A few basics
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For the introduction, click here.
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In one year, from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, I asked:
For the purposes of these discussions "benefits" and "gains" will be used interchangeably to refer to any monetary gain, offset loss or refund, as well as time, experience, convenience, and/or information, obtained through asking or negotiation.
Other key terms will be defined as they come up.
The first, and most basic, question I had:
1) Does asking pay off?
To answer this, let's look at a few elements first.
Total successes versus failures. Of the 411 requests, 5 were inconclusive. Either the results weren't good or bad, or I'm still waiting to hear back (free stock). 279 were net gains. And in 16 cases, I got what I requested but didn't act on it. For example, I obtained a discount on diamond earrings, but never bought them. I also got a discount on a boat tour in Hawaii, but it was canceled because of bad weather. So in those 14 cases I obtained what I asked for, but failed to claim it for a variety of reasons. I counted those as successes, but those dollar amounts won't go into the tally of total gains.
In all, 295 times people gave me what I wanted. That's 295 times I would not have asked and would have ended up worse off than I did by asking.
And 111 times, people refused.
So roughly speaking, 7 out of 10 times, I improved my situation by asking.
Next, as a basis for the subsequent interpretations this week, it helps to know what I asked for. For the rest of the charts and analyses, I'm not going to use the 5 inconclusive results. The total I'll be working with is 406, not 411.
2) Did I ask more for monetary and material benefits, or rather for experiences, time, access, privileges, fun or other nontangible benefits?
This pie chart oversimplifies the categories. Here are some explanations:
"Money" refers to any monetary or material request that can be translated into a dollar amount. Sometimes it was obvious: I saved $5 at a farmer's market. Other times I required translating a free or upgraded item into a dollar amount. But, bottom line, requests in the "Money" category were all about saving or earning money.
Next most common was "Convenience or Comfort." These are the requests that aimed to make my life easier. Could you lend me your sweater? Could you stop smoking here? Etc.
"Information or Instruction" is pretty self-explanatory. Reviewing the data, I found that these were sometimes last-minute requests -- a mix of midnight desperation, plus curiosity. Basically, if I hadn't asked anything, I could always hit up a stranger for info at 11:55 p.m. Learning some tips from a pool shark was such an example.
"Access or Permission" contained some of my favorite requests. Some could be cross-listed under "Convenience or Comfort" (e.g. Can I use your bathroom? is hazy). But here I used my gut feelings to sort them out. If the request tested someone's willingness to make me comfortable, I put it in that category. If it was more about breaking a rule, crossing a line, or letting me penetrate where I shouldn't, it was about access. Got it?
"Fun" was any wacky or zany request that I attempted for... pure glee. Try on someone's shoe, provoke an unsuspecting stranger, bite into an onion ring. Many of these could be cross-listed under "Access or Permission," but if they were more exciting than essential, I put them in this group.
Finally, "Time" refers to any request that was primarily or exclusively about saving... you got it... time. Sometimes it was a close call between "Time" and "Convenience or Comfort," but it came down to this: even if saving time was a convenience, if I could differentiate that request from other convenient ones and add a minute or hour to my day, then I counted it under "Time."
A simpler way of breaking it down, which will be useful in future analyses:
3) Did I seek monetary/material or other benefits?
I asked much more frequently for "Other" (non-monetary) benefits: 256 times. That is, for every monetary request, there were about 2 non-monetary ones.
4) Within these categories, where was I more successful?
In other words, was I more likely to meet my goal when I asked for monetary/material benefits or rather for access, experiences, information, etc. I bet you have a hunch, you savvy reader. But let's double check!
Out of 150 "Money" requests, 92 were approved. Out of 256 "Other" requests (all that were not "Money"), 203 were approved. Asking for non-financial benefits was much more likely to be met with approval:
Apparently, not only did I ask for "Other" benefits more often, but I was also more successful there. Is this causal or coincidental? I'm not a statistician, but if you have any ideas, please email me or drop a comment, below!
5) Now, looking again at the specific categories outlined above, which type of request was most likely to be successful?
To determine this, let's break down "Money" and "Other" into the more precise categories to see successful I was in individual area.
I measured how many times my requests was approved in each category, versus how many times I asked. Here's how it stacks up:
Or if you prefer, in the next graph I've indicated clear cut success rates: number of successful askings divided by number of askings, per category.
My favorite finding here: Fun. Out of 32 attempts, only 5 people didn't play along.
You rock, Humanity!
One speculation about why it was so easy to get Information or Instruction (90% success rate): I was aiming low. This category included requests for directions and questions to experts who were happy to teach or share their insights. I imagine that if I'd been asking for more "valuable" or at least elusive information, this percentage would have dropped significantly.
Another point: Overall, it was a lot easier to get my way when I asked to alleviate a basic need.
So whether it's due to the hard times, our culture or just human nature, my year of asking shows that people are much less likely to part with their cash than they are willing to be warm and cuddly. (However, this may also be because I asked more strangers monetary/material questions, and more friends and family comfort questions. Details on complicating factors like how my approach, and who I asked, could have shaped the results, coming in the next few days.)
As for actual payoffs... check back in a future posting!
Tomorrow: How the "Money" category breaks down, and asking by location.