Welcome to my ClassyTip for this week which focuses on:
- May I Please Borrow . . . ? – Tip #26
May I borrow a cup of sugar? A neighbor asks during a quick phone call one Saturday afternoon as she’s baking her family’s favorite dessert.
Will you loan me a dollar? A co-worker asks as the two of you are approaching the office vending machine.
Can you help me out until next payday? A dear friend asks.
We’ve all been in a situation that may require asking for temporary help – whether with a cup of sugar or a small amount of change. But cultural norms and family dynamics determine if the situation is appropriate to ask and then borrow something. In the United States, borrowing money from friends is not a common practice, and asking to borrow a moderate sum of money even from family can be frowned upon. While in China, for example, borrowing money from a friend is a very common practice.
Our mobile society now finds neighbors and friends who are from different cultures, behaving in ways that are acceptable in their own culture, but not acceptable in their friend’s or neighbor’s culture. Borrowing, especially money, can be a real ‘flash-point’ in a friendship, even between two friends who are American.
Borrowing process –
What does borrowing among friends entail? Borrowing is a reciprocal transaction -- we ask to borrow something, and the friend loans it to us. When we borrow, we’re taking possession of something of value that belongs to another person. Our perception of that value may be the same or could be very different from our friend’s perception of the value.
The person loaning the item is also expecting several things in return. First to have it returned in the same condition it was in when they loaned it. And second and perhaps most important, that when they need to borrow something from you in the future, that when asked, you’ll say “Yes” without reservation. This means, that if we borrow an item, we have a responsibility to take care of it, as well as be open to loaning our own possession to others. And sometimes this responsibility isn’t worth the risk. Remember the perceived value mentioned above? This can create a complication should we need to replace the item.
Replace or repair –
There’s always the risk that when we borrow an item, it breaks or is damaged through no fault of our own. But we are still responsible.
I’ve been in situations where it would be so handy to borrow a power tool from a neighbor when my husband and I are working on a house project. But, I know that if something should happen and the power tool stops working while I’m using it, I have the responsibility to replace that tool – which means buying a new power tool for my neighbor.
The same responsibility occurs if I want to borrow a friend’s dress. What would happen if a glass of red wine were to get spilled on it? Now, instead of just dry cleaning the dress, I’d be buying her a new dress.
There’s also an expectation that the item will be returned within a certain timeframe. Unless ‘the agreement’ is in writing, which is rarely the case among friends, there can be a misunderstanding on this timeframe.
When we borrow, we have a situation in which perceptions can create a state of uneasiness, anxiety, or even anger - if the item is not returned ‘on time and in the appropriate condition.’
When we ask to borrow in the American culture, we may be risking a friendship. For this not to happen, and if you and your friends do ‘borrow back and forth’, don’t take advantage of the arrangement. Discuss how long you’ll be using the item, and make sure this is agreeable. Then return the item on time, clean, and in good condition.
Borrowing money brings another level of risk. First, unless it’s a couple of dollars, it shows that we aren’t good money managers – not the type of reputation most of us want to have, especially when we’re working in a professional environment. Second, our friends have worked hard to earn their money and probably have better places to put it than into our pockets – even temporarily.
Borrowing from a co-worker -
If we borrow from a friend who is also a co-worker, we’re risking further complications with our working relationship. Human nature is such that people, who are frustrated, talk about it to others. We may not even know that there’s a problem, but everyone else in the office has been told about our borrowing and not returning the item yet, or returning the item damaged. If this occurs, our professional reputation has been tarnished.
The law of Reciprocity –
Whenever we ask a favor of another person, and they grant our request, we have placed in action the ‘law of reciprocity’. That is, they will have an expectation that somehow, somewhere, sometime, they will receive something back in exchange for their ‘kindness’ or ‘generosity’. This can lead to potentially big problems, as the perception of what is originally borrowed, and what is necessary for equal reciprocity may not be the same in each person’s mind.
As an example, a neighbor may borrow a set of power shears to trim a hedge over the weekend. The trimmer is returned and everything is fine, until a month later when the neighbor that lent the tool has a request. It seems they have relatives coming to town in a 30’ mobile home and would like to park it on your side lawn for a week, and hook up your electricity and water to it as well.
Is this an equal exchange? It may very well be in the mind of the person requesting it. The cost of the electricity and water may be only a couple dollars, but the inconvenience may be significant to the neighbor who wants to keep their yard immaculately groomed. Can you see the potential for conflict?
The classy person doesn’t make a habit of borrowing from friends. Their friendships have far more value than the temporary value of the friend’s possession.
Do you have a story about ‘borrowing’ that you can share with me? I’d love to hear it - just send to Here's my story Kim
I'm Looking forward to sending you another of my ClassyTips next week. Until then, have a great week, and don't forget to visit my Forum where you can ask your questions on 'Becoming the Best You Can Be'.
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