Pet Peeve #69: The Least Effective Introductory Statement

This doesn’t happen every day. Not even every week or every month. But occasionally I get a message from a stranger that begins and ends with the following. Perhaps you’ve heard it too:

“May I steal a moment of your time?”

I think this may be one of the least effective introductory statements ever conceived. It absolutely baffles me that someone would think they’re going to get a positive response by asking this.

Why? Because the instinctive answer is “no.” You don’t want to lead with an opener that can immediately end with no.

Time is incredibly precious. Would you say to a stranger, “Excuse me, may I steal $20 from you?” Or “Pardon the intrusion, but is it okay if I steal one of your shoes?” Time is in the same category. No one wants their time stolen. That’s why we get frustrated at telemarketers.

What befuddles me even more about this opening line is that if you simply didn’t say it and moved forward with the question you actually want to ask, your chances of getting an answer increase significantly. Just skip to the question–don’t ask if you can ask the question. I won’t know if I can answer it until you ask it, so until you ask it, the answer is no.

What’s your gut reaction when someone says this to you? Can you think of a less effective introductory statement (one that you’ve heard multiple people say)?

7 thoughts on “Pet Peeve #69: The Least Effective Introductory Statement”

  1. My first name is Candy. Back in the day when I was single ‘n’ purdy to the menfolk, I would introduce myself and invariably I would get asked, “So what kind of candy are you?” It was annoying for the sexual part, but mostly I got annoyed about the lack of originality. If they didn’t say that, they went with “Bet you are sweet.” *YUK YUK* So did not work. Obviously this is not as universal as yours.

    I agree the steal line is just at cross purposes, but if it really was just a little thing it would roll off me. I am tall, if someone asked me Can I steal you for a minute to get this down for me? No problem. But I think when it is used the way you are saying it is usually asking for something bigger, and I agree being direct is just more effective as a general rule. You can be too direct, a little smoothing is nice, but being up front is a good thing. I learned that in Art of Asking actually 🙂

    • I think the way you said it makes it SO much better. If the person actually tells me what they want in the opening line–even if they mention stealing time–I’m much more likely to reply, because then I know the context. Otherwise they’re just asking me a simply yes or no question (to which the answer is no, since I don’t have any other information).

  2. My possibly #1 pet peeve is when people ask “What are you doing tonight/tomorrow/whenever” when it’s not a social conversation but rather the opening for a request for you to do something for them. What I hear is, “Please tell me your private/personal schedule and I will prioritize what you were planning on doing with what I would you like you to do.” If your response is anything but a ridiculously high priority unmovable task, you’re stuck with helping this person move furniture rather than your planned activity, giving your cat a bath.

    • “Please tell me your private/personal schedule and I will prioritize what you were planning on doing with what I would you like you to do.”

      That is such a perfect interpretation of what they’re saying. 🙂 It also overlooks the fact that you might have planned to have no plans, which is a fine plan.


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