The Art of Sucking Down

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A friend who worked at O’Hare International Airport told me this story. He once watched a passenger absolutely scream at an airline ticket agent. The ticket agent, however, remained completely calm. After the tirade was over, my friend asked her how she could remain so calm, and she said, “That’s easy. He’s going to Paris, but his bags are going to Sydney.”

One of the great misconceptions of selling, pitching, and partnering–basically, any time you want to get someone to do something for you–is that you should suck up to the people with the big titles and “A list” designation. Sometimes you do–as you’ve already read in this blog, but the ability to suck up to the folks who don’t have big titles but make the world run is more useful.

1. Understand the dynamic. Like it or not, here’s how the world works: if you want something, you should be nice to the person (let’s call him “Biff”) who can grant you that something. It doesn’t matter whether you are more powerful, more famous, richer, better looking, or better educated. Biff has the power, so deal with it. Returning to the ticket agent episode, it makes no sense to piss off the one person who can help you. In this sense, there is no such thing as “sucking down.” You’re always sucking up when you want something.

2. Understand their needs. You should try being a ticket agent, flight attendant, secretary, receptionist, waiter, or customer service rep for a day. Then you’d learn that they’re not getting paid a lot of money to put up with your crap, and they’re dealing with their own sets of issues: perhaps a broken-down car, an unhappy spouse, a sick child at home, and maybe even a bozo boss. These people want to do a good job, make a living, and be happy, just as you do. The key word here is empathy. If you can empathize with them, you’ll be much more successful dealing with them.

3. Be important. If you want to be treated as an important customer then be an important customer. That is, fly the same airline, eat at the same restaurant, and play hockey at the same rink. If you spread your business around, then don’t be surprised if you get jacked around. I only eat at three restaurants in all of Silicon Valley: Gombei, Juban, and Buck’s. I can get in anytime I want at these three restaurants–but only these three restaurants. I fly on United seventy five to 100 times a year. It takes great care of me. I fly Air Canada once a year. It puts me in a coach-class, center seat between two screaming babies. That’s life.

4. Make them smile. A window occurs in the first thirty seconds of your interaction with Biff. In that brief time, if you can make him smile, you will differentiate yourself from 95% of the orifices that he deals with. Then you’re much more likely to get an aisle seat, an appointment with the boss, an outside table, or step-by-step instructions to make Word print.

Simply beginning a conversation with, “How is your day going?” can break the ice. You know, and he knows, that you don’t really care how his day is going, but at least you’re civil enough to ask. That separates you from the pack of hyenas. Here are some opening lines that have worked for me. (Please provide more as comments because you can never have too many good ice breakers.)

• Restaurant maître’d: “Do you have reservations?” You answer: “I have no reservations whatsoever. I am absolutely certain that I want to eat here.”
• Airline ticket agent: “How can I help you?” You answer: “You could give me an upgrade to first class and ensure that my bag is the first one off the conveyor when I get there, but I’d be happy if you get me an aisle seat.”
• Secretary: “Will she know what you’re calling about?” You answer: “Not unless she’s clairvoyant and a masochist. But can I try to explain why you should grant me an audience with her?”

5. Don’t try to buy your way in. Don’t try to buy a person with flowers, candy, or an iTunes gift card. Realistically, the downside risk far exceeds the upside because you’re likely to insult Biff by implying that he can be bought. Just be honest, be important, and have a legitimate rationale. That’s a good enough case.

6. But do express your gratitude on the way out. I don’t recommend trying to buy your way in, but once you are in, then it’s appropriate to express your gratitude with gifts that are kind, but not extravagant. As my mother used to say, “Be nice to people on the way up because you’re going to see them again on the way down.” You never know when you’ll need help from Biff again.

7. Never complain. Let’s say that you don’t get what you want. Should you go over Biff’s head and complain? This is seldom effective. Assuming that Biff is competent, he’s not going to get fired because of your whining. Historically, pee is seldom more effective than honey. Persevere, and wear down Biff’s defenses with humor, dedication, and empathy, but never go over his head.

8. Rack up the karmic points. I believe that there’s a karmic scoreboard in the sky. It keeps track of how many points you’ve earned and how many you’ve used. Therefore, when you have the opportunity to help others, do so–and do so with glee. You’ll build up points, and someday your kindness will be returned to you. However, understand that you need to accrue these points before you need them–you cannot go negative.

9. Accept what cannot be changed. Sometimes things are just not meant to be: there are no more aisle seats, all the outside tables are taken, and the boss doesn’t want to talk to any sales reps. If that’s the case, shut up, and go on with life. Don’t flatter yourself and believe that the airline is out to get you by assigning all the aisle seats to others. Life is too short to get upset by things like this.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you try these practices because I always seem to get an aisle seat, almost always get upgraded, and my luggage never gets sent to Australia. And getting to the same destination as your bags in a lousy seat is a helluva lot better than getting to a different destination than your bags in a lousy seat–all because you pissed Biff off.

Written at: United Airlines flight #559, Chicago to San Jose, upgraded to first class on less than twenty-four hours notice.

By | 2016-10-24T14:28:06+00:00 March 18th, 2006|Categories: Marketing and Sales|Tags: |104 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.


  1. John C. Welch March 18, 2006 at 11:18 am - Reply

    I don’t have a biff, but I do have a Lisa. Lisa works at the ticket counter for an airline I fly on a lot. Lisa is pleasant, courteous, and if you abuse her, will be patient, caring, and make sure you’re in the body cavity search line for the rest of your days.
    Lisa is not one to be messed with.
    However, if one flys regularly, and is nice to Lisa, then one finds nice things happening. Like free upgrades. Somehow always getting the aisle seat. Finding a three hour layover reduced to a comfortable walk between gates.
    “Please”, “Thank You”, and “I’m sorry, I was very stupid to have done/thought that” get you more than the keys to the vault.

  2. Zoli's Blog March 18, 2006 at 11:44 am - Reply

    M-listers and Down-linkers

    Interesting discussion going on about M-listers – the middle crowd, somewhat known b…

  3. re:Urban March 18, 2006 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    What goes around – comes around

    Guy Kawasaki har skrivit ett inlgg om att vara hvlig. The Art of Sucking Down Mnga bra tankar: Huvudtesen r att fastn du mest r respektfull och uppmrksam mot personer med fina titlar och makt s kanske d…

  4. the lone sysadmin March 18, 2006 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Sucking Down

    Guy Kawasaki just blogged about Sucking Down. My friends and I have always referred to it as the high friends in low places theory. The most productive relationships you can have are often with the people at the bottom of th…

  5. Doug Hanna March 18, 2006 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    I know it from a customer service perspective. I respond to customer service inquires when we get busy. In just a few hours, I can see how clients can be rude and how I would never go out of my way to help a rude client. Being nice to everyone is a good rule of thumb.

  6. Kevin March 18, 2006 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    On the rare occasion that my web host has server or email problems, instead of joining the hundreds of “when is this going to be fixed” messages to Tech Support, I send a “I know things happen, hang in there, I’m patient” message. My real requests for support later are handled immediately.

  7. Ketan March 18, 2006 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    Most pertinent and correct advice. I have been taught and given the same advice by my father throughout my life. I believe everyone is living the life with hope to be most joyful and successful, so why create hindrances!!
    Really a nice post and quite different from other regular feeds 🙂
    Infact I am planning to order “Rules for Revolutionaries” and hope to see similar straight and real world advice!
    Keep going,

  8. Jeff Barson, Nimble March 18, 2006 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    It’s often the case that the gatekeeper in a business wields a great amount of power.
    If anyone in my staff intimates a dislike for a business or individual trying to contact me, they’re dead in the water. Conversely, a recommendation from someone in my staff will allow you to walk right in. Be nice, or be gone.

  9. Eric March 18, 2006 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    I bought a round trip ticket to San Diego last year. I didn’t take the first flight as I had another appt. the day before so my company flew me out. I didn’t know if you don’t get on the first leg of the flight, the whole ticket is voided. I went to fly out of San Diego and learned that my ticket was useless. Instead of blaming them, I apologized a lot and said it was my fault and was very very nice to the rude lady. She got the manager and she was also very very rude. I kept saying sorry and all of a sudden, the manager handed me a ticket and said you have 10min to make the flight. I smiled and thanked her again and she cracked a very small smile. If I was an idiot and blamed them for MY mistake, they would’ve just blew me off. A lesson learned….

  10. Doug H. March 18, 2006 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    From someone who’s worked in the hosting industry for quite a while, take it from me, that’s the way to do it.

  11. Patrick March 18, 2006 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    I think the customers are king and I just treat them all the same. The key is to look at all people the same. If you have a customer that is going live wire on you, then first, put yourself in their place and agree with them. If your companies service sucks, then say it sucks.
    Yes, this service is not acceptable, and I agree with you. Let me get this resolved, I appreciate your understanding. Don’t debate and don’t argue, just treat them like they are your mother or father. Let’s face it, we all would bend over backwards for mom and dad, and that is exactly what you have to do for all customers. If you treat them all the same it becomes a no brainer.
    Rolls me into a thought that there are to many people with MBA’s that have no experience in customer service. As far as I am concerned, every MBA graduate should work the front line of customer service. Business is working with everybody.
    I had a boss many years ago that was upset because I aggreed with a customer that said our service sucked. The boss knew our service sucked, and so we had two choices, continue as is, or improve our service. We did improve our service and we went on and kicked butt and generated more revenue.
    The bottom line is that attitude is everything, but you must be humble, and have respect for another person.
    If it was easy, everybody would do it.

  12. Tim McClintock March 18, 2006 at 2:37 pm - Reply

    Life is a negotiation. You negotiate every day, with everyone you encounter. Sometimes it’s a one-time encounter, and sometimes it’s with people we see and work with on an on-going basis.
    Let me offer a few quotes:
    If you are planning on doing business with someone again, don’t be too tough in the negotiations. But on the other hand, if you’re going to skin a cat, don’t keep it as a house cat.
    Marvin S. Levin
    J. Paul Getty, referring to his dad:
    My father said: “You must never try to make all the money that’s in a deal. Let the other fellow make some money too, because if you have a reputation for always making all the money, pretty soon you won’t have many deals.”
    I fly somewhere just about every week. At the ticket counter – I usually say something like “So did you just start your day, or are you about done?”. Depending on their answer, I respond, “Oh, I’m sorry, hopefully it will go by quickly” or “Good for you!!! Go have some fun, and have a little for me too!” They really do hold the keys to the kingdom.
    The travel agency component of our consulting company gets hammered with what are I’m sure are more than just a few jerks demanding everything imaginable. Correspondence/rants are usually by email.
    Want to set yourself apart?
    1. Be nice.
    2. Take a real piece of paper, and a real pen or pencil. [remember those? 🙂 ]
    3. Write a note.
    4. Make it personal.
    5. Don’t ASK for anything
    6. Just say something
    I sent a note to all of the ladies in the travel office. Here’s what I wrote:
    Dear ____________ (I used all of their names. People like it when you use, but not over-use their names)
    My week both starts off and ends with what you do for me. And I was just thinking, what you do for me week in and week out is pretty amazing. Because of what you do for me, my week just about always starts and ends with a flight in my favorite seat, and sometimes I even find myself in an unexpected but very much appreciated seat in the front of the bus.
    You pretty much determine how my week is going to start, and how it is going to end. Thanks for taking such good care of me . . .
    By the way, notice the lack of any title, alphabet soup, last name, etc.
    Just sign your name, fold the piece of paper, and hand deliver it if possible. Just leave in on their desk when they’re away.
    It’s all about relationship, being real, and remembering to say thanks every once in a while.
    And then, a really expensive box of Swiss chocolates you hand carried back from the last trip to Europe never hurts either. (insert your own “whatever would make someone happy here)
    How much did that cost you, compared to the by-product you get in return?
    Which leads me to one last thought in this comment-turned mini blog.
    I believe people can smell a phony way more than a mile away.
    For me, I do realize I’m “sucking up”. But I honestly believe I really do genuinely want the other person to “have a nice day”. And I think they can tell.
    The goal?
    Be real
    Be nice
    Express that to other people.
    That’s the “negotiation”.
    The by-product?
    Sometimes it’s just a smile, but most often, it’s the better seat, the less time having to wait at the eye doctor, the little extra thrown in by the sales person . . .

  13. Robin Capper March 18, 2006 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    Agree with your comments but it doesn’t stop at the check-in counter.
    I’m not tall but was allocated a exit row seat on a very long flight recently. I considered giving it up to an extremely tall “gentleman”, allocated a seat 1 row behind me. I’ve done this before as it makes little difference to me.
    However I didn’t because while boarding & stowing his overhead luggage he complained, cursing liberally at the crew and everyone around him, about not getting an exit row. It cost him 12 hours discomfort…

  14. Mark Edwards March 18, 2006 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    You’ve evidently never been to Australia? That’s a shame. You’d like it here. Having your luggage despatched to Australia is fine, as long as you’re on your way here too.
    Seriously, though. Life should be entirely about considering others. Wouldn’t that change a few things.

  15. aBlogByGus March 18, 2006 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    “Sucking Down”

    Guy Kawasaki, who hasn’t been blogging for long but has been quite prolific so far, has a great post that is so, so true. It’s basically about just being nice and pleasant to others and how doing so helps you…

  16. Sameer March 18, 2006 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    On a partially unrelated note, I’ve always thought airlines should offer you the option of flying free to wherever your bags are, and then back 🙂 Opens up the impromptu vacation possibility.

  17. Brad Hutchings March 18, 2006 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    OK Guy, I think we all agree that being nice gets you ahead in the world, and no matter how much we preach it, there are enough people who are jerks or just quiet that being nice will continue to get us ahead. But, answer this… Is it OK to go Mr. Hyde on telemarketers?

  18. Pattern Finder March 18, 2006 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    Yep, Guy, You Got It Right

    Read Guy Kawasaki’s, The Art of Sucking Down. As someone who has worked in Customer Support, I highly recommend it.

  19. ssp March 18, 2006 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    So why do people consider it acceptable that service agents treat you badly if they’re in bad mood?
    Why don’t people who think they should be flying first class just buy first class tickets?

  20. Kim The Admin March 18, 2006 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    This point goes triple for admin assistants, receptionists and other gatekeepers.
    Back when I was playing in the corporate sandbox, I would always ask both the receptionist and my admin assistant what they thought of candidates. Their opinions meant more to me than that person’s interview.
    With my current gig, I intentionally style myself as Kim The Admin. The authors nice to me in this role are likely nice to everyone and aren’t they the ones I REALLY want to promote?
    BTW…Guy Kawasaki, as you can well imagine, walks the talk and falls into the nice category.
    It’s refreshing to see someone practise what he preaches.

  21. Blake March 18, 2006 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    How ’bout don’t suck up to anyone? Just be sincere, nice, and respectful. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve lost it with peeps, but everyone deserves respect unfeigned.

  22. Richard Clark March 18, 2006 at 8:37 pm - Reply

    Penn & Teller write about a positive “trick” they say has netted them more free upgrades, etc. than they could have imagined.
    It starts with a little piece of red foam rubber attached to their passport photos where the nose is. When one puts his passport down as ID, and the agent is looking down at the picture, he also puts on a red rubber nose palmed before getting to the counter. The agent sees a photo and a customer with matching red rubber noses, gets a good laugh, and often does something wonderful in return.

  23. Escape from Cubicle Nation March 18, 2006 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    Finally someone gets it: who REALLY makes the world go round

    It is so refreshing to read what has been a core belief of mine for years … that the people in the most mundane and humble of jobs are the true powerhouses in the universe. Guy Kawasaki describes this

  24. dg March 18, 2006 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    I think it’s good yer nice to everyone, but I think it’s a little weird to call that “sucking down”.
    Retail and customer service are mighty tough gigs, and anyone with the capacity to hang in through the tough stuff, definitely has qualities to look up to.
    It calls to mind the strange melding of person to job. One’s paycheck or title really shouldn’t be the measure of respect they deserve.
    Besides, I have much more respect for the waiter who provided really fast and friendly service to me at dinner during a really busy time than I do for Baby Bush.

  25. Pierre March 18, 2006 at 11:53 pm - Reply

    OK to most, but why do you deserve an aisle seat over anyone else? Ask nicely, but seat distribution should be even handed, as should seats in restaurants.
    All decisions must pass the “What if every one did this?” test too.

  26. Michael March 18, 2006 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    Half the best ice-breakers I get are those that present themselves through the person ahead of me in line. Especially while travelling. There’s always some whiner up there, and I just make sure to look good and compassionate by comparison.
    You just use a quick “that must have been fun” or “I don’t know him, but I apologize for him – that was ridiculous” and then go about your business. You’ve set the tone the right way, and often the rep is happy to help. Even if you don’t want or get anything special, the nice tone to the interaction is worth it.

  27. Ronny Max March 19, 2006 at 6:52 am - Reply

    More than the boss, peers, and even the spouse, the most important person for a successful executive life is the secretary.
    By the way, my first assistant taught me that – the hard way!

  28. Jonas Antonsson - Taking on the world March 19, 2006 at 6:52 am - Reply

    Be Nice To People

    I’ve been meaning to write a post on the importance of being nice to people and how being nice, muchmore…

  29. steve March 19, 2006 at 7:29 am - Reply

    It is a shame people just cant be nice. Every person you meet in life can have a positive or negative effect on you. Why not make it a positive one. Try a smile and a how you doing today. It works wonders. Build up the good Karma and get rid of the bad attitude and the world is yours.

  30. Stuart Bruce, BMA PR March 19, 2006 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Or simply treat everyone else just like you’d like to be treated yourself. Smile, be nice.

  31. A PR Guru's Musings - Stuart Bruce March 19, 2006 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Sucking Down

    Guy Kawasaki has quite a long post on what he calls The Art of Sucking Down. He’s right but I’d simplify it to: Treat everyone like you’d like to be treated yourself Be nice, genuine and honest and most people

  32. Eoghan McCabe March 19, 2006 at 7:38 am - Reply

    Great post. Makes me think of the priceless advice in Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
    Keep up the great work on this blog, Guy!

  33. Paul March 19, 2006 at 7:45 am - Reply

    I may be alone on this but a lot of this is very ‘cheesy’ – I don’t think it is possible to pre-plan rapport and empathy. Sure there are pointers and some useful tips, but it must be about reacting to the situation (otherwise everybody would do these things and their impact would diminish).
    Still it is nice to see people promoting politeness over rudeness, courtesy over ignorance and so forth – long may it continue.

  34. a burst of light... * March 19, 2006 at 8:22 am - Reply

    How To Be a “Suck Down” Artist

    One of the great misconceptions of selling, pitching, and partnering … is that you should suck up to the people with the big titles and “A list” designation. — Guy Kawasaki, Genuis

  35. Thomas Kang March 19, 2006 at 8:26 am - Reply

    I’ve been helping Guy from time to time on his blog (all I really do is catch a typo here and there), and can therefore attest to Guy’s genuineness with respect to the contents of this post.
    He sucks down to me so much that my wife is beginning to get jealous! 🙂
    I found it somewhat surprising when a number of people were startled by his first post, “The Art of Sucking Up,” when all Guy was really saying was that you should be nice to everyone–always. This post may confirm that idea publicly, but I have a sneaky feeling that Guy never stopped sucking ever since he got weaned off his mother’s breast milk. So much so that The Art of the Start indexes “sucking down,” but not “sucking up.”
    Coming soon, to complete the Sucking Trilogy: Parallel Sucking.
    Then again, maybe not.
    I have heard rumors, though, that Parallel Sucking may become a winter Olympic sport in 2012. (Guy has to put up with this kind of drivel from me all the time, but he never complains because he’s so busy sucking away).
    Incidentally, Penn Gillette (of Penn & Teller fame) wrote a blog regarding hassles with airport security. Although the post is a few years old, it has been making the rounds on Reddit recently. The lesson I got from Penn’s post was that the only time one might stop sucking up or down is when basic American liberties are at stake–and even then firm politeness is the basic rule to follow. For folks who may be interested, here is the link (if the link doesn’t work, try Googling “Penn Gillette airport security”):
    BTW, here’s a little universal sucking of my own: I enjoy reading the comments here as much as I do reading Guy’s posts–I find them very informative.

  36. Thomas Kang March 19, 2006 at 8:39 am - Reply

    This conversation about sucking up/down reminded me of a story I read (and saved) years ago. Most have probably heard this one, but here it is anyway:
    This is the actual radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian
    authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October 1995. Radio
    conversation released by the chief of naval operations, 10-10-95.
    CANADIANS: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a
    AMERICANS: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to
    avoid a collision.
    CANADIANS: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to
    the south to avoid a collision.
    AMERICANS: This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert
    YOUR course.
    CANADIANS: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.
    AMERICANS: This is the Aircraft Carrier US LINCOLN, the second largest
    ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied with three
    Destroyers, three Cruisers and numerous support vessels. I DEMAND that
    you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that’s one-five
    degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the
    safety of this ship.
    CANADIANS: This is a lighthouse. It’s your call.

  37. Business Logs March 19, 2006 at 11:31 am - Reply

    The Decisionmakers and Sucking Down

    Venture capitalist and 9rules member Guy Kawasaki just wrote about The Art of Sucking Down, which essentially is how everyone needs to respect those who have power over certain aspects of our lives. Don’t piss-off waiters because they handle your…

  38. Zoli Erdos March 19, 2006 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    The Navy Lighthouse story in the previous comment is hilarious.Fake, but a good joke 🙂

  39. BlogReader March 19, 2006 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Along your lines of putting yourself in their shoes: I think everyone should have to ride a motorcycle for a summer. By being out there naked on the street you’ll learn to pick up how many morans are out there and how to avoid them.
    Also it’ll make you a far better driver as you have to become one with the road in order to survive.
    I suppose this could be generalized to be imagining being in the most vulernable position that one could be in at a given moment. Then act accordingly, whether that is to see how to help that person or how to get out of the situation without hurting yourself (or others).

  40. Ted March 19, 2006 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    I recommend learning the names of the folks who clean your office at night.
    It won’t get you an upgrade or anything, but if your working late, it’s really nice to be able to have a human interaction.

  41. Sarah Perez March 19, 2006 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Fabulous post!
    Still, I wish we could all be nice to each other, even when we don’t want something! 🙂

  42. vinnie mirchandani March 19, 2006 at 6:44 pm - Reply

    sorry, still will avoid United. But your other tips are really good. Employees are often not to blame – processes are. Often I will complain about a process, not Biff.
    You may enjoy a series of posts I have on my blog under Business Process Angioplasty on my blog

  43. Smittie March 19, 2006 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    Excellent points, Guy. Thanks for reminding me.

  44. RK March 19, 2006 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Guy – I am an ex-bootcamper (2000, SFO). My first startup failed but absolutely hold the lessons learned dear and they are as fresh even after six years. Thanks again. Issue with #3 (“…eat at the same restaurant”). I am not sure this list item works in this particular situation. Sometimes the restaurant folks, if you frequent them often, take you a little too casually, that eye contact is gone, they are looking past you as if (yeah, I see you every day, what’s new?) the real customer is behind you. I’ve heard it from one or two friends and experienced this myself. Nothing’s changed, you tip the same, you order the same food, you have the same smile, but the response back is on a gradual decline. One can always tip more to encourage them to loose this attitude, but then you’d rather find someplace else to eat.

  45. Alan Gutierrez March 19, 2006 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    There are few people that I could conceivably look down on. It’s quite simple for me to pleasant to folks, not sure why.
    What I found living in the North, is that people tend to go into “bad service mode”, and receiving bad service permits them an opportunity to be indignant in fashion that suits a royal.
    In the South, in New Orleans, if you behave in such a way, there are many places where you will simply not be served. It’s inexcusable.
    Which is why, when something offends me, I’m careful to observe myself. I find that you can reveal your insecurities with preceision when you take the slightest offense. An indignant show of force is a show of weakness for those watching.

  46. Jacques March 19, 2006 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    It is also true for internet. How many times do I receive some rude “demand” from a visitor?
    I always try to provide useful reply, but sometimes you can go the extra-mile for one who thanked you for the info provided, wrote in correct english and was just nice.
    It always help to be polite!

  47. live March 19, 2006 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    Sunday Night News: Big and Small

    In the blogosphere, Guy Kawasaki emphasizes how important it is to be nice to those who can best help you, the little people…

  48. W.P. Wily March 19, 2006 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    I do e-mail tech support for a software company, and boy do I get a LOT of rude mail. The majority of the time, the customer has done something wrong, but their very first e-mail will be a curse-ridden rant about our crappy product and service. They don’t bother to tell you what they’ve done or tried, “it doesn’t work” is usually the most detailed information I get. Then I get the ones that say, “I can’t get this to work and I’ve tried x and y. Can you help?” Well, guess which one goes to the top of the queue and which one gets to “age properly”? Everybody gets a courteous and helpful reply, it’s just that some get it faster than others 🙂
    My “flies and honey” story is in my personal life as an assistant soccer coach. During one game, our coach spent most of a game haranguing a young woman side judge about her poor offside calls (he really deserved a card). I was so embarrassed that I spoke to her afterwards to apologize, and during the conversation made a new friend. Fast forward to 2 games later, the same woman is again the side judge and I was standing on the sideline with one of my players. Another offside situation occurred, not an easy one to spot, and I remarked to the player next to me, “did you see where number 10 was, he was off”. All of a sudden, whoosh the side judge raised her flag. No one likes being yelled at when their trying to do their job.

  49. Richard K Miller March 19, 2006 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    My sales professor used to put a tiny red dot on his nose in his driver’s license photo. When he would show his license at the airport, the red dot would invariably cause the attendant to look closely at the photo in disbelief. In the meantime, he would take a red clown noise from his pocket and put it on. The attendant would look up, see that the photo “matched”, and was sure to smile.

  50. Matt March 20, 2006 at 2:10 am - Reply

    My g/f used to manage busy cafe in Windsor, UK. Regulars got great service, ‘upgrades’, cake etc, everybody else got speedy efficient service. Sometimes customers would spit their dummy out because something was wrong, usually what they thought they ordered and what they actually did. She was always so professional, for that I have a lot of respect. I’m sure I could not have that restraint… I’m always polite to waiters, not least because I don’t want any unwelcome additions to my meal!

  51. David Corbett March 20, 2006 at 4:03 am - Reply

    I was on a flight from Manchester UK to Dublin Ireland. It was delayed for 2 hours, then 4, then 6. People were fuming and ranting at the blameless ticket service people. I was frustrated also but accepted things go wrong and tried to be pleasant to the ticket service people who were in a difficult situation. Eventually, when I came back and got my ticket, one of the staff singled me out and handed me two tickets to a pop concert to be held that evening in Dublin – she herself would not now make it as her own flight to Dublin was now postponed to the following morning because of the delays. Myself and my son made the concert that evening with ten minutes to spare and had a wonderful time. I’ll never forget that lesson.

  52. evildoctorporkchop March 20, 2006 at 4:04 am - Reply

    Sucking Down? How about just

    Sucking Down? How about just being a decent human being?

  53. Jason Haley March 20, 2006 at 4:30 am - Reply

    Interesting Finds

  54. Franklin Davis March 20, 2006 at 8:02 am - Reply

    Advice from a seasoned traveler worked for me: when the agent says, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to do that” you gently say to them, “Surely there must be someone who can do that — may I please speak to that person?” In my case, the agent himself went ahead and did the re-booking, tedious as it was, saving me many hours.

  55. achievable ends March 20, 2006 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Treating People Well

    Guy Kawasaki has a very good post on treating people with respect. One of the great misconceptions of selling, pitching, and partnering–basically, any time you want to get someone to do something for you–is that you should suck up

  56. Rick Dobbs March 20, 2006 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Not to argue, but if you’re in the 100k club on any airline, they’re going to kiss ass.
    Thanks for #2 though. I think that is the most easily forgotten one.

  57. James March 20, 2006 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Very good points. There is a documentary called “Decline of the Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years” about the ’80s metal bands. Ozzy Osbourne makes one great observation in it: Remember/be kind to the people you meet on your way up, they are the ones you see on your way down.

  58. nollkoll March 20, 2006 at 10:55 am - Reply

    well, if yopu happen to live in a country where customer service is more or less honoured. if u hapen to live in say… a mediterranean country or try even more east… you will find that your advice gets you absolutley nowhere and only money, power(like a badge) will get things done… i do miss customer service alot :o)

  59. Heidi Miller March 20, 2006 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    Excellent advice! Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be nice, especially when the rep you’re dealing with isn’t.
    On the rare instances when it *is* necessary to go over someone’s head, I use Bob Burg’s advice from Winning Without Intimidation. This phrase is wonderful: “You can’t? Oh, I don’t want to get you in any trouble–” followed by “who should I should speak to instead?”
    And the phrases, “I totally understand if you can’t. However, if you *could*, I’d really appreciate it” (also Bob’s) work wonders as well. The answer is still sometimes “no,” but at least you’re giving the person respect–and an out if he/she wants it.
    I’ve been having the reverse of this in an ongoing conflict with Apple regarding their refusal to comment and join in on the conversation regarding their repair policy, and just this Friday I had sort of the reverse experience–I remained mostly calm while the customer service rep accused me of “twisting [her] words,” of “never being happy with Apple,” and, as a blogger, of not being a “real journalist” worthy of comment. I guess I was the “little person” in that situation!
    I also find that most of the time, starting the conversation (or complaint letter, as the case may be) by saying how much you value the products/services the company provides and how much you *like* the company is a good way to build goodwill. Often times, companies only hear complaints, and it’s important to remind them (and remember yourself) that you’re happy with the company 90% of the time.

  60. Stacy March 20, 2006 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    It’s amazing how when one starts (or continues as the case may be) being nice to others, especially under adverse situations. Personally, while I’ve not hit the mark 100% of the time, just being empathetic can result in bigger (and better) outcomes. It’s the golden rule and one of the most powerful. Thanks GK for another wonderful & invaluable post. You rock.

  61. StratBlog March 20, 2006 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    The Art of Sucking Down

    He once watched a passenger absolutely scream at an airline ticket agent. After the tirade was over, my friend asked her how she could remain so calm, and she said, Thats easy.

  62. B Grover March 20, 2006 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Take it from a Calgarian who flies Air Canada all the time, you aren’t alone. They hate everyone.

  63. Corante Marketing Hub March 20, 2006 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Rule #1: Treat People Well

    There’s a reason they call it the Golden Rule. Treat people as you want to be treated, and even if you screw up, chances are that they will forgive you. And come back. And tell their friends about how well…

  64. Ollie Jones March 20, 2006 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    “Empathy” is a great thing. Next time you’re standing in line at Newark Airport (or wherever) at 5pm on a Friday with huge thunderstorms, try saying something like this when it’s your turn to talk to the person behind the counter:
    “I think it’s a miracle y’all keep doing this on days like today! I know I’m probably too late … is there any chance you can get me on a flight to Where-ever sometime this evening?”
    When I say this kind of thing the point of it is to remind MYSELF that it’s a miracle they keep doing it, and the consequences to me if they decide not to do it well for me.

  65. Gibu Thomas March 20, 2006 at 3:44 pm - Reply

    Nice post.
    Btw, our parents must have gone to the same school. I also grew up hearing “be nice; the people you meet on the way up are the same people you meet on the way down”.
    It had such a huge impact on me that we adopted it as the #1 value in our company. (value #2 is ‘be scrappy; this is our opportunity to change the world. every second counts’ and value #3 is ‘be creative; create a user experience you wish existed, but doesn’t’).
    anyway, keep sharing these wonderful nuggets.

  66. william wingo March 20, 2006 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    “One of the great misconceptions of selling, pitching, and partnering–basically, any time you want to get someone to do something for you–is that you should suck up to the people with the big titles and “A list” designation. Sometimes you do–as you’ve already read in this blog, but the ability to suck up to the folks who don’t have big titles but make the world run is more useful. ”
    The above is quoted by Guy Kawaski
    as the way to get what you want from the common working stiffs or average joe, the non big title people of the world.
    What a WIMP!
    Who says you should have to “suck down” or for that matter “suck up” to get anyone do do
    what you desire, want or should be entitled to as a customer or a self respecting person?
    The ticket agent who would send you to Paris and your luggage to Australia should be FIRED!
    First, of all without having any idea why the customer was so upset, just dealing with anyone who has this agents mentality is dealing with a person who is “damaged goods” and that type of person should not be dealing with the public.
    Guy you are a great tech guy, but to suck up, suck down, kiss-up or make up for what should be a professional and expected level of service is what makes life HARD for those of us who don’t mind paying for good service and expect the best, without GUY”S like you sucking down to get it.
    Wake up America, just like there are plenty of customers who are arrogant unpleasant and abusive and they should be dealt with openly by management or for that matter by you / Guy and not have their bad behavior reinforced by the “non-big titles” of the world who do things just as abusive if they don’t feel someone isn’t suckin down or suckin up.
    Finally, sucking up / sucking down should not be the way of getting what you want from life. Who wants to be a sucker for anything or anybody!
    To hell with bowing and scraping, bucking and jiving,
    laughing when it ain’t funny and scracthing when you don’t itch! Demand what you are entitled to or let them kiss your grits!

  67. csven March 20, 2006 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    While an officer in the U.S. Navy, I learned these (generalized) lessons as, I assume, so did many other ensigns. When you live in the place you work, and the lowest seaman on the totem pole knows how to shut off the commanding officer’s hot water heater (which, btw, was my responsibility for a time), you learn a few things real fast.

  68. CustomersAreAlways March 20, 2006 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki Knows How To Be a Good Customer

    Ah, a man after my own heart: Guy Kawasaki. In a recent post he offers his advice on how to be a good customer. In bullet points, this is what he has to say: 1. Understand the dynamic (i.e. be…

  69. Charlie Bess's Blog March 21, 2006 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Post by Guy Kawasaki that is well worth the read

  70. Tracy March 21, 2006 at 8:01 am - Reply

    Having worked customer service for over 25 yrs and now in semi-retirement, I can tell you that when dealing with rude people I find that a calm voice will almost always have things go my way. What good does it do you to argue with a customer service person?
    My wife knows things are going to be handled in the way I want when I start to use what she calls my quiet voice. You should never have to raise your voice to anyone in a customer service position. Be calm, ask nicely, and you will be amazed at what can happen.
    My last bad customer service experience, the poor woman on the phone was almost begging to give me what I wanted at the end because I was calm, I was able to verbalize what the result of our conversation should be, and above all I was nice.
    So basically, to get good customer service, be nice. And if you get bad customer service even after being nice, then write a letter to the company explaining your issue.
    And always, always, always be nice to gatekeepers. At Southwest Airlines pilots would not be hired even if fully qualified and excellent on paper because they were rude to the front-desk receptionist.

  71. Street Lessons March 21, 2006 at 8:37 am - Reply

    The Small Flies Matter Mate!

    Guy has an awesome post about why it matters to have a good rapo with the ground staff and how should you do it.
    Heres one tip that Id like to add myself to the list Smile to them!
    You will not believe just how few people actuall…

  72. Steve Collier March 21, 2006 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Guy is spot on with this exhortation. I like to think of what he discussed in terms of three Cs of Communication:
    Concern – One has to have genuine concern for the person as an idividual with a life and issues at least equal to if not greater than one’s own. Anything less is a fraud, and ultimately is different only in degree from the frauds perpetrated by the Ebbers, Kozlowskis, and Skillings of the world
    Connection – One has to make an effective connection with the person if there is to be any chance of the best possible things to happen. An effective connection generally has little or nothing to do with the particular problem one is having or special favor that one is seeking.
    Consideration – One must be aware of and respond positively to effort exerted by the person on one’s behalf, even if the result is what should have occurred anyway. This is not a ideal world and it does not yield ideal outcomes. Only the grace of individuals overcomes this.
    Would you prefer for your tombstone to say: “He/She was always angling for a special deal” or “He/She cared about me” ?

  73. dutg March 21, 2006 at 11:17 am - Reply

    This comment is for csven, who wrote “Who says you should have to “suck down” or for that matter “suck up” to get anyone do do
    what you desire, want or should be entitled to as a customer or a self respecting person?
    The ticket agent who would send you to Paris and your luggage to Australia should be FIRED!”
    You, sir, are a complete and unmitigated ass. Yes, you may be 100% correct — that ticket agent IS irresponsible and vindictive and should be fired. But you’re in Paris and your bags are in Australia. There’s a way of the world and I can tell you haven’t learned it yet. Good luck, because life will continue to be be quite bumpy if you continue with your high and mighty attitude.

  74. dugt March 21, 2006 at 11:19 am - Reply

    sorry, my last post mistakenly said it was directed at csven — CORRECTION: it was directed at william wingo.

  75. Smittie March 21, 2006 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    1. I love it when orifices like Mr. Wingo are in front of me in line. When my turn comes, the person working is very ready for a friendly face. I make sure it’s mine.
    2. When there are multiple choices to be made, I try to pick the one that is most important to me and ask the service person to make their life easy on all the rest of the choices. I’m never demanding on the one that matters but it is the only one on which I will express a my choice.
    3. The person behind the desk probably knows the system very well. They are the most qualified at helping you work around or through the system to your advantage. Your job is to motivate the person behind the counter to want to help you. That is the fact of life. Not liking that fact won’t change it. The point that Mr. Wingo misses is this. The person behind the counter always has options in how they accomplish their assigned tasks.

  76. elke's March 21, 2006 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    de kunst van slijmen

  77. elke's March 21, 2006 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    de kunst van slijmen

  78. Stacy March 21, 2006 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    I went back and re-read this today and realize that it dovetails nicely in your post about being a mensch.
    Yeah, you can call it “sucking up or sucking down”, but it all points to one thing – being a top notch person.

  79. Cherryflava March 22, 2006 at 12:16 am - Reply

    Be legendary…and more

    After we recently experienced Cape Town’s legendary state of non-service, it was ironic that we should stumble upon this great Guy Kawasaki article about how you as a customer can attract better service. [Thanks Martin] From regular reader Jonathan Haber

  80. A Bob's Life March 23, 2006 at 3:39 am - Reply

    Being Respectful

    In my line of work, we spend a lot of time on the phone with customer service folks. These are the folks that people get easily frustrated with. In fact, a lot of people end up sitting at my desk after giving up on the customer service folks. The re…

  81. quicklinks March 23, 2006 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    The Art of Sucking Down

    The Art of Sucking Down Or, why you should treat people with a modicum of respect….

  82. pseudorandom March 25, 2006 at 6:22 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki on Sucking Down

    A nice piece by Guy Kawasaki on “the art of sucking down” — what he calls “the ability to suck up to the folks who don’t have big titles but make the world run”, like ticket agents, receptionists, administrative assistants,…

  83. Daniel Miller March 25, 2006 at 9:57 am - Reply

    I once went to a Bennigan’s restaraunt and ordered a Caesar salad. When the waiter brought it out, I took a bite and it had way too much Caesar dressing to even taste the salad. I called the waiter over and he said he would take care of it right away. The waiter came back and brought me a bowl of salad with the Caesar on the side, a brilliant solution for both of us.
    After dinner was completed, I asked our waiter that I may speak to his manager. The waiter looked disturbed by this, but nonetheless brought him over. I told the manager: “Our waiter was fantastic. He went out of his way to assist us and came up with this brilliant solution for my salad.”
    The manager looked at me and said: “Thank you very much. That has been the first time in a long time that someone has called me over to a table to say something positive about our staff.”
    Every time after this, when the manager was on duty or the waiter, I was magically moved up on the waiting lists.

  84. john March 26, 2006 at 7:07 am - Reply

    I agree almost completely – but 7) Never complain. Are you kidding?
    Don’t whine, don’t be arrogant but if you don’t get what you want, assuming it is a reasonable then you must go over Bifff’s head. Not to pull rank but rather to get things to happen, and if you do it right (applying the tactics you outline), it is most definitely effective.
    Moreover, if you hope to expect good customer service – then just as you should go over Biff’s head in praising exceptional service, you also have on behalf of all customers a moral obligation to complain.

  85. P March 26, 2006 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    I’ve done my time (4 years) in a customer service role, and I’ve got a small comment on point 4.
    It’s not that you shouldn’t try to make people laugh (far from it), but avoid the canned lines.
    If you (as a customer) have heard a line somewhere else then you can guarantee that you’re not the first person to use it.
    If you can’t think of something funny to say, just be nice. It works wonders.

  86. Managing Chaos March 27, 2006 at 5:14 am - Reply

    Guy Kawasaki on Sucking Down

    Guy Kawasaki has a great blog post up about The Art of Sucking Down. He looks at how people treat those “beneath” them, and how they could get better service by treating people better. He breaks it down into nine…

  87. My Jiggly Blog by Nick Schneble March 27, 2006 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    Don’t piss off the messenger

    When it comes to getting things done in life, it pays to be nice to everyday people. Forget the conventional wisdom about befriending those in power. When’s the last time a restaurant owner came to your rescue when you were starving & waiting for a t…

  88. My Jiggly Blog by Nick Schneble March 27, 2006 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    Don’t piss off the messenger

    When it comes to getting things done, it pays to be nice to everyday people. Forget the conventional wisdom about befriending those in power. When’s the last time a restaurant owner came to your rescue when you were starving and waiting for a table?

  89. Simon Christy March 29, 2006 at 11:14 am - Reply

    One of the first lessons I was told by a mentor was, “Always give receptionists and secretary’s your time and be polite”. And the reason – they know more people and talk to more people in a company than anyone else. Don’t underestimate the power of those chats around the water machine.
    Of course, we should all treat everyone with respect regardless of what it says on their business card.

  90. dirtyDogStink March 30, 2006 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Common sense, Karma and Earl Hickey

  91. Jameel April 3, 2006 at 6:32 am - Reply

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  92. Futurelab's Blog April 11, 2006 at 2:24 am - Reply

    The Art of Customer Service

    by: Guy Kawasaki This blog entry is a response to a topic suggestion by Douglas Hanna. It covers the art of customer service, a subject that is near and dear to my heart….

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  94. Jameel April 14, 2006 at 6:47 am - Reply

    On the rare occasion that my web host has server or email problems, instead of joining the hundreds of “when is this going to be fixed” messages to Tech Support, I send a “I know things happen, hang in there, I’m patient” message. My real requests for support later are handled immediately.

  95. dirtyDogStink April 14, 2006 at 9:48 pm - Reply

    Common sense, Karma and Earl Hickey

  96. dirtyDogStink April 15, 2006 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Common sense, Karma and Earl Hickey

  97. Ebun May 3, 2006 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    I mistakenly got in here but i was very pleased i did. I read your post and I laughed, I later thought that if I was the one going to Paris and by bags were going to Sydney. I definitely won’t be happy Not to excuse the customer but two wrongs don’t make a right. It is good to be nice to people even if you don’t have anything to gain. Put a smile on your face, Greet people when you come into an office, Talk softly and nicely-majorly just make people feel good about themselves.

  98. Tid Bits and Web Drippings June 16, 2006 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    My Thoughts on Commenting and Audience

    I am reading this post about strategic commenting by Amy Gahran. If you look at the number of comments and trackbacks regarding the mentioned post, it is easy to see that many, me included, agree with her. The fine writer of several web sites is als…

  99. Pajamas Media June 24, 2006 at 10:38 am - Reply

    The “Little People” Who Rule the World

    Guy Kawasaki on The Art of Sucking Down…

  100. AMERICAN DIGEST June 25, 2006 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Things Found in My Pajamas

    A reader asks if “American Digest” shall fade away. Never, but as noted below I’ve become quite busy with a number of new projects at Pajamas Media. Briefly put, this job equals about 2.5 jobs. There’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes, but th…

  101. AMERICAN DIGEST June 25, 2006 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Things Found in My Pajamas

    A reader asks if “American Digest” shall fade away. Never, but as noted below I’ve become quite busy with a number of new projects at Pajamas Media. Briefly put, this job equals about 2.5 jobs. There’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes, but th…

  102. Tim Clark September 12, 2006 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    I’m always amazed at people who yell at the waiter or waitress in a restaurant. Why, on Earth, would you EVER yell at someone who controls the amount of spit that will be delivered in your soup de jour?

  103. Mahesh December 28, 2006 at 9:04 am - Reply

    Hi Guy,
    Been a long time fan of yours from the early days of Mac when you were promoting the Mac. Here is a story that you should definitely read, as it relates well to your story of “The The Art of Sucking Down” and is an ongoing personal experience of mine.
    United Air Lines has extorted nearly $3000 from my parents at a time when they were most helpless and I am fighting back to recover that money. Please check out my blog and add your comments as your help counts in my fight agains this injustice by United Air Lines.

  104. WonderDawg January 15, 2007 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Whenever I’m asked “Can I help you?” my response is “Yes, I can be helped!” Puts a smile on their face or generates a laugh as the person asking knows that I have deep empathy…
    Great article – should be posted every year as a resolution to be nice to all mankind, especially at airports.

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