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October 29, 2010

Good Reads

Someone asked me a question on formspring about what books I recommend. I've decided to answer here, instead.

These are a few books I've found inspiring, intriguing or instrumental. Refresh the page for new titles -- I've picked out about 50, but only 12 fit on the page. You can also see the whole list here.

If you have any suggestions, please drop me an email: thedailyasker [at] gmail.

This is an Amazon store, by the way, which means I get a tiny tiny cut if you buy anything. Basically, 20,000 people would have to buy something to equal a cup of coffee, but hey -- any boost helps. If you do decide to buy any of these books and a fraction of that revenue comes my way, one day I can move this blog to its own domain and server. Aspirations!

Happy reading.

October 26, 2010

Free valet parking -- now? How timing your askings right can bring better results

This weekend, I was in Portland, Oregon for two fun filled days. Mr. A and I snagged the tickets during a crazy Southwest Airlines sale all the way back in June, when October seemed like a hypothetical crouching somewhere over the horizon.... That is, until our flight hit this Saturday morning at 6 a.m., leaving us little time for suitcases and planning between cascading work deadlines --

But it all worked out. We had a great time. La Sorella drove down from Seattle. We cupped coffee at Stumptown and sampled taco trucks and plundered Powell's Books for some amazing reads. And... I asked for free valet parking. Here's the how (and why):

I'd reserved a discounted hotel room on Hotwire which didn't include the $20/night valet parking. Our hotel, the Avalon, seemed far below capacity, at least judging from the parking lot. On Saturday, we went about our business, and when we go back that night around 2:30, it was raining. And the lot was still almost empty. To be safe, instead of the lot we parked on the sidewalk just outside the hotel -- what luck! there was a spot! -- and checked that there were no signs. It looked clear. To be extra safe, I ducked inside and asked the parking valet if there was streetsweeping, a permit, or any hidden reason why we should move.

"You should have no problems," he answered.

I turned around to tell the others to leave the car and come inside, when he ran after me with this update: "Actually, my manager says you can't park there. It's a private way."

"I see. Ok."

Outside, we conferred: Was it really a private way or was that just a line? After all, his first answer was to say we could park there -- wouldn't he know the deal? Would they tow us if we left it there? Did we really want to go for street parking, which entailed a 10 minute walk in the rain? But pay $20 when the lot was empty, when we wouldn't pay $20 when the lot was full? No way.

We were about to pull away in the car when I pulled away from the group.

"Be right back!"

I walked up to the manager.

"Hi, how are you?"

"I'm good, thanks. How can I help you?"

"I'm the one who was asking about parking a car outside, and here's the thing: Can we just please leave it on the sidewalk overnight, since it's late and your lot isn't full? For free?"

"What kind of car do you have?"

"A black Ford."

"Is it a hybrid?"


"Darn, because we have free parking for hybrids."

"Argh, that's nice, but it's not a hybrid. Do you think.... we can just move it inside the lot, please?"

"Why don't you want to park on the street, up the hilll? It's not far."

"Honestly, because it raining, it's late, and I'm not going to pay $20 when there are free spots, and I'm just feeling lazy. I could walk back in the rain but I just want to go up to bed and curl up and fall asleep."

She nodded, smiled and agreed -- but only for one night. We left the keys with the valet and headed upstairs for a very good night's sleep.

Saved: 10 minutes the rain and/or $20. So worth it, for this Southern California girl.

Here's a post-asking takeaway reflection:

It seems like a positive story -- avoided rain, avoided spending $20 and got to bed sooner. And the manager was certainly kind. But after the fact, I realize that I didn't play my cards right.

The more you seem you want something, the less bargaining power you have. This is Asking 101, but what's interesting, to me, is how this axiom can sneak up on you.

Sometimes, it's easy to avoid showcasing your desire. What's harder is realizing when you're projecting desire inadvertently. When your situation tacitly or implicitly betrays your desire or need. And, most importantly, when you've backed yourself into a corner and need or desire something, when you might not have otherwise.

In this situation, I put myself at a tactical disadvantage.

I walked in wet and tired.

It was clear that I reeeeally wanted that free, convenient parking.

And it was clear to the manager that one night of free, convenient parking for me was worth a lot -- perhaps what two or three nights might value, for someone else.

What if I'd opted for a different route: Called ahead and asked for 2 nights of free parking as I weighed different hotel options? Or asked, casually, while checking in? In fact, I never hesitate to ask a hotel for an extra little perk I might need or desire. Many hotels strive to accommodate, especially in this economy. And when you're asking in advance, you're the opposite of needy -- you're discerning and empowered. This time, it just didn't occur to me.

So timing is one thing to consider is when you're asking. While the inconvenience or cost to the other party might be the same earlier or later, the perceived benefit to you if you ask later is sometimes greater -- so the value is greater. Asking a friend for a lift to the airport the next morning seems last minute and desperate -- so countes a hefty favor. Asking someone 2 weeks ahead seems like a piece of cake.

(On the flipside, just to cover all our bases, sometimes last minute asking can pay off royally, too. "Hi, do you have any rooms left over/parking places I could use/extra cream cheese to throw in with my package -- since it's the end of the day/week/season?")

I loved Portland, by the way. Anyone else out there?

[image source -- in time for Halloween:]

October 20, 2010

Outed! Meet The Daily Asker

Gentle Reader,

On July 1, 2008, I decided to try asking for something every day for one year. My goal was to push my limits and see how far I could get. Over the course of the year, and ever since, this project has expanded to be about a lot more than my own objectives and benefits. I've connected thousands of aspiring and accomplished askers who have experienced the same struggles and victories that I have.

Because let's face it: the time of sitting back demurely and expecting others to acknowledge us is over. If we don't request or, if need be, demand that our needs are met, that our talents are recognized, that our contributes are justly and equitably compensated, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

All this time, I kept my identity a secret. First, I didn't want the people I was asking to find out I was blogging, lest it change their attitudes. Perhaps they'd be more (or less) inclined to say yes, if they knew publicity was just around the corner. For the results of the year-long asking experiment to be somewhat reliable, I had to come across as a girl-on-the-street, asking like any of you might: Blog-free. Not keeping stats. Just asking. Second, I was worried that if my name got out there as The Daily Asker, if it got linked to this blog, it might hamper eventual negotiations. "She is The Daily Asker!?" a potential employer might think (I thought). "Well then we have to lowball, since she's obviously going to negotiate."

Today I know that OF COURSE I will not accept any compensation that's below my market value. No one I would work with, or for, would have a problem with that. And since I'm not asking daily anymore, I think it's time to shed the mystery...


My name is Roxana Popescu.

I also go by Roxy.

I live in San Diego, California, as you know.

I bike to work as often as I can.

I detest wind -- it makes any weather situation worse. Hotter heat, wetter wet. The exception is a cooling breeze on a hot day. I'll take that. I'd even ask for it, if I thought it would make a difference, but nature is usually deaf to my entreaties.

I have dark brown hair which has been several other colors: darker chestnut, dark caramel blond (see below), auburn.

My dissertation was about something that had nothing to do with asking: the representation of balconies in painting and literature, from 1150 to 1912. My degree is from Harvard, so when I was writing about "back east" and Boston, I really meant Cambridge, Mass.

And those freelance gigs I've been mentioning -- the projects I just wrapped up in Italy, and elsewhere -- are articles. I freelance write for a mix of publications, some in San Diego and some elsewhere. Throughout my time asking, I've been very careful to avoid conflicts of interest. (For example, I never wrote about local restaurants or the travel industry after scoring goodies there, and I've never asked or blogged about the topics I report about.) I also checked with reporting colleagues and Poynter's ethics hotline.

By the way, reporters also ask a lot of questions, but that's quite different from asking on behalf of yourself. When I'm doing an article, it's easy to ask hard questions because the public's benefit is on the line. What I needed to learn was if I could ask on behalf of little old me. Eventually, I discovered that I'm worth it, too. Every single one of us is.

As for this blog: It's not going anywhere!! I'm going to keep on asking, negotiating, and developing this space. I have a few regular features in mind, a resources section, recommended books. Basically, I'd like to keep this site as a destination for anyone interested in learning how to be a better asker. At the same time, I'm going to reach out to readers in other outlets -- Forbes, where I started blogging, and whatever other opportunities emerge.

A note in closing:

Every time one of you left a comment or sent me an email, the knowledge that my adventure was impacting someone else totally made my day. Every time I read or heard about a woman negotiating for a raise or better starting salary, I smiled -- and then asked her how she did it so I could pass that on to you. And whenever I learned that The Daily Asker was helping someone shed a fear, identify a goal and get it, learn from my mishaps and successes, it made me itch to write the next post. That's what has kept me writing: knowing people out there find my exercises useful.

I thank you, gentle reader, for the offering me privilege of writing to you.

How being "out" affects my asking and blogging remains to be seen... but if I liked certainty, I never would have started this asking experiment in the first place. :)

Since I'm not sure what else to say, how about I leave it at that, for now. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, just ask.


October 19, 2010

La Roxy in Forbes!

I've started writing a column for Forbes about women and negotiation. The first piece, about bargaining for counterfeit purses in a dangerous street market in Naples, is out today!

Learning The Art Of 'Barguing'

Halfway between Naples and the island of Ischia, on a ferry speeding toward the mainland over the choppy Mediterranean, I was in the bathroom looping my thin black bra through my engagement ring. I figured the crevice closest to my heart was the safest place to hide it. If anyone reached for that region he'd have bigger problems to deal with than an attempted robbery. I'd heard too many stories about robberies in that city and had experienced my own share of bad luck on previous trips. I removed my earrings and watch too.

I was heading to a street market in Naples, willing to face those perils to gain access to some of the finest counterfeits in the world: Gucci, Fendi and Louis Vuitton bags, belts and wallets, possibly siphoned off from the local factories and sold at rock-bottom prices to she who knows how to negotiate. Retail started at $80 a purse, and these were vere finte, or "true fakes."

The column, titled She Negotiates, is a joint enterprise between four women: Vickie Pynchon and Lisa Gates (who run the She Negotiates seminar I recently took, which dramatically opened my horizons from asking to negotiation), Katie Phillips (a graduate of NYU's theater program who's working on a screenplay in LA) and yours truly. Together we're going to tackle different angles of asking, negotiation and gender from a Boomer and Generation Y perspective.

Of course, you realize what this means.

Forbes doesn't like anonymous columnists.

So it's time to shed the mystery.

Because the era of anonymity is over.

Who is The Daily Asker?

All dirty details, in the next post.


Last night, on a flight from JFK to San Diego, I discovered something amazing. Mrs. Doubtfire is one hell of a movie, and it's even better with the volume off. I left my earphones at home, and while I could have shelled out $2 for Jet Blue's inflight option or asked for a pair, I decided to see what I could see by just... seeing.

For starters, there's a lot more to the whole cross-dressing/gender play than what I thought back in 1993, aka middle school, but I'll leave the analyses to the film scholars and move on.

The actors enunciated and their faces were expressive, so it was easy to figure out 80% of what they were saying. It's a kids' movie, i.e. not exactly shooting for subtlety.

And I was forced to watch a lot more closely. I can now affirm that Robin Williams is wearing a black and white swirly pattern dress in the dinner party scene, a fact that had previously eluded me and which will probably never come in handy but still doesn't hurt to have tucked away, for a moment such as... this.

Which is to say: I'm back in San Diego, after two amazing months of travel. (It started as a two-week trip: I was going to tag along to Mr. A's conference in Madrid, and then we'd take a week together, in Andalucia. Then Mr. A found ways to stretch his vacation time around Labor Day and insert some work days in the middle so he could be gone longer. From Spain we hopped to Romania for a few days, to visit his adorable grandma. When Mr. A headed back to the states, I added the Italy segment. Finally, I pushed my return ticked back by a week, since there were some people I still wanted to see, and who knows when I'll be in Italy again, and one can never spend enough time in Rome.)

I totally milked it, in part because I realize this trip marks an ending. Done with grad school. Done with the days of summer internships in distant lands. Done with study abroad in Europe and choosing cheap, fabulous cities like Buenos Aires or Bucharest for chapter writing. Done with being a single girl in Rome -- not that I mind. Done with finding discounted student tickets and jumping over the Atlantic for a last minute romp. Done with travel without fuel surcharges.

It's also a beginning. The first time in a long time I left Europe without a hint of regret, giddy to come home. Because my beloved was waiting for me at the airport, and there's so much to look forward to here.

More soon!