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How to Politely Borrow Something

How are you at borrowing things and returning them? We've created a guideline for borrowing the polite way. 

By
Trent Armstrong
4-minute read
Episode #125
The Quick And Dirty

The basics of borrowing:

  1. Don't assume that someone is going to be comfortable loaning something to you
  2. Take extra-good care or anything you borrow
  3. Take responsibility for returning the item in a timely manner

It wasn't too terribly long ago that we took a look at lending things to others — money, cars, etc. But there is another side to that equation. It's not usually possible to have a lender unless you have a borrower, and the borrower will be the topic of our discussion today.

How to politely borrow from someone

Borrowing something from someone is a very big responsibility. It's a responsibility that some of us may take too lightly, so let's look at how to be a mannerly borrower.

We borrow many different kinds of things from each other: a pen, power tools, money, books, and movies to name a few; and it's important for us to recognize the importance of each item to the person from whom we are borrowing. Some people freely loan out their DVDs and CDs but get a panicked look on their faces when someone asks to borrow a book. Others will loan their books out all day long but they can't even come close to lending money to someone. So the first tip here is that we should not take lightly the subject of borrowing something from someone. Friendships have been completely dissolved for less, so consider the reaction you might receive upon your request.

If you think it's going to cause problems in your friendship with the person you are borrowing the item from, or if you think you will need to borrow that item frequently, consider just purchasing your own.

Ask politely when borrowing something

Let's say that you have gotten to the point of asking for the item. The attitude with which you approach the transaction is crucial, as it can affect you later in the process. When making the request to borrow something, approach the situation with humility. I can't express the frustration that others feel when someone comes to them with an attitude of entitlement and asks to borrow something. It could be something they don't even want back, but the attitude might cause them to grab that item with both hands and hold on like their life depended on it. Asking with humility is a way to build trust and show the lender that you are serious about their feelings toward the transaction. You could say something like, "Joe, I hate to ask this, but I have heard a little bit about your harmonica and would like to try it out to see if I should get one. May I borrow it for a few days?" Then be ready for Joe's response.

I can't express the frustration that others feel when someone comes to them with an attitude of entitlement and asks to borrow something.

It's okay if someone refuses to let you borrow something

Joe might have just gotten the harmonica and not yet been able to try it out himself. It might be passed down from a relative and, therefore, special to him (and extra unhygienic for you). Be prepared for him to say no. Have your reaction all ready in your mind so it doesn't shock you and elicit ill will toward your friend. And be ready to protect that item with all of your resources should the person actually agree to the exchange. Don't ask to take someone's expensive camera on your vacation out of the country unless you expect that you'll be able to cover the cost if you damage or lose the item. Convey your commitment upfront and make sure you stick to it.

Take care of things you borrow

Treat the stuff you borrow better than the way you treat your own.

One of my favorite books is A Stainless Steal Rat is Born by Harry Harrison. I have a number of copies in paperback for the express purpose of loaning them out. Once, a friend mentioned he would like to borrow a copy, and I was excited for him to read it. However, when I got the book back, it was mangled! My friend had folded the pages back on the spine to facilitate one-handed reading and had also done most of his reading outside. The first thing he said to me when returning the book was, "I really beat it up so I'm going to buy you a new one."

It's so important to take care of someone's possessions if they are kind enough to loan them to you. Yes, my friend made good on his promise to give the book back, but he made me a bit more cautious about loaning things out to him or others. I also have a hard-bound version of said book that, after that occasion, will probably not go anywhere but my very own bookshelf from now on.

Use extra care when borrowing something from someone. Drive a little more carefully when borrowing someone's car. Don't leave the disc where it could be damaged if you are borrowing someone's movie. In short, treat their stuff better than you treat your own.

We should not take lightly the subject of borrowing something from someone. Friendships have been completely dissolved for less, so consider the reaction you might receive upon your request.

Return anything you borrow in a timely manner

And be timely when borrowing something. Set up a realistic expectations about your projected time of use and do your best to stick to that. You, the borrower, are responsible for returning the item within the expected time range or for conveying any unforeseen obstacles in doing so. "Sydney, I meant to return your copy of Twilight by Friday, but I got caught up in a BBC documentary series and ran out of time. May have the weekend to finish the book?" Again, be ready for the response and be gracious either way. It's okay to give the item back and ask that you be able to borrow it again in the near future.

Summary

Don't assume that someone is going to be comfortable loaning something to you, take extra-good care or anything you borrow, and take responsibility for returning the item in a timely manner.

Thank you for joining me for this installment of The Modern Manners Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life.