28/07/2014

A Proposal for a New Norm

There are three types of favours one might ask of a friend: Unacceptable requests, acceptable requests, and the grey area between the two of them. Acceptable requests are fine to just ask, unacceptable requests shouldn't normally be asked. Here I am interested in grey area-type requests: stuff that is not unacceptable, but that might place so heavy a burden on the askee that you wouldn't be cross with her if she refused.

Let me propose a norm for how you should go about if you've decided you still want to ask the favour. Your aim should be to make it as easy as possible for the friend to say no. This means you want to do the opposite of what's done by a power salesman, who tries to get people to say yes. A power salesman will try to get as close to you as he can. Ideally, he wants you in person; the telephone is the next best thing. Conversely, you should try to keep a distance from the askee when you ask  and when she gives her answer. This means you put the request in writing: e-mail, letter, fax - I don't care.

Also, including something along the lines of "of course you can say no" helps.


2 comments:

John Althouse Cohen said...

I am interested in grey area-type requests: stuff that is not unacceptable, but that might place so heavy a burden on the askee that you wouldn't be cross with her if she refused.

Wait, are you implying that you should be mad at someone who refuses a clearly "acceptable request"?

What's lurking under the surface of all this is the distinction between "ask culture" and "guess culture."

LemmusLemmus said...

Well, friendship implies that you are sort of obliged in some cases, which in turn implies that there are some cases in which you may be (mildly) mad at the person for refusing a request. Surely we can all come up with scenarios about requests that put so small a burden on a friend that she should accept.

The link is interesting; I guess my post is most relevant who live in a culture that is not close to either pole of the continuum, like my own.