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July 23, 2009

Ask-o-logy: Who giveth

Today I got an email that made me jump for joy. Here it is, in its entirety:
Wow, asking does work. Just got $400 a month taken off rent by sending 1 email. You are truly an inspiration.
Sent from a dear friend, aka my sister's boyfriend! Like so many people affected by these particularly difficult times in all corners of this globe, this dynamic duo is having trouble making ends meet. When times were plush, around late 2007, they moved into an awesome apartment in a great part of Seattle (Wallingford, for those who've been there), and they really don't want to give it up. So he simply asked. And behold!!!

In fact, he is the inspiration, and everyone who sends me stories about their successful askings. I LOVE hearing about your victories!! Send them in!!

As for these analyses... Ready, set...

Today: Who giveth
Next: The Squirmy Gender Question
Finally: Who Taketh Away -- Conclusion!!

So let's look at who I asked.

(And remember, clicking on any image magnifies it. Feel free to forward or reproduce, but give credit to The Daily Asker and link back, please. Thanks!)

1) Which industries were more profitable?

To get a rough estimate if it was more worthwhile to pursue retailers or restaurants, etc, I tallied my gains in each category. Note: I'm using the word "context" instead of industry, below, because it lets me be more precise. For example, if I asked a friend for career advice, I put that under "Career" and not "Individual favors." Also, Housing isn't an "industry" as far as this graph is concerned -- it's an umbrella term for all housing-related requests (rental issues, choosing a gardener, talking to potential housemates last fall, negotiating with Mr. A about the move, etc).

Also, since Career and Travel were comparatively huge amounts (due to one paycheck and a pair of round trip vouchers), they dwarfed everything in comparison. So I left them off this chart.

Here you go:

This includes money I gained, saved, recovered or was owed.

The top three categories -- stores, internet/cell phone providers, and automotive services -- should be big, because they're also what I spent a lot on. I'm surprised dining wasn't bigger, especially considering that I spend most of my waking hours in cafes.

The low amount for many of these industries can be explained by a simple fact: I didn't ask for financial benefits there.

Next, let's see how easy it was to score financial and other requests (like info, fun, permission to do something special, etc) in each industry. This is a better indicator of where I should put my efforts if I'm not only interested in money. This time I'll include Career and Travel.

Now it looks like restaurants, thought not a big financial winner, did often try to accommodate my requests (e.g. turn down the A/C, replace a gross cocktail, seat me on the forbidden terrace, and more).

Health & Safety was high because I only got rejected twice. Apparently, the beauty industry, i.e. salons, spas and beauty supply stores, was very willing to accommodate my requests, which were mostly discounts. Just knowing that makes my skin more supple and radiant!* (*Results not guaranteed. Asking experiment not approved By the FDA for wrinkle erasure. Do not try this at home and always moisturize. Offer void where prohibited. And now, back to our regular programming.)

Travel, with the biggest payoff (gained $1,665 there!) was also selectively generous. Finally, the hardest area for me to convince people to give was Financial Services. That includes banks, brokerage firms, and credit card companies. The irony of that is that it's so unironic.

Next, let's find out who's more giving, based on my relationships with people.

2) Who is it best to ask?

As I looked over the results, I concluded that I asked five loose categories of people: friends/family, professional contacts, random strangers, and people I met for various commercial transactions. I felt that these distinctions were most meaningful (as opposed to, say, people I knew and didn't know, which lumped too many potentially relevant sub-groups into the latter category; and so on.)

People I dealt with commercially, in turn, can be split into bosses and employees. These labels I determined to the best of my ability, sometimes asking and sometimes surmising.

Here's how I fared with each group:

A few things worth pointing out here. Dealing with a supervisor or boss (owner, manager, etc) produces far better results than dealing with an employee. I expected a spread, but not that huge!!

This applies to situations where the supervisor intervened, or when he or she was alone the whole time. Even if I accidentally called an employee a boss a few times, that doesn't make up for the huge difference. At the same time, even employees said "yes" more than they said "no" -- 62% precisely -- so, again, it's certainly worth those extra 3 seconds to ask.

Also, I had a way easier time asking total strangers for random stuff than asking either employees or my professional network for help, access, money, etc. Zooming in:

I made this chart in jest, but it gets met thinking. Strangers were remarkably open, much more than I would have expected. But why the very low response rate in the career category? It kind of makes me think that maybe 1) I've chosen the wrong profession or 2) We're in a recession.

Also, to be fair, these results are shaped by the kind of request, as much as by who I'm asking. Strangers received fun, lighthearted queries (share an onion ring! let's talk about fortune cookies!), while professional contacts received more time-consuming and possibly onerous requests, like reviewing work proposals and sorting out logistical issues.

One last question in the WHO category:

3) Whom did I ask more, men or women?

Come on now. Admit it. You're curious. Shouldn't an experiment by and about a woman who asks offer any conclusions about gender?

Ok, here's the first conclusion: I'm confused!

Turns out I asked men and women almost evenly. Here, with a subversive color scheme, is a pie chart:

Glad to know I was pretty even in my attempts, without even trying. That makes the next part easier. (I did ask men a little more, but that could be a statistical blip. At least, that's what we non-math people call it, okay?)

But when I try to determined who I should be focusing on, the results are a little muddled:

4) Who was I more successful with across all types of requests, men or women?

That's straightforward enough. But contrast that to average gains, by gender:

5) Who gave more per request, women or men?

So it turns out that men were slightly more likely to give in to my requests... but when women gave, they really and truly gave. This is due, once again, to those two super transactions (the voucher and paycheck), where both individuals who gave happened to be women. I say happened to be, because I have no evidence that a man would have behaved any less generously.

Thus my initial conclusions about gender are inconclusive.

What if we looked at the data in a more goal oriented way? As a shopper, I may have the choice of approaching a boss or an employee (and I should apparently choose the boss). What about a male or female salesperson? or restaurant employee? Is it better to ask for restaurant service when I'm with a man (aka on a date and possibly about to spend a lot) or when I'm alone, or out with the girls? Finally, based on my data, if I want a career boost or advice, or specific information on an unknown subject, should I approach a man or a woman?

Dare I post the results?

I invite you to tune in next for: The Squirmy Gender Question.
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