The honey vs. vinegar debate is eternal because in reality they both work. Consider these contradicting bits of wisdom: “You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar”; “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Both have roots based on the science of persuasion. The former relies on the likability factor. Likeable people tend to be more persuasive. The latter relies on pain avoidance, wherein someone is likely to accommodate you if it helps him avoid a negative consequence.
Unbeknownst to many, there is another facet to the art of asking for and getting what you want: authority. Sometimes it is less about honey and vinegar and more about how you ask.
During a cross-country flight, I noticed a young man stop the flight attendant to ask, “Um, could we get some, like, crackers or peanuts here please?” The attendant curtly responded with a perfunctory smile, “snacks will be served in just a bit.” About five minutes later, a woman stopped the same attendant and said: “Would you please bring us our snack in advance, Jennifer, because it’s been one of those days”. Surprisingly Jennifer responded, “Sure, would you like chips, peanuts, or cookies?” She promptly returned with the snacks. About thirty minutes later everyone else was served.
They both said please; so what did the woman do differently that got her a better result?
1) She knew exactly what she was going to say and said it with confidence, while the young man fumbled uttering “um” and “like”.
2) She used the flight attendant’s name.
3) She made direct eye contact with the attendant.
4) She used the word because, which dramatically increases odds of getting a “yes,” even if the reason is redundant.
5) Her request was framed in a question, but her tone indicated that she expected to be accommodated.
In short, the woman was polite, yet had an aura of authority. The young man lacked that quality and appeared whinny and, judging by the attendant’s face, annoying. This interesting little occurrence 35,000 feet off the ground is a case in point that it is not always about what you ask but how you ask.