A little story about me: One day when I was in kindergarten, I missed the school bus. I wasn’t entirely certain how to walk home from my elementary school, which was a couple of miles from my house, but I had a vague idea that my grandparents lived somewhere close by. So I decided to walk to their house instead. I trekked the six or seven blocks only to find when I arrived that my grandparents weren’t home. Nothing daunted, I sat on their front stoop to wait. Mrs. Hooper, their elderly and slightly deaf next-door-neighbor, came out a few minutes later, and when she learned I was alone invited me inside for tea and cookies, an offer I gladly accepted. Problem solved.
Except for the fact that when my mother went to meet the school bus, her precious four-year-old didn’t get off it. I think it took her all of 5 minutes to call my dad, her dad, and her siblings. My dad mobilized his buddies at the construction company; my mother’s dad, a cop, called out the entire police force; and my mother’s five siblings put out a general call for help. In short order half the city was looking for me.
In the meantime, while I was kicking my heels and eating cookies in Mrs. Hooper’s kitchen, my other grandparents came home and got the message that I was missing. They had no idea that I was next door, and Mrs. Hooper, being slightly deaf, missed the sound of their car outside. Eventually someone knocked on Mrs. Hooper’s door and I was discovered and there was yelling and hugging and crying, but I think I remember getting to take the cookies home with me.
At no point during my little adventure did it occur to me to ask a grownup for help. I am sure there were plenty of grownups at my elementary school who would have been happy to help a child who missed her bus, but the thought of asking never even crossed my mind.
That was when I was a tiny child. As a grown, capable adult, I still hate asking for things. I don’t want to impose, and I know most people have a hard time saying “no” even when saying “yes” would be a problem. So rather than make them tell me “no,” I just don’t ask.
Which makes this “Pursuing No’s” exercise all the more difficult. For our leadership and human capital class, we must make requests of people as many times as it takes to get “No” as an answer 10 times. Then we have to go back to three of those 10 No’s and ask again, to see what it would take to turn the “No” into a “Yes.” The exercise is intended to desensitize us to asking and allow us to make some observations about negotiating. Evidently hating to ask for help is not uncommon among the type of people who pursue EMBAs.
What a painful assignment this has been. And I’ve still got two “no’s” to go…