Recent Posts

July 30, 2009

Ask-o-logy: Pardon the Interruption

Gentle Reader,

Before I write the next post, before I reply to your invigorating comments and emails, please let me explain my absence.

I've been busy -- buzzingly, boundingly busy. Five lovely hours spent being the witness at my friend's wedding followed by an Italian lunch on India Street, four visits to an ailing uncle in a nursing home, three weeks of a blessed dissertation stride (and almost done -- insert happy holler here!!), two out of town guests, one fun Saturday brunch, zero midnight confrontations with nocturnal prowlers (turned out to be a possum), and negative one blog posts. Meaning that I wrote and lost a bunch of files.

Yeah. About that...

For weeks I have been working on a soon-to-be new and improved Daily Asker site. I've done it mostly in the background, grabbing spare minutes and occasional afternoons to put together a format that would preserve the daily asking component and add a few new features I'm really excited about. Well, several days ago, with a few key keyboard strokes, I managed to make it disappear. Everything. The whole blog. All the new material. In its place came this horrific message:


I put everything else on hold. I started learning PHP and SQL, and ventured to the cold and damp corners of my server.

It wasn't pretty.

It was time to get professional help.

So I asked. I asked for advice and instructions and merciful enlightenment from various computer programming gurus.

Between writing to a forum, calling my hosting company, posting on craigslist to hire a code debugger for a reasonable fee, and asking Mr. A and his highly technical cousin if there's any hope, it finally dawned on me that maybe the simplest solution is to just restore the site to where it was, just before that fatal error.

That's where I am now. I've begged the hosting company to do that. We'll see if they have the data from August 2.

If that works, I'll be thrilled to unveil to you the new Daily Asker. If not... well, I guess I've learned my lesson. BACKUP UP NIGHTLY OR PREPARE TO GET ROYALLY F*CKED!!!!!!

Now, off to sleep. To dream of recovered blog posts, fluffy fat free cheesecake and other modern miracles.

And when I awake, I hope you'll join me for the end of ask-o-logy. "Who taketh away: A look at altruism and attitude."

Ever thine,

La Roxy

July 27, 2009

Ask-o-logy: The Squirmy Gender Question (Part III)

La Roxy walks into a bar.

She's stranded in a distant land and in dire need of:

1) the antidote to the venom of the snake that just bit her
2) an emergency loan to buy a tire because she has a flat and only 47.50 foofis (about $18) to her name
3) honest input, because she's really aching to find out if she has lettuce in her teeth but lacks a reflective surface to investigate


Who should she ask? The woman in the black v-neck smiling into her phone, the avuncular man downing ouzo in the back corner, or the teenage couple with matching mullets nuzzling by the pool table? Or, should La Roxy bring Mr. A in from the car and ask together, if that would help her chances?

A dilemma otherwise known as:

1) Who should I ask when I am alone versus accompanied?

The results of my year of asking show that the druncle wins, hands down. Men were much more willing to respond well when I asked alone, and mixed groups were much more willing to respond well when I was asked with a friend or family member. Women were most consistent (i.e. reacted most similarly when I was accompanied and alone).

Of course there are other factors at play here -- different people respond differently to different motives. So it would be unwise to draw conclusions. Instead, let's delve deeper into how people of each gender responded and see what that yields.

***

When it came to how people reacted to my tone or attitude (explained and analyzed here), many of the results made sense -- people were a lot nicer when I was nice and meaner when I was mean. (By that I mean they gave in more or less to my requests.)

Wowzer.

What I found baffling was that people resisted when I used a tone I considered to be "direct." I didn't bark the requests. But I didn't incant them in lyric verse either. My attitude was straightforward, competent, efficient, brisk. Neutral. I just approached the individual or made the phone call, said hello, asked, and waited for a result. I asked this way when I was pressed for time and seeking something straightforward. Likewise, when I was sorting out logistical/administrative/practical issues: Would you mind moving your car over so we can both fit into this space? Can you extend my hold on these library books over the weekend, since I can't make it today?

Turns out that people rather disliked this approach. Of the six attitudes, I was more successful being really nice -- but also hostile!! -- than neutral. (67% success rate for the neutral approach, compared to 71% for hostility.)

Now, it could be that my "neutral" is most people's "rude." If so, that would explain these results. But if not, if my "neutral" really is what most people would consider "neutral," then what gives??

Maybe it's the Virgo in me, but I just don't get it. Why would people not appreciate my direct, practical and to-the-point approach for simple questions?

Actually, it turns out that some people do: women.

2) Which approach did men, women and mixed groups prefer?

(Click to magnify)

Women were least inclined to give in to hostility. Instead, they preferred me to be direct (more than 80% success rate). They were least impressed when I was wimpy. Finally, of the three gender groups, women were most willing to say yes when I was acting commercial or businesslike (W 'n' D).

Men were most easily swayed when I was sweet or extra sweet and, like women, least impressed when I was wimpy. Of the three groups, men were most likely to appreciate aggression, as in when I stuck up for myself or demanded better treatment or results ("hostile"). But that was by a small margin.

Now this is interesting: While women were quite ready to say yes when I was nice, the success rate drops a bit for "extra nice." Could it be that my extra friendliness was judged by women as fake? Could it be that women interpreted it as BS or were more skeptical? For whatever reason, women were around 22% less likely to give in to extreme friendliness than men were.

3) Can we be sure gender is the reason for these differences?

When the values are close together, it's really hard to know if those tiny variations are meaningful or just random. Plus, even for wider variations, since I've only isolated for gender and approach, it's hard to know if gender is the cause. It could also be that when I was nice I tended to ask people in the restaurant industry, who happened to be men, who very often tried to accommodate me. Maybe it's just a correlation, even a coincidence.

However, looking at the biggest spreads between how genders reacted (when I was direct, extra nice, and meek) does offer some potentially valuable insights.

a) Groups Dislike Bluntness

Men and women were almost equally likely to say yes when I was "direct." Women more so, but it's not a massive difference. Groups, on the other hand, were least likely to appreciate that approach, by far. Perhaps when I was direct with an individual, it was seen as efficient, but with people who were socializing, that came across as rude? The data do suggest that groups would have preferred more banter, since their success rate jumps up for "Nice."

I also think it's significant that of the six approaches, directness was the favored approach of women. They were most inclined to say yes when I got to the point and just asked. Yes, men and women preferred it about the same -- around 80% -- but this value is more relevant if we compare it within the gender category: men preferred nice or very nice, while women preferred practical. This is backed up by the next graph, which shows that women weren't fans of extreme friendliness, while men were.

b) Men Love Sprinkles

While men seemed inclined to give in to my extra friendliness (ok, fine, flirting), women and groups were far less charmed when I laid it on thick. What's interesting is that groups were eager to say yes when I was simply nice (see the very top wavy graph) -- but that rate falls for extra nice.

If we start to put these results together, it seems that groups were less keen on interrupting their discussions or activities to help someone who seemed to be "working it." It's also possible that the dynamics of those mixed groups resisted the interjection of an extremely friendly outsider seeking help. Maybe I was bothering one member, or seemed threatening or suspicious, or who knows what.

These are my vague interpretations, but if you have any other ideas, I'd be curious to hear them.

c) Groups Pity the Meek

If mixed groups resisted my efforts at being very friendly, they were total suckers for my most pathetic requests for help. Men and women were almost equally put off by my meekness, but that was by far the most effective method for asking mixed groups, both by gender and by approach.

And now to tie it all together:

4) So what can we posit with any confidence about the responses of each gender to my various approaches?

This is too limited a data sample to support any generalizations, and that wasn't my goal in the first place. It is, however, to ask questions -- and figure out how and what to start asking, in the future!

What I do know: requesting help, a favor or a discount requires the giver to like you -- or be persuaded by you. Even a little bit. So when I didn't try to be pleasant (i.e. I was merely neutral or "direct") people responded coldly. But I have to wonder if my gender had anything to do with it. Did people assume that being curt and direct is not "ladylike"? Was being nice rewarded because women are expected to be that way? If Mr. A had asked for the same things I did, in the same way, to the same people, would the results have been different?

While groups responded well to my meekness, would people be less willing to help out a solo man? And what factors lead groups to react well to a shy woman, men to react well to a friendly or single woman, and women to react negatively to a hostile woman? Can we attribute these reactions to latent and explicit beliefs about assertiveness, competency, competition, and/or collective and individual responsibility toward who one perceives as weak or empowered? Are the results due to trained behaviors and reactions from those who interacted -- or are their interpretations due to trained ways of seeing data and patterns? Where does coincidence stop, and where does meaning start?

What do you think?? Leave a comment below -- any reaction is welcome!

July 24, 2009

Ask-o-logy interruption: Save $50 off a $250 bed?

I've been writing and writing these reports, and we're almost done!! Two more to go.

But I miss the other reports. The ones where I gallivant around town, ask away, and then tell you, gentle reader, what I've been up to!

So I thought I'd interject such a story, because it's a good one. Because it confirms some of what I've discovered this year. And also totally surprised me. Plus, I need a break from all those graphs...

***

For months, I've been on the lookout for a bed. Like a proper grad student, I had put the boxspring and mattress directly on the floor. But I could deny those secret yearnings for a headboard, and, dare I hope, a footboard?


My dream bed is either an antique or something on Horchow.com -- classical lines, but sufficiently indulgent -- but that site is out of the question. Some of those beds cost more than I earn in a month.

Instead, I've been scouring the internet. I've seen a few possibilities here and there, but nothing that screamed "buy me!" at a reasonable price. Until this week. The ad on Craigslist was simple:
Hand carved, queen sized sleigh bed. $250 O.B.O.
It was more than I wanted -- my original aim was under $100 -- but after almost a year of looking, Mr. A and I agreed to raise our budget to $200. The photos were gorgeous. Mr. A concurred: this was our new bed!! There was no phone number, so I wrote an email:
Hi,

I am interested in this bed. Where are you located? And what is the
story behind it? (i.e. where did you buy it, how old is it, if you
know.)

Thanks!

La Roxy
With no answer for a few hours, I got scared. What if ALL OF SAN DIEGO wants that bed? I sent this follow up. Not the best move, I admit:
Hello,

I wrote a short while ago, asking about your bed.

But bottom line, I would like to buy it! From the pictures, it looks exactly like what I am looking for. My only question is how I'd disassemble it -- do the head/foot boards come off of the frame?

Where are you located?

I could come by today, or tomorrow anytime but 12 to 3.

Best way to get in touch is by phone. My cell is XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Thanks again,

La Roxy
The next day, a guy wrote back and called, saying I was the first person to reply, and the bed was mine. He explained it was made in Indonesia and had belonged to a friend of his who upgraded. All good.

Here's where the story gets interesting.


I stopped by the ATM to extract $250, showed up at our meeting point, met the seller, and concluded the bed was as gorgeous live as in the pics.

"As for the price," I started.

(Between you and me, I was prepared to pay $250, because 1) It's a long term investment, not something I want to compromise on excessively in terms of quality and aesthetics 2) It was wood, with rock solid construction and 3) I was tired of looking. This was it.

But I was still going to try, fleetingly, to get the price down a little. Like 10 percent.)

"Yeah, I'm willing to deal," the guy cut me off, even before I could ask.

Excellent! Since he so openly said he'd like to deal, I decided to aim lower.

"Ok, great! What do you think of $200?"

"Perfect. That's exactly what I was shooting for."

Perfect, indeed!

I paid him, we loaded af few slabs into my car, and then I discovered there was no way the headboard would fit.

We looked at it, loosely measured it. I explained I've moved headboards before -- but this was truly massive. He got a phone call from a sorta girlfriend type to make dinner plans, so I thanked him and said I'd figure it out from there.

Instead, he stayed. And found a way to dangle the footboard out of my trunk. And then strapped the headboard to his car. And followed me to my house. And then unloaded it in my living room.

The whole time, I was telling him: You don't need to do this. You are being too kind. I will rent a truck, or find someone with a bigger car. My boyfriend and I can do this lifting. Your end of the deal was to sell me the bed. Even loading part onto my car was enough.

And he replied: I want to finish what I started. I have bungee cords, I have a car, I have time, so why not just do the job right?

He had nothing to gain. (And, contrary to what you might think, we weren't flirting -- at all. I would have felt disloyal to be even a little flirtatious while buying a bed for Mr. A and me. I'm not that sleazy, or desperate for a discount, come on. And he was clearly on his way to meet a date.)

Before he left, I gave him a bottle of wine as a thank you gesture -- at least that, he accepted.

Yes, I got a nice discount. But this story is not just about asking and getting. It's about someone who gave without being asked. Someone who was thorough and generous. Someone who makes me think about how I can be a kinder, more generous person, too. Someone whose story I was eager to tell.

Gained: Met an exceptional person. (And saved $50.) Thank you, David!

Tomorrow: Back to Ask-o-logy!

July 23, 2009

Ask-o-logy: The Squirmy Gender Question (Part II)

As far as gender is concerned, one limitation of this experiment is that it's one sided. I can't turn myself into a man and see how people react, and I didn't collaborate with a man to ask the same question, in the same way, to the same person, and see if the results were different. That's what would constitute a more controlled experiment.

The only thing I could compare and contrast was how different people react to a woman asking. And since I'm the same woman, at least a few things are constant: my nice was always the same kind of nice, my pushiness was the same kind of pushy, for example.

That is what scientists call a "longitudinal" study, where you examine one element in a bunch of different contexts. The benefit is that it offers a very narrow but ideally deeper insight into a broader topic. Of course, most longitudinal studies involve more than one subject, but who wants to read that many versions of the same blog? ;)

And now, to the numbers.

Recap from yesterday: Did I have more success asking men or women?

Yesterday I reported that men gave in to my requests 3 out of 4 times, while women slightly less. I am not sure if this is a significant difference, and even if it is, the results are pretty close.

But once we look at some narrower questions, the results get more interesting.

1) Gender and subject of request: Better to ask men or women about different topics?

I wanted to know if men or women gave in more to five types of requests: those related to my career, retail discounts, restaurant requests, random fun, and travel problems.


The other categories, like housing, entertainment, etc, didn't really interest me from this perspective. Having a male or female cashier at the box office won't make or break my day. And some categories, like housing, included more of one gender, so it wasn't a fair comparison.

For career requests, men and women were similarly willing to say "yes." Examining the data, I made the same kinds of requests to almost the same number men and women. In fact, men and women turned me down 4 times each, but I asked women two more times.

I'm not scared of bold statements, but I cannot say this means anything.

The only real difference is at restaurants, where men overwhelmingly said yes. 83% versus 72%. Considering I also asked men more there (which implies I encountered more male waiters, cashiers, baristas, etc, or exhibited an implicit preference for interacting with them in that context), looks like that's a trend I can easily continue. Excellent.

Conclusion 1: I am relieved, based on this admittedly limited and totally unscientific experiment, to find that men and women treated me the same in the workplace.

2) Which goals were men and women more responsive to?

That is, was it better to ask men or women for financial benefits, time, permission to do strange things, information, or convenience?

Do all of these findings reflect stereotypes or defy them? A bit of both.

The smallest spread was for info, where both parties were remarkably willing to share their expertise. I do wonder if that 5% difference is due to gender or other factors. Looking at the data, women were extremely generous, explaining things in detail, giving me more advice than I even asked for.

Women were also far more likely to comfort me and have fun with me. Based on the data, this is not because I asked my female friends for hugs. Rather, I asked mostly women I didn't know for help in the health care and travel industries -- and they usually said yes.

Men were far more likely to give me access or permission to do stuff: park somewhere off limits, join a space or conversation where I wasn't invited, etc.

Men were also significantly more likely to give me money. Meaning they either granted discounts or bonuses/perks/raises, or they handled transactions where I got money back.

3) The last result makes me wonder: are men more likely to give money? Are more men in positions where one would be likely to give money?

Let's find out:

Strangely, and luckily, I asked exactly the same number of men and women for monetary benefits and discounts. I didn't plan it this way, I swear!!

Men: 75
Women: 75

Of these, 56 men said yes, while 41 women did. That is, men were 37% more likely to say yes!


So it seems that, all things being truly equal -- same asker, same number of askees -- men are more willing to part with their money, or the money of their business, when this woman asks.

I saved the best for last, regarding gender. Check back tomorrow!

Ask-o-logy: The Squirmy Gender Question

Five factoids:

1. When men earn more than their wives do, they're happier. And it can't just be a little more income -- there has to be a big gap for a husband to feel "satisfaction." (Source: Study cited in Tuesday's WSJ.)

2. Women don't receive promotions, opportunities, responsibilities, privileges, exceptions, perks and benefits because... they don't ask for them. (Source: Women Don't Ask)

3. Female supervisors are expected to be more supportive and nurturing than male ones are. Those who are not are considered to be bad bosses. (Source: Study cited in MSNBC)

4. Women lose millions of dollars of cumulative lifetime earnings because they fail to negotiate their starting salaries. That single lost opportunity, which would require a few hours of research and ten minutes of talking during a hiring meeting, translates into a different income threshold for life. (Source: WDA)

5. And if you search for "female boss" and "male boss" in Google images, the top page is disturbingly quick to propagate damaging gender stereotypes: three naked women, Paris Hilton, a frustrated looking chick at a computer and a bunch of silly cartoons, versus lots of men in suits, including two ordering around female employees. (My own finding.) Here's one sample female boss:

(Cartoon from Woman Honor Thyself, about male versus female bosses.)

In broad strokes, this is one aspect of the professional landscape facing working women in America today. In other countries, too, I gather, but I'll focus here on what I know firsthand. Of course there are exceptions. And speaking personally, I have been blessed for the most part to work with fair and enlightened employers.

But as a young professional about to start a full-time job search, this info deeply troubled me.

I had three concerns at the start of the project:

--Is it possible that I am being ripped off because of my gender, in professional or other contexts? What if I am, and I don't even realize it?

--Is it possible that I am aiming lower -- not asking, not seeking, not venturing -- because I'm a woman? Because I am socialized to be kind and thoughtful, or because I haven't developed the proper skills to identify opportunities?

--What would happen if I made a conscious effort to ask?

That last question led to many more: Would asking open doors? Would I be seen as pushy and bitchy? Would I be rewarded for my assertiveness? Would flirting be effective, and should I resort to that? Would my gender shape not only which methods I use to ask, but also how those methods are received? And how would people of each gender react to my asking?

Hence this project.

While gender wasn't a conscious concern while I asked -- I didn't stop think, "Hmm, I'm a woman asking a woman for a discount, how should I interact?" or "A new study says male bosses are more likely to promote female employees with morose humor, so let's see what depressing jokes I can make today!" -- I did collect enough data to come to produce some interesting findings.

But why am I calling this a "squirmy" question? Not because it makes me squirm, but because I think it's kind of slippery and elusive. Basically, these results raised a lot more questions than they answered.

In the next post, I'll break down this data. But I wanted to outline these concerns here, so you understand a little more about my approach.

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.

July 21, 2009

Welcome, new readers!

If you're coming over from today's Q&A in Time's Cheapskate Blog, welcome! Thanks for stopping by. And many thanks to Brad, for chatting with me!

Here are a few tidbits, to help you get started.

Last summer, inspired by the book Women Don't Ask, I set out to ask one question or negotiate something, every day for a year.

I'm a grad student living in San Diego with my beau, and occasional accomplice in asking, Mr. A. I'm about to wrap up a dissertation in French literature, and once I head back east to defend (my school is there), I'll be on a mad rush to find a job and negotiate my starting salary. Which is where this year's practice should come in handy.

My very first post explained my goals, which were basically not just to save or gain money, but to explore asking and negotiation in all their glory. Would it make me more daring? more assertive? more adventurous? more generous?

So, over the course of the year, I made some mundane requests, like waving a late a dry cleaning rush fee, but also plenty of juicier ones like trying to have coffee with Valentino in his Tuscan vacation villa.

Right now I'm analyzing all that data, explained in more detail here. Once Ask-o-logy is over, I'm going to keep asking and keep blogging.

If you like what you see, feel free to subscribe by hitting the link on the right. I'd also be grateful if you shared my link with people who might enjoy this blog. And I love corresponding with readers! Drop me an email or better yet, leave a comment!! Tell me what discounts or bonuses you've negotiated or... ask me anything!

xo,

La Roxy

July 17, 2009

Ask-o-logy: The How of How

I took a break last week because I really needed to wrap up some other writing projects. I was in that mode, if you know what I mean.

But hello! I'm back!


via photobucket

And here we are, getting to the end of this analysis. Once this is done, in a day or two, I'll switch back to my regular asking reports. Here's a sample of what I've been up to:

--May I call you Monchhichi?
--Can you give me this $70 rug cleaning for $60?
--Can you give me your top secret, signature best selling salad dressing recipe?
--Cut me a deal on a car insurance premium?
--Let me return this pan with no receipt and no evidence I bought it here, other than my highly credible puppy dog eyes?
--And future askerly plans, to be announced...

But first:

Today I'm going to look at the how of asking, in more detail. Without further ado, here are the tentative answers to a few questions I was itching to find out... As usual, take everything with a grain of salt, preferably kosher, sprinkled on a tiny new potato! Chomp!

1) Does practice pay off?

One of my beliefs at the start of the year was that I'd become a better asker, the more I did it. And if you look at the learning curve, that's true. I started with little requests -- 60 cents here, a small favor there -- which escalated to more ambitious queries as time went on.

But I was stunned to discover that when I prepared for an asking -- perhaps carefully crafted an email, tried the same request a few times in a row, made a list of priorities and approaches, and/or rehearsed a few lines in my head -- I fared worse than when I just winged it.

Here are the results:

Success rate after preparing: 62%
Success rate with no preparation: 75%

Two possible reasons: first, I tended to prepare more for challenging requests, so perhaps they were harder to snag in the first place.

And second -- this is where I'd put my money if I had to choose a why here-- I think the preparation freaked me out. Not that I'm typically frazzled and disorganized, what, moi, never. But rather, maybe the nature of asking for a favor or bargain is far more personal than I imagined at the start of the year. Beside guidelines, rules and treatises, beside whatever principles and best practices one can glean on the subject, negotiation is about a connection. Either the two parties are speaking the same language, or they're not. So if after I prepared, I was nervous or came across as stiff or overly formal, that led to failure.

This is not to say that I didn't learn this year. Simply, that the revelations caught me off guard, and when I least expected it.

A different way of looking at the data amplifies the of power asking off-guard.

2) How valuable is asking for the hell of it?

A few evenings, as midnight approached, I found myself hitting the streets, wondering what to ask for. And then, an idea would come. Not a very good idea. Not an asking I truly, deeply, existentially cared about. But that late in the day, I couldn't afford to be picky. So I asked. Can I try on your shoe? Can I eat your onion ring? Can I see the inside of your frat house?

Later, I categorized them as "asking for the sake of asking" -- not because I wanted something, or wanted to help someone, etc. Just because I had this damn project to carry out.

Basically, what I wanted more than anything else was to ask.

Well, turns out that asking for lofty or ignoble reasons and asking just for the hell of it had the same success rate -- around 73 percent, that is.

BUT:

I experienced some of the most sublime moments this year when I least expected them. Here are three of my favorites.

A shopping adventure with the chefs of Elemental, in Seattle

A midnight pedicab hijacking in San Diego.

An unexpected dinner encounter in New York.

3) Is it better to be vague or specific when formulating a request?

I could see this going both ways: If you're specific, you give the salesperson more to work with and show you have a compelling argument. "Could I get $10 off these pants, since the zipper is sticking?" is a lot more likely to get a yes than, "So, do you have some sort of special deals going on these days?" (That could lead to an answer like "Sorry, can't think of anything off the top of my head.")

On the flipside, if you're specific you could close the door on opportunities. Being vague lets the other party work with you to come up with a solution, rather than feeling like he or she is meeting your demand. An open-ended question is more likely to work for no good reason than "I'd like 5 percent off, please. Just cuz. Cool?"

So, which is it? Vague or specific? Here were my results. (By the way, I was vague 28 times out of 406).

The trick, I'm thinking, is to find ways to turn vague requests into specific ones. Even if you don't have a reason, make one: "It's over my budget."

Finally, I still think it's better to ask vaguely than not at all. A 61% success rate for simply asking "Do you have any discounts?" or "Any way you could lower that price?" isn't too shoddy.

I'd love to hear from other askers!! What works for you, and why?

4) Is it better to ask alone, or with a wingman?

This year was really a group project. Every time I asked, someone answered.

But another key group was the people I was with, while I asked. Not only for the ideas they bounced back and forth, but for making my requests seem more approachable, more casual, more friendly or funny.

To see if being alone or accompanied works better in different circumstances, I examined this aspect with respect to Money and Other askings (these labels are explained in Day Two). Turns out there's an interesting phenomenon here:


When I asked for Money -- which includes actual cash and any good or service that could be converted to a dollar value -- I did better alone. I also asked much more often for money discounts and upgrades/gains by myself. One simple explanation: it's easier to get a financial benefit alone, since a merchant will less likely agree to a request if you blare it to the whole store. Second, many of these were about me taking care of business -- tracking down money people or institutions owed me, negotiating services. Not the kind of thing you do while hanging out with friends.

But for the Other category -- asking for time, convenience, fun, access and info -- I did much better when I was with someone else. That's because those requests are, in essence, social. My very shakey theory is that being part of a group makes the asker appear more likeable. She walks into a room laughing and looking lively. By the time she makes her move, she's already looking cool and/or disarming. Of course someone would be happy to lend her a cell phone or tell her how to play an Indian double-flute. On the other hand, if she's alone, she might look creepy, sketchy, lonely or just plain pushy. That entourage makes all the difference.

Ah, humanity.

This is a very rough interpretation... but enough for tonight... I think I'll stop right... right... here!

Next: Who's most generous? and Concluding comments

July 13, 2009

Ask-o-logy: How to ask

I'm excited! Not one thing in particular. More like... grad school almost done, a few job possibilities around the corner, snagged two new Google voice telephone numbers, possible travel to NY and Montreal coming up in August, some top secret interesting developments looming and... it's my Grandma's birthday today!!

The big 88.

Happy Birthday, Tzush!!!

We went to Bahia, a Mexican joint, for lunch. Here she is double-strawing a daiquiri. I will keep this picture with me and look at it the next time I feel like complaining or wimping out. About anything in life. Ever. Because that's a victory shot if I've ever seen one.


Cheers!!!! Salud!!! NOROC!!!

If you're getting tired of the charts and just want to launch into Year Two of Asking, fear not: I'm almost done! The regular Daily Asker will be back in a few days! But first...

Today we're going to look at something I was really curious about at the start of the project: What's the best way to ask?

1) Is it better to ask, negotiate or persuade?

I asked 324 times, negotiated 31 times, and persuaded 50 times.

By which method worked better, I merely mean that it is correlated with compliance with my request. This doesn't show that asking led to juicier or cooler gains, or even more gains. Just that it happened to work more often. Maybe I asked for simpler things, which were immediately granted. Or maybe not!

The fact that I opted for asking most often could mean either I was aiming too low (and didn't need to persuade) or that people around me weren't in negotiation mode: I asked and they agreed, period. No back and forth.

What this suggests:

1. Simple asking is the lowest "investment" -- doesn't usually take a long time, compared to negotiating and persuading. And look how easy it was to get what I wanted. So, worth a shot.

2. If more people I asked had retorted with their own ideal solution, instead of just giving in, that would have led to more negotiations. Same thing if I'd answered their rejection with an alternative solution, instead of trying just to persuade.

3. Persuasion has a high rejection rate, but that doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't work. More likely, I was aiming for things I already knew were hard to obtain. Or, maybe I'm just not very persuasive.

What about a "cross-examination:"

2) Which method works better for getting money, access, info, comfort, time, or fun? (i.e. the categories from day two)

I wish I could find this out, but I don't have enough data for a cogent analysis. I persuaded someone twice to give me extra time on something, so that's a 100% success rate. Big whoop. Even if I group the small categories together into Other, the chart looks suspiciously similar to the one above:

Not sure what the take-away points are, here. Any ideas out there?

Moving on to something more revealing:

3) Is it better to be sweet or snappy?

To find out, I classified my attitude while asking in six ways. This is self-reported, i.e. not objective (unlike, say, the gender of who I'm asking or what city I'm in). Which means it's sketchier than other results, not verifiable, and shaped by however I view the following labels. But let's see where it leads.

Here is a scale I devised. I did my best to briefly describe each attitude, as well:

1. Meek or doubtful: I used phrases like "I know this is a strange request but" or "I'm really sorry to bother you, but..." Alternately, I rushed things, lowered my voice, slinked around, acted generally like a shitzhu who made a doodoo and knows what's coming next.

2. Nice: Asked with a smile and a friendly demeanor. I may have chatted before or during the request. This attitude was most common, spanning personal, professional and commercial interactions.

3. Super Special Extra Nice, with Sprinkles: I really focused on the person I was talking to, perhaps paying a compliment, finding common ground, laughing or teasing, and otherwise working it. Also known as flirting, or giving the BFF treatment. At times genuine, at times calculated.

4. Practical: neither hot, nor cold, but efficient and direct. Focused on results. Typically used for solving problems and getting simple answers quickly.

5. W 'n' D (Wheel and Deal): Approach and diction of buying and selling. Maybe I stated I was shopping around looking for the best price. Maybe I was selling my ideas or skills to a potential employer, encouraging her to trade contact info on an airplane. The number one goal: let's make a deal or connection.

6. Hostile: A few requests ended up with me complaining, demanding to speak with a supervisor, expressing my displeasure with a product or service, standing up for myself or someone else, or taking someone to task for an offense.

One more note: Some requests got two labels, since I sometimes was nice and practical, etc. So the result below is greater than how many times I asked.

One question we'll look at in a later post is which method I used with various groups of people (by gender, profession, context), and how well that worked.

4) Which of these was most effective?


Being nice, and super duper extra nice, were rewarded amply. I don't think I needed a chart to tell me that. But one more remark: the difference between acting meek and nice, at least for me, can be subtle: you're smiling and non-aggressive in both, but in one you feel like you shouldn't claim what you're asking for, and in the other, you do. Only -- look at the difference in results: a whopping 22%.

Food for thought.

Also, I wasn't meek when the asking got challenging. Quite the opposite. Looking at individual data points, I was meek or apologetic when I felt I was bothering someone for something trivial. So it's an important reminder (to myself, at least) to keep that chin up. And remember I'm as important and relevant as the other person in that transaction. Silly, simple... but sometimes, easy to overlook. Out of a desire not to impose, bother, shock.

On the flipside, Wow! Looks like hostility/aggression is much more rewarding than meekness. I didn't resort to it often, but when I felt someone crossed the line, I wasn't afraid to stand up for myself. And hey, if we couldn't all get along, at least I got what I wanted more than 70% of the time. Mu ha ha ha.

I was very surprised the practical, goal-oriented approach so rarely succeeded. These questions included: "Could you move your car?" (yes - twice!) and "Can I put up a flyer here?" (no). In some cases, I got rejected because of policy, and maybe I had sensed it wouldn't be worth devoting time or energy to being sweet and cuddly. But maybe I misjudged, and if I'd tried a little harder -- smiled more, made more eye contact, chatted, introduced the question as a flash of inspiration to a problem -- that would have helped things along. Been less direct, more personable.

I was also a little surprised (and disappointed, I admit) that the wheel and deal approach -- by which I mean, actively showing that I was comparison shopping or trying to bargain -- wasn't more effective. Especially in a recession. When I was simply nice and asked for discounts in commercial settings, that worked a lot better than trying to be explicit about my intentions. Any ideas out there? Would that be a turn-off for a salesperson? Or am I just bad at retail asking?

5) What do preparing, persisting, asking accompanied or alone, and asking for the hell of it all have in common?

The answer, up next, in the How of How.

For anyone who stuck with me to the bottom of the post, it's Dilbert time:


July 11, 2009

Ask-o-logy: On Location

Why hello there! And an excellent Sunday to you.

A quick side note about asking: I still am! I don't want to interrupt these reports, but once I'm done here, I'll fill you in on the latest.

And now, back to

For the past two days I looked at the financial side of things.

From here, I'll examine the other aspects of this experiment: who were "nicer," people in Seattle or Boston? (By nice, I mean yielding to my requests.) What about employees of restaurants or doctors's offices? What kind of approach led to more successes -- being friendly, persuasive, or demanding? Which questions were most often met with success, those about bathroom emergencies or odd requests to random strangers? And was it better to ask alone, over the phone, after rehearsing, or totally on the fly? We'll top it off with those final juicy details you've been tying to find out, like, if you're stuck in a foreign country with no shampoo, how likely is it a local will come to your rescue and donate two mini bottles of hotel quality suds?

Today we're looking at location.

1) Where did I ask?

Over the course of the year, I spent at least a day in a bunch of cities and towns, asking everywhere. These included both financial negotiations and various other requests. To simplify, I've grouped them into 12 locations. Some are cities, while others are regions or entire countries. (I tried to have at least five data points per spot, so I didn't split up Paris and Nice, for example.)

San Diego includes L.A., where I asked about 5 times. And locations include phone requests -- like when I called to get a discount on a hotel room in Hawaii and talked to an employee there.

Since that chart is a little hard to decipher, here are the narrowest pie slivers from above, by frequency:


This doesn’t tell you anything about asking; basically, it's where I spent the last year and where my phone calls were directed. First relevant question:

2) How likely was I to get what I asked for in various places?

Now let’s see how many times I was successful in each location versus the number of requests there:

Since I asked most frequently in San Diego (269 times), that's a good estimate of how often I was successful overall. In fact, it's very close the year's overall success rate of 73%. That's not because San Diegans are averagely responsive to asking -- but because the average success rate is based mostly on San Diego interactions. Just thought I'd mention that.

3) Does that mean Greeks are generous and Texans are tightwads?

Yesterday I stated that graphs never lie.

But I was lying.

These success rates are actually totally unreliable. Some places have very little data, and in most cases the likelihood of getting what I asked for was actually shaped by the reason for the interaction or various other factors -- not the location itself (we'll get into those factors in the next posts).

Here are a few examples to illustrate why the Location success rates are sketchy, and some context to better interpret those results.

If we go by the numbers above, it seems that my askings were always answered in Greece. So those locals must be reeeeally generous.

Indeed, not a soul turned me away. Efkaristo! The reason, however, is not that Greeks were moved by some intrinsic desire to indulge me. Rather, I was a tourist, and usually at a disadvantage -- lost, missing a hotel room, clueless about the language and/or in desperate need of a shower. As a result, I suspect, my Greek benefactors decided to reach out and help out a fellow human. When it comes to having a question answered, I'd hope that basic needs above anything else would be met with a warm and friendly "ne" (that's "yes" in Greek). But the questions I asked were, well, pathetic. And easy to handle. (I also spent very little time there, so it's a limited sample.)

Boston is an interesting case. I interacted with people there about 2 weeks this year. Many of those requests involve grad school and administrative issues (insurance, DMV, sorting out a diploma, trying to get into the library, get out of the library). So the lower rate is not because the good people of Boston suck -- more like the rules do. And I didn't need a bar graph to tell me that. The parking tickets I collected over the years are proof enough.

Onward.

The low rate in Texas is also somewhat misleading. I focused on retail discounts, trying 3 times in 6 days. But Texas also introduced me to some really kind people: Grace, who opened up her house and showed my dad and I around; the employee of my favorite fajita place on the planet, who not only taught me to prepare good fajita meat, but also gave me a coupon for $10 off my next meal; and a doctor who gave me a sinus consultation at a dinner party. So it seems like outside malls, Texans are givers. At least, the three I hung out with were.

See the problem?

Based on such limited data, it's impossible to draw any conclusions about individual places.

4) Is there anything at all we can learn about locations and responsiveness to La Roxy's requests?

The overall success rate of 73% was drawn from 406 data points. Since many of these locations have too small a sample, what I can do is regroup them in bigger categories, and see what emerges. (For you statistical types: I tried some of these with and without the San Diego results, to see if that was affecting the averages, and the results usually came out the same either way. Hmm.)

The cartographic smackdown

Made possible by funding from the Department of Homeland Insecurity: Which people gave in more to La Roxy's requests, Americans or residents of other lands?

Next, is it true that good country people have bigger hearts, or was Flannery O'Connor onto something? AKA: Where did I ask more successfully, in cities or in small towns and rural desinations?

If I were to head on a roadtrip, where would I have better shot at getting what I ask for? I-5, I-40 or I-95?

Finally, a bit of soul searching, and future planning: Have I lived in asking friendly places?

So that's that.

If you have questions about what I've done, or suggestions for this or future analyses, leave a comment below or shoot me an email!

Next: How did I ask?

July 10, 2009

Ask-o-logy: Savings or Profit -- which to aim for?

Yesterday I posted the first half of the Money breakdown.

Today, I'm going to dig a little deeper. I've run the numbers, and the results totally surprised me. Here goes.

My next question is:

1) Which type of monetary transaction was more worthwhile? Trying to save, make a profit, get refunds, or track down funds owed to me?

As you recall, I asked 150 times in the Money category. Yesterday I identified four types, or aims, for these requests: those resulted in "Profits," "Savings," "Recouped" funds, and what I "Was Owed."

Here's a graph that compares how many successes I had in each type and the total number of requests.


For successes here, I'm not including the times a request was granted but I didn't act on it. There were 8 such transactions. For example, if a store agreed to give me $16 off a pendant and I never bought it, that's not money I actually saved. I'll use that success to look at how often people reward asking by industry and location, but I don't want that to enter into my calculation of how effective a saver I was. And in case you're wondering, it's only in the Saved category, and a difference of a few percentages -- nothing monumental!

Here are the success rates, more clearly:

At a quick glance, this suggests I had a much easier time getting something for nothing (Profit) than meeting any other financial objective. In the words of a linguistic genius I've never met, "WTF!!!!????"

2) What if we look at this in a different way?

Average gain per type of request shows how much I gained, spread across all attempts.


Once again, Profit stands out. This is because of one whopper of a gain, the airfare voucher, spread over relatively few attempts (36). Once again, Recouped is measly, and Was Owed is huge, suggesting my few efforts paid off -- as they should have. It was money that I should not have had to ask for in the first place.

Saved looks small here, especially give the scale. But the actual dollar value is surprisingly high. At least, I didn't expect to save an average of $13 per transaction every time I asked. That's factoring in the wins and the losses. In other words, just the habit of asking led to $13 back in my pocket, every time I tried. Sometimes I gained nothing, but sometimes I gained hundreds.

DAMN!!!

3) What does this mean? Is it better to pursue profits or savings?

In 365 days, I sought Profit 36 times and Savings 92 times.

But that's not because I felt Savings would lead to greater gains. Rather, because that's what I was already used to doing.

In fact, I frequently told myself to pursue profits, i.e. aim to maximize growth rather than minimize loss. But I kept returning to savings.

4) Why?

My focus on saving over profit says a lot about how I view money, and also where I stand financially. My whole adult life, I've been student, and the idea of stretching dollars is heavily inculcated. Don't get me wrong -- I definitely know how to indulge! But... even when something is a splurge, I tend to calculate if there's a way to cut costs. It's the grad student way, I suppose. Or the daughter of Eastern European immigrant way. Or simply the Roxy way?!

On the flipside to high savings are low profits: Since I don' t have a full time job, and grad school stipends in the humanities are non-negotiable (last I heard), I have very few opportunities for getting raises. The side work I do here and there has potential, but even those raises would only add up to so much. So the only profits, besides those rare raises, are about scoring freebies. (By the way, of course I could open a business or invest in the stock market, but that wouldn't be a "Profit" as I've defined it -- i.e. gaining cash or goods simply by asking.)

Considering Profit was quite lucrative per transaction (see graph above), and also that I earned the most in the Profit category (see graph from yesterday, below), this reinforces the idea that I should switch gears and focus on Profit.


At least, this year shows that seeking profits was a worthwhile enterprise.

However.

Profit in this case is usually the equivalent of asking for a freebie. I did that with the voucher, and several other transactions where I tried to upgrade in some way. That's cool: once in a while, I asked for and snagged some lucrative treats. But is it a sustainable model?

I think not.

This brings me around to a final revelation for this post, which is really just a reinforcement of what I learned the day I opened Women Don't Ask, last July.

The first salary negotiation is do or die. The profits I need to be aiming for aren't those random but lucky wins -- though those are valuable, and I'm not discounting them. The one area I have some control over, and an area with big potential payoffs, is my future salary. So that's where I need to focus.

I mean, the graph says it all. Profit is the way to go.

The graph doesn't lie. The graph knows. Listen to the graph. Laugh at its silly jokes. Invite the graph to a blockbuster summer movie opening, but don't take its hand. Yet. Love the graph. Take the graph on walks, and tell it how great its hair looks after sex. Give the graph the bigger piece of cheesecake. Tell the graph you have bought adjoining cemetery plots and smile coyly it when it asks why. Surprise it with a trip to Alaska, then propose. Marry the graph. Move into a two bedroom condo with the graph, which has an office or space for "whatever." Mention, on a sunny Saturday morning, that you've subscribed to Cookie and you have an announcement. Go on an impromptu road trip with the graph, get out of gas in the middle of Iowa and, while waiting for AAA to show up in a field of soybeans, talk about the things you might have done if you weren't doing this. Dream together. Have kids with the graph. Come home exhausted one day and find the graph asleep in bed with the younguns, and wake it up just to say you love it more than your children. Admit you had been watching the graph from across the street since you were both 8. Admit you've saved scraps of its DNA for potential cloning projects. When the graph mentions the words restraining order, hug it and rock it gently.

Next: On Location!

Ask-o-logy: Show me the money

Tuesday I discussed in general terms what I asked for, and I laid out a few basics. Here, finally, is the next installment!

So. You're probably wondering the same thing I was wondering: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?

More like:

1) How much extra cash did La Roxy gain in this year of daily asking?

Yesterday I reported that there were 150 monetary requests. (Recall that "Money" included any good or service that had a dollar value, as well as cold hard cash I acquired or saved, by asking.)

So I should just count the dollars in the money category and voila! -- right?

Actually, it's not that simple.

First we need to cut out the requests where I asked for a discount, got it, but didn't claim it for whatever reason. There were 8. That amount is $243.

If we add up the rest, the grand total is:

$4,579.39

Not bad! In fact, that's around 20 percent of my yearly income. Imagine if someone with a "real" salary asked daily, on a bigger scale, seeking bigger and harder discounts. I'm all a-tingle at the thought of it.

Unfortunately, though, $4,579.39 is still not a very "helpful" figure. I mean, it includes things like refunds. If I asked a store to return a picture frame I bought but lost the receipt, is that really money "gained"? Or is it money that I'm entitled to? What if they bent a rule for me? What if it was obvious the frames weren't used, but the manager had the final say and it was a mean manager? or a nice one?

2) What if I only counted the money that resulted in an increase in my net worth?

That would mean skipping the transactions that involved refunds and similar compensations. Basically, I need to find out how much cash and goods I either acquired or managed to not spend -- simply by asking.

Let's first split up the Money category into four groups:

"Profit" is any money I earned by asking, where I gave nothing in return. It's also something I wouldn't have otherwise obtained or paid for. That includes my raise, the airfare voucher, and all the extra perks and goodies that came my way.

"Saved" refers to money I didn't spend, but would have without asking. Basically, these are the various discounts I snagged. Less expenses mean more money in my pocket, so they're a different sort of gain.

The next two are trickier.

"Recouped" is the money I spent and then regained by asking for special treatment or an exception. Like the picture frames. It also includes goods I obtained as compensation for an error. For example, when Mr. A and I had bad service at Denny's, I asked for a dessert on the house to make up for it. These aren't exactly gains, but they're still an improvement of the status quo, the norm, etc, through asking.

"Was owed" is not technically a gain. Rather, it's money I was clearly entitled to but still had to ask for. A cashier credited $25 back to my card, because I asked her to double check my receipt. No doubt I should have gotten that money, but if I didn't ask for it, I might have missed out. There were 5 such transactions.


By the way, this chart shows only the requests that resulted in gains. Memo from the Department of the Obvious: Looks like I managed to save most frequently.

But these numbers aren't useful without some context.

3) How profitable was each type of request?


Wow. So even thought I sought Profit less than half as often as I sought Savings, I gained around $500 more in there. A pair of airfare vouchers gained in January, worth around $1,330, is what boosts that amount.

The very low "Recouped" total makes me think that in the future, maybe I could cut those losses and focus on maximizing profits.

And scary how big the "owed" category is. This is money that should have come my way, and if I'd been asleep at the wheel, it might not have. Makes me want to be much more vigilant. Also kinda annoying. Just sayin'.

So to find out how much I've gained this year -- and not just recovered -- by asking, let's add up the first two groups, Profit and Saved. That value is:

$3,204.89

For the rest of the analyses, "Total Sum" will mean $$4,579.39, while "True Gain" will be $3,204.89. I'll usually work with the first figure, but the second is cool to know.

A few remarks:

1) Much of the Profit came from a single transaction, the $1,330 airplane voucher. I realize it "skews the data" (is that how scientists talk? excuse my ignorance), but I'm including it because it was a valid request. If I write it off as a fluke, that undermines the whole idea of the project, which is to find out how much one can gain by asking DAILY. If anything, this propitious aberration shows the value of persistence and seeking opportunities everywhere, all the time.

2) At the start of the project, I figured the total amount gained would be much bigger. I had planned on buying a car, but my Nissan is hanging on. And I expected to have graduated by now, or at least negotiated a starting salary for my first full time job. I really hope my car lasts, but I'm definitely expecting to do more salary negotiations in Year Two.

3) I realize I'm super comfortable with haggling and bargaining. The next challenge: finding ways how to make my money grow, not my losses to shrink.

In conclusion, because of renewed efforts and the ever-pending salary negotiation I've been working up to, I'm expecting to see a much bigger total, same time next year.

Next: More money! Followed by Location...

July 07, 2009

Ask-o-logy: Let the analysis begin!

A few basics

For this an all other ask-o-logy reports, feel free to reblog, email or otherwise disseminate, but please give credit to The Daily Asker and link back here. Thanks!

For the introduction, click here.

To magnify any graphic, click on it.

In one year, from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, I asked:

365 days
411 times

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.

Pas mal!

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.