by Niall Doherty

Tis day three of Random Acts of Courage, and so another good excuse for me to go out in public and try some ridiculous things.

If you’re new to all this, check out these prior posts to get caught up:

Today’s loose theme is being assertive. The goal is to confront your fear of rejection and ask directly for what you want.

The list of challenges:

  1. Unfriend someone annoying on Facebook, or send a friend request to someone you’ve only met briefly but wish to know better.
  2. Walk into a tall building and ask at reception if you can go up on the roof to look at the view.
  3. Haggle over the price of something.
  4. Ask at a store’s customer service desk if you can make a public service announcement.
  5. Speak up and make a suggestion at a work meeting.
  6. Correct anyone who mispronounces your name.
  7. Ask for a free tour of an exclusive area.
  8. Ask for a freebie at a store or coffee shop.
  9. Ask someone attractive out on a date.
  10. Ask a stranger to do an unreasonable favor for you.

Once again, I want to emphasize that these challenges are as much for you as they are for me. I’d love if you could attempt a few and report back. Feel free to tweak them as needed, but keep in mind that the whole point of the exercise is to get you out of your comfort zone.

I spent a few hours on Tuesday running around town trying to complete the list. Here’s my report…

1. Unfriend someone annoying on Facebook, or send a friend request to someone you’ve only met briefly but wish to know better.

Okay, so this one I could do from the comfort of my bedroom. It doesn’t require much courage or assertiveness compared to the other challenges, but I include it here for anyone who needs an easy jumping off point.

I unfriended the guy who added me yesterday just so he could ask me a question about a jQuery widget I once built and no longer support. Sorry dude. We just weren’t meant to be.

I also sent a request to a lady I met at a Toastmasters meeting last week. She seemed to look at the world with smiling eyes. My kinda person.

2. Walk into a tall building and ask at reception if you can go up on the roof to look at the view

Out in the real world this morning, I decided to wander on over to the tallest building in Ireland and ask if I could go up on the roof. Conveniently enough, that building is a five minute walk from where I’m living. It’s called the Elysian, and since opening its doors in 2008 it has become a grand symbol of the Celtic Tiger gone lame. Most of the apartments and business units sit empty as the economy continues to suck.

I walked into the building and met a lady named Gillian who claimed to be in charge of the whole operation. I told her straight that I was doing a project called Random Acts of Courage and would very much like to go up on the roof to complete one of the challenges.

No way, said Gillian.

I persisted with my request, asking fourteen different ways before I conceded that it wasn’t going to happen, at least not today (Gillian did say that they could probably get me up there within a week if I emailed along a formal request, not sure how true that is).

I left the shadow of the Elysian and set my sights on some smaller buildings across the river. First was the Clarion Hotel. I told the two folks at reception what I was trying to do and they kindly called up the head security guy to see if he could help. I could hear only one side of the conversation:

“Yeah, up on the roof … he says it’s for a website … okay, thanks … [hangs up, turns to me] … He said no.”

I left the Clarion and headed next door to a building of similar size called the City Quarters, home to the Irish Examiner and some other businesses I forget. Mary at reception listened to my spiel with a raised eyebrow and said she’d need to check with Sean the maintenance guy. As she reached for the phone, I asked if I could speak with him personally; I’d realized walking out of the Clarion that it had been a mistake having someone else explain my request to the gatekeeper.

Sean agreed to come down and speak with me. He turned out to be an older guy, and quite legendary. I had barely begun my sales pitch when he said, “Yeah, no worries, follow me.”

Happy days. Sean brought me up in the lift, gave me a quick tour of the roof, and snapped the following picture:

3. Haggle over the price of something

Once back on the ground I headed towards the city centre and soon found myself strolling in the door of the Escape Salon & Spa, part of the fancy Imperial Hotel. I was greeted by a fragrant young lady named Amanda while an older lady handled a phone call behind the counter.

Amanda began filling me in on all the treatments the spa had to offer. I liked the look of the Comfort Me! package, which included a full body massage and a hydrotherapy session. Unfortunately, the price seemed a little excessive at €129…

— Can you give it to me for half price?

— I’m sorry, that price is already reduced.

— I know, but can it be reduced even more?

— Sorry, I’m afraid not.

— What’s half of €129?

— [thinking for a second] … €64.50.

— Yeah, can I have it for that much?

— No, we really can’t drop that price any more.

— How about €70?

— [shaking her head]

— €80?

— [still shaking her head]

— You know you’re supposed to come down until we meet somewhere in the middle?

— [still shaking her head, smiling uncomfortably] Sorry, €129 is the best we can do.

— €110?

She wouldn’t budge. I got the impression she didn’t have the authority, or maybe she was some kind of haggling jedi, wise to my amateur tricks.

I grabbed a brochure, thanked her and left.

Back in December I tried haggling with the landlord of an apartment I was considering in Cork. He was looking for €110 per week for rent. I asked if he’d take €100. He made a painful face for a few seconds and gazed out the window before saying yes. In hindsight, I realized it would have been better to offer €90 initially. That way he could have countered with €100 and we both would have come away feeling like it was a fair compromise.

4. Ask at a store’s customer service desk if you can make a public service announcement

Penneys was my next stop. I headed upstairs to their customer service desk and asked a lady named Elisa if I could make an announcement on the PA system. Impossible, she replied. She’d get in trouble if she let me do that.

So I asked to speak to a supervisor. Elisa called for one on the PA system. When she came back over to me I told her we’d be all done by now if she had let me do that. She laughed.

Charlene came along a minute later. She parroted Elisa, saying she couldn’t authorize such a thing.

So I asked to speak to her supervisor.

Mary was next to hear my plea. In my best radio voice, I told her I’d be happy just to follow a script and announce a few specials. But she was having none of it.

There was no supervisor beyond Mary. I’d reached the top of the Penneys management chain. So I left and headed over to Tesco.

There I spoke to the lovely woman in charge. She called herself Greta. I laid on the eye contact good and thick with her, having realized that it had been lacking with the Penneys crew. Greta seemed a bit more open to the idea, but was still hesitant.

— How do I know you won’t say something stupid or offensive?

— Well you could stand right beside me and unplug the mic if I start messing around.

For a split-second it looked like Greta was going to be my new best friend, but then the spark in her eye faded and she said sorry, she wouldn’t be able to help me.

Feck. I grabbed some groceries and headed home for lunch.

5. Speak up and make a suggestion at a work meeting

At lunch, I had a one-person business meeting in my brain. The ballsy suggestion put forth was that, instead of offering it for free, I should charge for the Disrupting the Rabblement manifesto that I’m publishing on Monday. It was an interesting proposition, and all in attendance considered it carefully over several spoonfulls of tomato and carrot soup.

In the end, the motion was shot down. Free the manifesto will be.

Seriously though, this challenge doesn’t much apply to me since I don’t have a job (yay!). But considering that quite a few of you reading this do indeed have jobs, I figured I should throw you a bone.

If you want to take the challenge beyond the title, I recommend speaking up to avoid meetings in the first place. Try saying this to your boss: “Do you really need me in this meeting?”

6. Correct anyone who mispronounces your name

Likewise, this one doesn’t really apply to me any more. Back in the US, people used to butcher my name constantly (in case you don’t know, it’s pronounced like that big river in Egypt). For a long time, I didn’t correct them, but found it became annoying when I’d known a person for two years and they still referred to me as Neil or Niles.

So I started correcting people on the first offense, as much to save them from sounding like a long-term dumbass as for my own ego.

So this one’s for all the oddly-named people out there, who have been enduring regular mispronunciations. Speak up when someone botches your name. Make sure they get it right.

“No, not Niles. There’s only one of me.”

4 Revisited: Ask at a store’s customer service desk if you can make a public service announcement

After lunch, I headed back into town and met up with my buddy Cliff, who had volunteered to help me out with a few challenges. He had just finished up some IT work at Smyths Toys on Maylor Street, and as I told him about how my PA plot had been shot down by Penneys and Tesco, a plan began to formulate in his Castleisland mind.

A few minutes later and Cliff was introducing me to the manager of Smyths, a lady named Eileen. With my intentions vouched for, she agreed to let me loose on the loudspeaker to promo their upcoming release of the Nintendo 3DS…

Huge thanks to Smyths for being so legendary.

Eileen, if you’re reading this and you’re single, there’s a lovely gent named Sean up at City Quarters that I’d be happy to introduce you to 😉

7. Ask for a free tour of an exclusive area

I was thinking of trying to score a free tour of a fancy gym for this challenge, but then Cliff suggested we try get a look at a penthouse.

Good idea.

Seeing as how I’d already established a bit of a relationship with the front desk of the Clarion Hotel, we decided to try there first. Anne and Mark turned out to be the names of the duo at reception, and they were cool with the penthouse plan. Mark brought us up and Cliff snapped this pic of me in the fancy hanging chair:

Aw yeah. Drop €350 and you could spend an entire night sitting in that thing.

8. Ask for a freebie at a store or coffee shop

There was one of those enclosed coffee kiosks right outside the Clarion so I decided to try my luck asking for a freebie in there. An attractive girl named Hollie was behind the counter. She had an accent. I asked her for a free drink. She told me to get lost.

I quickly fell back on my “but it’s for a project I’m working on!” routine, and told Hollie all about Random Acts of Courage. I even showed her the day’s list of challenges scribbled on my notepad. She didn’t seem quite convinced that I was for real, but eventually relented and gave me a half slice of brown bread.

It was delicious.

9. Ask someone attractive out on a date

I was still in the coffee shop, and Hollie was still attractive. I decided to push my luck and try another challenge. I asked her out.

— Yeah, I saw that on your list.

— So?

— I don’t think so. I don’t want to be just another check mark.

I persisted. I was having fun with it, and Hollie seemed to be amused by the whole situation. I told her if she didn’t want to say yes today, I could always drop by and ask again next week, sans list.

Right about that time a stunning Polish girl walked in and stood next to me at the counter. Hollie said what about her? I turned to the Polish girl. “Hollie says I should ask you out.”

Her name was Kasha. I can’t quite recall how our conversation went, but for a while there I thought I had a real shot at coming away with her phone number. I made her laugh and she told me I was doing good, but she didn’t have time for a boyfriend since she worked so much.

Feck. I’d burned my bridge with Hollie for a quick flirt with a workaholic. Oh well, it was a fun few minutes, and I came away smiling.

Cliff was outside the whole time and shot some video. You can’t hear or see much of anything, but have at it anyway…

One thing I’ve said before and will say again about chatting up attractive women: whenever I go in with a playful attitude, everything flows pretty well and everyone usually has a good time, even if I end up getting rejected. It’s only when I go in worried about what the girl will think of me and trying to force the outcome that the interaction ends up feeling awkward and regrettable.

10. Ask a stranger to do an unreasonable favor for you

Last challenge of the day, and I knew exactly what favor I wanted to ask for: A piggyback ride.

Cliff and I headed back to Patrick’s Street and he ducked into Burger King to use the bathroom. I started asking people walking by if they’d help me out with a piggyback. The first guy was big, Bulgarian, and not in love with my proposition. The second guy laughed at me and shook his head as he strolled past.

After those rejections, I decided to be a little more selective with my next ask. Once Cliff was done washing his hands, we headed over to Rory Gallagher Place and I spotted four teenage lads chatting by the phone box. Perfect. Cliff readied the camera and I made my approach.

— Hey lads, can I ask ye for an unreasonable favor?

— [blank looks]

— Any chance one of ye could give me a quick piggyback ride?

The four of them exchanged glances before the tallest guy dropped his bags, turned and told me to hop on…

Good times. Wednesday done. Massive thanks to Cliff for all his help. I wouldn’t have had half as much fun today without him.

Next up

Tomorrow (Thursday) is all about connecting with people. Among other things, I’ll be asking strangers for personal advice, dishing out genuine compliments, and offering free hugs. Check back for the full list of challenges and a field report.

[UPDATE] Thursday’s Random Acts of Courage: Free hugs, sexual fantasies, and flirting with the hottest girl in the room