    • DB – thanks for your reply. Your observation is right on target. Most of the time vinegar leads to poor financial performance and a poor work environment. It’s a matter of time. At best, people will perform well-enough to avoid the negative consequences, but it will always be sub-optimal vs. what is possible. At worst, vinegar creates a chaotic and disharmonious environment that is poisonous. Cheers, Robert

  2. sincerity and respect – i love these two words that you have pointed out.
    in every way, in everything that we say and do, our truthfulness builds a ttrue leader in us.

    • Hi Mafe –
      Thanks for reinforcing the importance of sincerity, respect, and truthfulness in our words and actions. A great leader cannot “overdo” these. This is true in all organizations despite what critics may say. For example, I’ve heard all my working life that I was “too nice.” Well, “nice” can deliver sustainable results with the best of them. In fact, I’d say in the long-term, that “nice” always wins out. Fear may drive behavior in the short-term, but behavior motivated by love is enduring and capable of going to the greatest of heights.

      Those of us who are “nice” leaders can deliver the most sustainable, world-class results possible if we balance people AND results. Head and heart.

      Again, thanks for sharing!


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