No Doesn’t Always Mean No – Especially When It Comes To Women

20-01-2013 18-14-39Almost every time I would ask someone in a public place if they needed help lifting or carrying a heavy package or luggage in the subway, train station or up flights of steps – usually a woman for obvious reasons of physical limitations – they told me “No, that’s ok” or “No thanks, I’m fine”.  So I’ve stopped asking.

Well, that’s not completely true.  I’ve stopped asking first.  Instead I act and then ask. My new technique has changed everything.  As a matter of fact my success rate has increased from maybe one in ten to ten in ten.

Whereas before I would approach someone and ask if I might help them up the stairs with the enormous suitcase or unmanageable package they were carrying – to which a demur reply of “No, that’s ok” was retorted without a moment of thought,  I now cautiously reach for their all-too-heavy-to-drag item while seeking permission in their eyes.  Once the handle is firmly in place or both my hands have secured the item, I ask the very same question I used to ask: “May I help you?”, and wham… success!  I get permission every single time.  I don’t remember the last time my services were rejected simply by changing the order from ask then do to do while seeking permission with body language then ask.

To be fair, I usually where a jacket and tie so I probably have that working for me, but on second thought, it has worked equally well in a t-shirt and jeans, so it is difficult to speculate as to whether my state of dress has any influence.  I certainly don’t have enough statistics to know if this technique will work for everyone, but I think it’s worth a try because ten out of ten is pretty good odds even if the experiment is isolated.

But one pauses.  Why is it that people are so uncomfortable with receiving help when it is so obvious that they could use it?  After all if someone asks if they can help it probably means that they want to.

I’m so sociologist, but perhaps this social dissonance comes from the fact that accepting help, paradoxically, requires us to admit that we need help; something that we are less apt to do when we feel incapable.

So here’s something to think about in the future if you are older or frail or just need a helping hand now and then: put down your suitcase or that bulky box and look around for a pair of eyes.  I, or one of my friends will be looking for you, and that’s what makes it a wonderful world.

Do you know someone who could use this advice?  Send it on….

Comments 0

Jesper Sommer

January 21, 2013

Great post. Something to think about in work-related situations as well. I would like to offer a different perspective though.

I think there are two main reasons for getting rejected when offering help. First of all, most women will assume that you have an agenda when you offer help. If they pause to reflect even for a few seconds they may realize that you don’t (because picking up women on the subway escalator really only happens in movies). But women have become accustomed to men having an agenda with pretty much everything. It is the result of the constant emphasis on sex and gender in today’s world. In this matter, your suit and good looks may actually work against you. The second reason for rejecting help could be that they feel uneasy and insecure because of the high rates of crime and theft in public places.

If you attempt to help a random woman on the escalator I honestly believe her thoughts will be something along the lines of: “Who the hell is he and is he trying to pick me up – or steal my suitcase?”. Their minds will probably answer those questions very quickly, but I bet these are the very first thoughts going through their minds. I have come to this conclusion based on a very simple observation: If the person offering help is a figure of trust and authority (normally wearing some kind of uniform) – like a policeman, metro-steward, airport employee, etc. people always accept! So rejecting help must be related to a sense of insecurity.