Since the 1800s, we’ve been hearing that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. This idiom is overused but its message is truer now than ever: he who complains long enough will get what he wants. That may be accurate on a surface level, but there’s something to be said about those oft-ignored quiet wheels as well!

Quite frankly, I’ve always hated the squeaky wheel expression. It feeds into the whole “I’m going to kick and scream until I get my way” mentality, which shouldn’t be rewarded for children OR for adults.

Here’s a tidbit that may or may not blow your mind:

You don’t have to be a jerk to get what you want.

I’m not kidding. In fact, you may be surprised at how easy it is to get what you want if you act in a civilized manner!

Here’s something to think about: let’s say that you work in a service field such as customer accounts or even as a retail cashier. An irate client just called you a moron and spent 17 minutes yelling at you about something that’s beyond your control.

What is your first reaction to this situation?

A) “This customer is clearly upset and didn’t mean what they said. I’m going to give them what they want because they deserve it. I’m sure they’re normally pleasant!”

B) “I’m not a moron, I’m just doing my job. I’ll give in to their request because I want to get them out of my hair.”

C) “People are a-holes! I think I’m going to get into the fetal position and cry now…”

Does this look like the face of someone who’d go out of their way for you?

Unless you’re a pod person or you’re exceptionally talented at rolling with the punches, it’s not likely that you’d answer A and actually mean it. Most customer service staff would probably answer B or C and give in ONLY because they’d like to keep their jobs. What does this mean for the irate customer? She may have gotten what she wanted this time, but she certainly didn’t score any brownie points with the employee. So, the next time that customer visits and needs a special favor, her rep probably won’t go out of the way to assist her unless it’s a requirement. She’ll probably get the bare minimum service possible. (Please note that I’m not advocating poor customer service or bad attitudes here; it’s important to remain calm and objective even when you’re faced with anger or short tempers, and customers should always be taken care of in a polite manner. However, there’s a big difference between giving the customer what she wants because of obligation and giving her what she wants because she actually deserves it. And furthermore, I find it hard to believe that even the peppiest of sales reps would enthusiastically give in to a demand when they’re being personally attacked).

Speaking of personal attacks, do you know the damage that a screaming, irrational person can do to a representative’s self-esteem? Threats and name-calling can zap it down to zero within minutes. Trust me. And bruised egos don’t exactly correlate with special favors, now do they?

Here’s an example of what I mean. On one occasion at a former job, a customer yelled at me and attacked my character so much that it took every shred of my self-preservation to keep a straight face and avoid bursting into tears in front of him. At no point during the incident did I even remotely think of answer A. I wanted to get him out of my face so I could sob in private. So, I begrudgingly gave him the product he wanted and sent him on his way, but not before I became temporarily soured on helping people!

When you treat me nicely, I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy – and that’s a promise.

He never did apologize or mention it again, and you can bet your favorite appendage that I never went out of my way to assist him with anything from that point onward. I always treated him with basic courtesy and helped him with a smile plastered on my face, but I felt no desire to tell him about that secret special we were running or that he could avoid extra fees by signing up for a new service. After all, why should I reward his past misconduct by letting him in on secrets that I reserved for the pleasant customers? I have no qualms with exerting extra time and effort to help a customer if they’re kind and rational; in fact, I love helping people who have demonstrated kindness in the past. When you treat me nicely, I’ll do everything in my power to make you happy – and that’s a promise.

If my former customer wanted to get his way and receive the most genuine experience possible, all he had to do was treat me like a human being instead of shouting obscenities at me and calling me an incompetent b*tch in the middle of a crowded business.

Seems simple enough, right? I thought so.

Since I already mentioned one cliché phrase in this post, I may as well include another: you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. In other words…you’ll accomplish more if you stop acting like a jerk. It’s true that those darn squeaky wheels get the grease, but is the grease obtained for the right reasons? Is it worth it to trade the possibility of genuine service for the bare minimum service? Is it more beneficial in the long term to treat people poorly for that instant gratification, or is it better to build a relationship based on mutual respect?

About the author

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a promo expert with a passion for branding . Her vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several articles and published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.