Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Can it hurt to ask?

The phrase "it never hurts to ask" is a fairly common one. I never thought much of it until a couple of years ago. I can't remember the circumstances off-hand, but I distinctly remember a series of (fortunate) events that basically happened only because I asked and got a 'yes' when I didn't expect one. Suddenly, I took to heart the corollary to the "it never hurts to ask" phrase, which is that "the worst they can do is say no."

Lately, however, I've been wondering if that's as true as it seems. There are all kinds of obvious possible ways that asking can go awry, not least of which is how it comes across to the person you are asking (e.g. if you are asking someone to take on a task you were originally assigned, does it seem like you are trying to shirk your responsibility? what does it say about you if you ask someone for a given thing or a particular question?). What I'm wondering is related to a situation (which I think may be more common than you'd initially expect) where you ask someone to do something and you know they may not want to but probably won't say no. In most cases, the person is someone who hates to say no to friends/bosses/etc. So it seems to be to be a bit manipulative to ask in the first place. One could also argue that the person needs to get better at saying no if they don't want to do something. But if you know that they are bad at saying no, is it taking advantage of that to ask anyway?

For what it's worth, I'm writing this having been on both sides (the asker and the askee who can't say no), and I'm not really sure how I feel about either side.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It's all about relationships.

I thought this would be an appropriate topic in honor of Valentine's Day (albeit a little belated at this point). But don't get disheartened... this isn't going to be a sappy diatribe about romantic relationships (or an angsty post about a lack thereof). Instead, I thought I'd share somethings about relationships that I've been thinking about lately. In fact, it's hard not to think about it because it's come up at least three times in the last 24 hours.

Instance #1: My choir director Wednesday night spoke briefly about a conference she attended (she is also a school principal) about education reform. The keynote speaker spoke about the three R's "relationships, relevance, and rigor" needed to transform a classroom (and the education system). But she stressed the point that it's the relationships aspect that needs to be built first. Her school is choosing to do this through the arts (as was suggested by the speaker), which she was pretty excited about. It's an interesting idea to think about... inspiring/teaching by beefing up the arts programs. Especially during a time when so many of those programs are suffering due to budget cuts.

Instance #2: Yesterday during a lab meeting, one of my professors talked about the importance of relationships in establishing community partnerships for our current and up-coming research projects. I thought this was a rather unique perspective to take, because so many researchers DON'T think about this aspect of their projects. First it's data, data, data. Then it's publish, publish, publish. But the truth is, none of that would happen (or at least it would not happen nearly as successfully!) without putting time into the relationships necessary to conduct the research. And in fact, those same relationships are often really worth the time because they come back around to help you out. It really does pay to have the people you work with invested in the project and to have those relationships built because they can provide insights into the research that only they, as people who are directly involved with the program/kids/etc. could know.

Instance #3: I had a conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago about how friendships are formed, and how a lot of it is just seeing people and establishing routines because those people are on your mind and you want to see them. Last night, that all sort of came together for me. I hosted a 'Girls Night' (which a couple of boys ended up crashing) as a sort of anti-Valentine's gathering for myself and my single friends. On a whim I invited a new friend who I hadn't gotten to see much outside of school. We've connected several times on busrides but then go our separate ways to our respective buildings. But she was on my mind, so I invited her, and it was a great addition to the group. I guess the point of this is tangent is to say that suddenly the line of thinking my friend presented makes sense to me. And I sort of see more now than before how the line of intentional invitations and just wanting to see people because they're on your mind blurs into a friendship. That's one thing I've learned in grad school -- out in the real world, outside of college bubbles, you have to work harder to meet people. And you have to work a lot harder to make those chance meetings into friendships.

Incident #4: This is probably the most Valentine's related incident. First a little background: I frequently tell a particular friend of mine that she seems to know everyone in the world, because every time I am out with her, we run into someone she knows. I also frequently find out that she knows someone that I just met. Her connections to these people aren't in one consistent way... she has a lot of networks that just happen to overlap with mine. I was a little envious for a while that she seems to know so many people in a place where I know relatively few. But I think that is part of the transition process... in time, I will get back to the place I often find myself, which is a "connector" of sorts. In life there are some people who just know a lot of people, and I've realized for many of my friends I am that person. Not something I set out to be, or even necessarily want to be. But nevertheless, I am the person that makes connections between people. Lately it seems to happen related to certain friends being interested in romantic relationships with other friends. But it's not only limited to that... I didn't realize it at first, but when I stop to think about it, I recognize that in college too, I definitely knew a lot of people across campus in various different ways. I tended to introduce my friends to each other, although on a relatively small campus, many knew each other too. Here, I feel like I have a lot of different networks that aren't really related except when I bring them together. And within the psych world, I think that's often true too. For more about what I mean, check out the Malcolm Gladwell article below. I don't think I'm quite to 'Lois Weisberg' level, but I can suddenly see how that might be me someday, which is kind of a fun thought!

Inaugural Entry

I have had blogs in the past but have always gone back and forth between wanting to use it as a journal of sorts (i.e. keep it private) and wanting to share my thoughts with friends and family. Well, these days I find myself thinking enough thoughts that I want to share (if for no other reason than to have a sounding board for ideas/random observations), so here I decided to create a new blog. Feel free to leave questions, comments, words of encouragement, and anything else that comes to mind!