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)?