Did he ask, or did he guess? May 7, 2010 8:47 PM   Subscribe

One of ask.mefi's most favourited replies ever is singled out today for detailed praise by Guardian UK columnist Oliver Burkeman. Bravo tangerine!
posted by zadcat to MetaFilter-Related at 8:47 PM (279 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

I'm pretty sure that answer saved my relationship. So yeah, it's awesome.
posted by Eideteker at 8:57 PM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Awesome!
Bravo tangerine, indeed!!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:57 PM on May 7, 2010


Awesome!

*stomps feet, claps loudly*

Yay, tangerine!
posted by rtha at 8:58 PM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Awesome to the max, great stuff tangerine! Can't believe I never read that before.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:06 PM on May 7, 2010


Wow, I never read the original post, but it's brilliant and explains quite a lot about a lot of things I've wondered about while adapting to sometimes very different cultures. As with a lot of brilliant things, it's genius lies in its utter simplicity.

Congratulations, tangerine!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:16 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good stuff, tangerine! I hadn't seen that thread before.

It raises all sorts of questions. As a dedicated Guesser, it seems to me there must be some limit to the tolerance of even the more diehard Askers. If in addition to a place to stay, the visiting lady had said "And hey, can I have a few hundred bucks walking around money?" that would have been rude, right? Or is Ask Culture so direct and laid back about these things that you can ask anyone for the keys to their car and a sloppy blowjob and get a nice. polite, direct "no" with no hard feelings?
posted by lore at 9:16 PM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hooray, tangerine!

It really is the best thing I have ever read on Metafilter, and have given the link to the comment to many non-Mefites who also found it both fascinating and awesome. It has dramatically helped me to better understand people who previously confused and frustrated me to no end. All praise, attention, and kudos tangerine gets is beyond well-deserved. Hip hip hooray!
posted by tastybrains at 9:21 PM on May 7, 2010


Yeah, seriously, it's great. It's a relationship paradigm I've never noticed before, but now that I see it, it explains a lot.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:26 PM on May 7, 2010


Wow! MeFi's own!

tangerine, if that's your original concept and you haven't already, you ought write a book.
posted by pineapple at 9:31 PM on May 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


Guess/ask is something that I have over-thought to the point where I think it can define the entirely of social development.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 9:35 PM on May 7, 2010


Lore, as a pretty dedicated asker, I think you make a really good point. I consider myself an Ask type of personality, but mainly that's only true with my family (immediate and extended) and friends/coworkers. My brother could ask me for the keys to my car, and while I would never in a million years give them to him, the question wouldn't bug me and he'd get over being told no. I could ask my sister if I could host a party at her house, and while that's fairly intrusive, she wouldn't be offended and she would be perfectly willing to just say no (unless she wanted the party there) and I would shrug and figure something else out. This contrasts pretty sharply with my in laws, who I have realized are very much guess culture people. If you ask them for something, they will bend over backwards to accommodate it because they almost never say no. In fact, they never say no, they just kind of say "maybe" or very awkwardly offer an alternative suggestion. I can tell that being put into a situation where they might have to say no makes them VERY uncomfortable, so I've learned to deal with them a bit differently than I deal with my own family/friends.

But yeah ... there are questions that from strangers or even casual acquaintances I would be annoyed with. Usually the annoyance is more at suspecting that they will be pissy if I say no. I think even askers have had to get accustomed to the fact that many people do not handle being told no well. I also think that while saying that you're either in Group A or Group B makes the concept easy to understand, that we're probably not all always either asks or guesses.
posted by tastybrains at 9:35 PM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, that was a really well-written and insightful response. Way to go tangerine! It sounds like something I would have learned in one of my advanced cultural anthropology lectures.
posted by 1000monkeys at 9:36 PM on May 7, 2010


Yay, tangerine!
posted by gingerbeer at 9:47 PM on May 7, 2010


If in addition to a place to stay, the visiting lady had said "And hey, can I have a few hundred bucks walking around money?" that would have been rude, right?

Well, requesting cash would have made it a lot weirder, but sure she can ask. Unless she started insisting on it as some kind of right, there wouldn't be any hard feelings per se, though I'd privately chuckle about it. I guess I still see it as a matter of balance -- it'd be fine to ask one's immediate family for money and a place to stay without hedging, but when making the same request of an acquaintance one should acknowledge that they'll almost definitely decline. Otherwise it seems like you don't really understand/respect the distance of the relationship and that can be uncomfortable. I also agree with tastybrains' point about being conscientious of how the other party will feel about the request.

The best exchange like this I've had was when a German friend asked for a few Euro. I interpreted it as a request to borrow money and handed him a five; he pulled me into a shop to get change because he only needed €2.50 to get dinner and wouldn't be paying me back. I really think at that point I could have changed my mind and he wouldn't have resented it. I admire that, and wish more people were as direct.
posted by teremala at 9:51 PM on May 7, 2010


The column says that comment has achieved minor cult status. I'd say we're at least a medium cult by now.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:54 PM on May 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


I live in Minnesota, there are no "Ask Culture" people here. Guess Culture is a huge part of Minnesota Nice. Besides general manners, Minnesota Nice encompasses many things "Ask Culture" people would find infuriating. Sure, we'll gladly help you with whatever we have, if look like you need it, always. It's no problem generally. We are genuinely glad to help.

Unless you can't see us because we're conveniently not there.

Outsiders and new move-ins are left to wonder. A new move-in named Jack might say: "Huh, where's Ole. He always mows his lawn today and I could sure use his weed whacker, he's always lent it to me before, but I'll wait to ask him till he mows".

Jack has already shed some of his "Ask Culture" by waiting, until Ole is out in his yard doing his thing, so that he can ask. But for most, that's just common courtesy. Coming up and knocking on Ole's door and asking to use his weed whacker is something unheard of, never done, and totally taboo. You might as well be asking to steal it.

In Minnesota, after so many borrowings, Ole may suddenly decide to mow his lawn as soon as Jack leaves the house. Ole is a little tired of Jack borrowing his weed whacker, and doesn't like how he treats his machine. So somehow, Ole is always not around when he sees Jacks lawn needs a mow.

It's subtle, but anyone who's grown up in the upper midwest would recognize it in a second and never ask to borrow the weed whacker again.
posted by sanka at 9:56 PM on May 7, 2010 [33 favorites]


When is Guess Metafilter gonna launch?
posted by dobbs at 10:18 PM on May 7, 2010 [61 favorites]


I'm afraid that won't be possible, dobbs.
posted by ODiV at 10:38 PM on May 7, 2010 [27 favorites]


Irrationally, I always like to see the other "fruit users" succeed. Congrats on the recognition!
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:44 PM on May 7, 2010 [11 favorites]


When is Guess Metafilter gonna launch?

Don't you know how weird it is to be asked that?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:02 PM on May 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I love the idea of GuessMetaFilter. Weeks go by and we all just wait and hope somebody bothers to ask us if we have a problem and whether or not we feel like talking about it on a public internet forum.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:05 PM on May 7, 2010 [43 favorites]


So you have been to a Lutefisk supper then?
posted by sanka at 11:12 PM on May 7, 2010


Darn, I was really hoping this was about that creepy how to dispose of a body answer.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:16 PM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks, everyone.

I'm not sure it's entirely, single-handedly my idea. I've talked about this sort of thing with lots of people including, but not restricted to, my cousin Mariel and my friend Michelle.

I banged out that comment late one night without putting a whole lot of thought into it and ever since then I've regretted using the word "guess" instead of "hint," which I think would make more sense.

pineapple suggests a book, and enough people have told me it's helpful that I've thought about it. I might, especially if y'all would want to buy such a thing. But it's such a blissfully simple concept that I'm loth to clutter it up with examples and guidelines. And anyway, how would I work up the chutzpah to ask sanka outright for permission to use that weedwhacker example?
posted by tangerine at 11:21 PM on May 7, 2010 [15 favorites]


It's not my thing heh. People in Minnesota have been doing it forever, and Garrison Keillor may have a stake in it. After all, he makes a living on it.
posted by sanka at 11:25 PM on May 7, 2010


Though the weedwhacker example may have been my experience. I actually adjusted my mowing schedule. It was one of the more painful things I have ever done. I'm not sure my lawn has fully recovered.
posted by sanka at 11:32 PM on May 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've always thought Tangerine is teh awesome. Too bad we've never been to the same meetups even though we live fairly close by.

Time to change that.
posted by special-k at 11:39 PM on May 7, 2010


It's interesting to click on the favouriting history of that comment - they just keep on rolling in, week by week.

(i also discovered to my horror that i hadn't faved it myself, in spite of having followed the original thread & having quoted that exact model to dozens of people...*pops over to fix that*)
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:13 AM on May 8, 2010


Tangerine: can I use your idea to write a book and make a lot of money so I can quit my day job and oh hell I am just not an Asker.
posted by Shepherd at 2:04 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Jesus Christ you Ask People make me so uncomfortable I can barely stand it sometimes. In New England an Ask Person (likely some sort of displaced New Yorker) is likely to get their rude request accommodated to the best of the askees ability, but with a raised eyebrow. And let me tell you, in New England a raised eyebrow is the equivalent of a screaming hissy fit of outrage.

You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. Just coming out and asking for stuff is crazy bad. If I want somebody crashing on my couch for a week I'd have goddamn well offered it; when they ask, I have to say yes and then spend the rest of the week stewing in my own bitterness and resentment. How can people be so oblivious!

I can barely stand to even think about it it makes me so uncomfortable.
posted by Justinian at 2:22 AM on May 8, 2010 [25 favorites]


Sadly, I'm not joking about the having-to-say-yes and then stewing in bitterness and resentment. Ugh.
posted by Justinian at 2:23 AM on May 8, 2010


Justinian: You think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. Just coming out and asking for stuff is crazy bad. If I want somebody crashing on my couch for a week I'd have goddamn well offered it; when they ask, I have to say yes and then spend the rest of the week stewing in my own bitterness and resentment. How can people be so oblivious!

See, Guess People get right under my skin til I'm trying to chew my own shoulder off. What do you want? JUST SAY IT! Stop with the hints, I can't read your subtle-to-the-point-of-nonexistent hints. I'm not a damn mind reader. I'm happy for friends and family to stay with us, we stay with them every time we travel (seriously - I've stayed in a hotel all of four or five nights in my life but have flown interstate for about 5 weeks all up in the past 12 months) but if you don't say you want to stay, I'll assume you're choosing to stay elsewhere. I won't delicately probe to see if you really and truly want to stay at a hotel. You say you're staying at one, I'll shrug my shoulders and raise an eyebrow at the unnecessary expense and not say anything. I'll not say anything because I've had to sit through Guess People having complete spasms that they missed my (unsent) signals and I do want to stay with them, when in reality I would rather dip my head in boiling water. But no, through some deeply complex set of social rituals I am completely ignorant of, I have transgressed and must be chastised. Kindly. With incessant concern. They feel like the concern trolls of real life.

Then again, I'm an Australian. Which probably makes me more like a New Yorker than a New England (English? Englander?) but with more swearing.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:32 AM on May 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


Minnesota Nice encompasses many things "Ask Culture" people would find infuriating.

I never really thought of myself as an "ask culture" person, per se, until I re-read that comment, but yes I am and holy crap yes I do.

Just ask me, REALLY. And for the love of Pete don't say "yes" and then go through some sigh-punctuated convoluted song and dance to let me know you mean something else. Minnesota, there is a wondrous, magical word that will free you of your agony, and that word is NO. Embrace it! It will free you. I swear.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:38 AM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


having-to-say-yes and then stewing in bitterness and resentment.

See, it's this bit that we Askers just don't get. On behalf of all Askers, I apologise for your hurt feelings, but at the same time I just can't help but feel that you've brought them on yourself. That's just the Asker way I'm afraid.
posted by pharm at 2:40 AM on May 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


Proud to say that I favorited that comment at the time it was written, because it absolutely blew my mind away. Honestly, it's not hyperbole to say that it's lifechanging.

tangerine, a book would be awesome, an article would be wonderful, whatever it takes. Anything so that more people can hear about it! It's such a simple, logical concept--but you both noticed that it existed and put it into words that made perfect sense. Add in some Minnesota Nice and New England Chill, stir in a few illustrative anecdotes, and some more of your beautiful common sense, and whiz bang a book.
posted by librarylis at 2:42 AM on May 8, 2010


NB. I had a personal example of Ask vs Guess culture with a neighbour who was unable to say no to my then 4 year old son when he knocked on the door to ask if he could play with her daughter.

She ended up accosting me in the school playground & insisting that I was transgressing on her space in some deeply personal fashion by not preventing my son from rushing up to ask when we got home from school. I've never seen someone look so stressed and uncomfortable. I'm sure my lack of sympathy for someone who was unable to say no to a four year old was entirely obvious.
posted by pharm at 2:59 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


wow, this is really great. thanks for highlighting the concept and bringing it to our notice. in fact, someone upthread said it better:

Yeah, seriously, it's great. It's a relationship paradigm I've never noticed before, but now that I see it, it explains a lot.

Its the way you have framed it that makes it to easy adn obvious to remember and think about. I second the suggestion that you write a book or blog or downloadable PDF on this topic.

On a side note, coming from a home culture that's a complex mix of Ask (immediate family, close friends etc have high expectations of how much of your life they own) and Guess (the polite social dances that highly dense societies develop to save face - eg Indians and Chinese) I always appreciated a lesson my father "taught" me some 20 years ago.

I wanted a laptop for my birthday - keep in mind this was the early nineties and laptops were not cheap nor as common as they are now. Papa said to me:

"I will never say no to you for anything you ask of me, I only hope that I have taught you to think things through thoroughly before you make your request"

I got the laptop but I valued it far more highly than anything I'd ever asked them for ever before.
posted by infini at 3:10 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm a guesser because I'm afraid of this:
"Can I [x]?"
"No."
"Why?"
Unless you can honestly say you're not going to want to know the reason, or that you're not going to be offended by any reason at all, the asking stresses me out because it's forcing me to either bet on how well I know you or bottle it and do the "acquiescent guesser" to spare your feelings.
I really hope this doesn't sound condescending, and I'm aware it's mostly about my own fear of conflict. But while it would be great if everyone could just be straight with eachother, we all have such subtly different world views I think we need a bit of guessing as padding.
posted by lucidium at 3:26 AM on May 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


A thing I think is extremely important about Ask vs. Guess, that tengerine points out but many people seem to miss, is that it is not just Ask and Guess that are incompatible - no two Guess cultures are going to be fully compatible, because in order for Guess culture to work you need a network of unspoken assumptions. So New Yorkers are of course forced to be Askers - it is the only cosmopolitan option.

Sure, it is very nice to be able to work things out subtly and via mutual understandings and politeness and nuance, but these things force us to be provincial and avoid other cultures, because there is simply no universal guess culture, they are all unique.
posted by idiopath at 3:31 AM on May 8, 2010 [22 favorites]


tangerine, what about submitting something to the MF book?
posted by paduasoy at 3:35 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sure, it is very nice to be able to work things out subtly and via mutual understandings and politeness and nuance, but these things force us to be provincial and avoid other cultures, because there is simply no universal guess culture, they are all unique.

yes and no, idiopath. I agree with what you're saying here and yes, its the correct read of the situation as it stands - I recall the challenges I had when I returned to my home culture after 14 years in foreign lands and [insert adolescent nightmares here]

however, now, after decades of traipsing through multiple cultures, the best way that I've found is to a) fall back on my inherent Guess nature but b) heighten it with extra vigilant observations and sensitivity with the awareness of being cautious around assumption making. default mode now I guess but not at all an easy journey to this point. still i'm not good and there will always be faux pas, which is where the learnt behaviour of Ask has come into use.

Its a dance, a terrible terrifying dance
posted by infini at 3:40 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


cranberrymonger: "Irrationally, I always like to see the other "fruit users" succeed. Congrats on the recognition"

Shh, the others don't know about Us.
posted by pineapple at 5:09 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


!! tangerine!

You could call it "Can't Hurt to Ask" -- with the obligatory NF self-help colon subtitle like, "Exploring the Difference Between Ask Culture and Hint Culture".

(agree that hint culture is more descriptive of the phenomenon)

Seriously, I would buy it twice. I missed the comment the first time around, but I think this is such an insightful way of understanding how people interact and relate, and what role our family of origin and background plays... especially useful in this post-Robert Putnam era where we don't talk to neighbors as much as we used to... don't maintain those casual community relationships that reaffirm and assist our understanding of others.

And an agent would fall all over this. Hello, it's a meme with enormous pop culture possibility, and you're even already getting press for it!
posted by pineapple at 5:18 AM on May 8, 2010


Add in some Minnesota Nice and New England Chill, stir in a few illustrative anecdotes, and some more of your beautiful common sense, and whiz bang a book.

You can follow those up with a chapter on the Southern Polite Refusal. No one accepts an offer until it's been refused and re-extended two or three times. I'm pretty rude here in these parts since I usually respond to "No, thank you" with "Ok. Let me know if you change your mind." rather than "Are you sure? It's no trouble."
posted by Dojie at 5:29 AM on May 8, 2010 [17 favorites]


You can follow those up with a chapter on the Southern Polite Refusal. No one accepts an offer until it's been refused and re-extended two or three times.

Hehe - those Southerners share that trait with Iranians.

In Iran, it's apparently crass to accept an offer without first refusing it twice. On the other side of the coin, it's impolite to accept a first refusal at face value, and not persist with a couple of rounds of "go on, I insist, it's nothing, really..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:35 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


tangerine just changed my life.
posted by nowonmai at 5:37 AM on May 8, 2010


I think there's at least a third culture, because while I'm not an Asker I'm not really into Guessing either. I'm more of a Avoiding People Entirely And Figuring Out How To Do It Myself.
posted by DU at 5:55 AM on May 8, 2010 [21 favorites]


How do you Guess People have enough time in your lives to worry about all of this shit? I have way better things to do than spend hours in some choreographed dance of ritual and politeness just to borrow a fucking weedwhacker. You want something? Ask. You'll get an answer in 5 seconds and you can go about your business. I want something, I ask and then I can go about my business in five seonds. It's like y'all's life is a month of Sundays. People got shit to do!
posted by spicynuts at 6:31 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I guess Ben Franklin was an ask person.

I'm in Minnesota, and am a native Minnesotan, and am an ask person. You can't hear no unless you ask. But, then, I only ask for things I really need, and I try to make it worth somebody's while to answer me with a yes, so I guess I'm also a guess person.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:41 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


You want something? Ask. You'll get an answer in 5 seconds and you can go about your business.

A guesser probably sees it as securing a Yes vote. Why waste time wandering around like a idiot, asking everyone for everything and getting nothing, when you can build solid relationships that will pretty much guarantee a yes answer when you need it?

The way the comment was written, it neatly separates people into either category. I doubt people are that hardwired, we probably tend to drift between the two based on the type of relationship, with a few outliners being strongly Ask or Guess. It may also change over time, as a person gains maturity and confidence or is thrust into new situations.

It would be interesting to see how Ask vs Guess plays out across classes and nationalities.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


ever since then I've regretted using the word "guess" instead of "hint," which I think would make more sense.

"Guess" is a much better word choice -- "ask versus hint" doesn't have nearly the same ring to it.

Or is Ask Culture so direct and laid back about these things that you can ask anyone for the keys to their car and a sloppy blowjob and get a nice. polite, direct "no" with no hard feelings?

Direct doesn't mean stupid. An obviously inappropriate request is obviously inappropriate no matter what style of communication you prefer -- this stuff really only comes into play for the ambiguous cases.

I doubt people are that hardwired, we probably tend to drift between the two based on the type of relationship

Yeah, this. I'm 100% Ask with friends; probably 60% Guess with acquaintances or strangers.
posted by ook at 7:36 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm simply complicated.
posted by infini at 7:44 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


pineapple suggests a book, and enough people have told me it's helpful that I've thought about it. I might, especially if y'all would want to buy such a thing. But it's such a blissfully simple concept that I'm loth to clutter it up with examples and guidelines.

Hmm. Good point. But at the same time, this is a Concept That Must Be Shared! Maybe make it very interview/anecdote-heavy? Since the heart of it is about recognizing how differently other people think about these things, you could basically just have lots and lots of stories where Ask and Guess people talk in their own words about different scenarios and what they were thinking and feeling.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 7:45 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Definitely a guesser as well. For me, part of the reason why I'm a guesser is that I have a hard time coping with people telling me no, because I have a bad habit of assuming they've told me no because they hate me a little bit. It's a really fucked-up thought path, one that I do my very best not to travel. But travel it I do, although less often than I used to.
posted by shiu mai baby at 7:50 AM on May 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


It would be interesting to see how Ask vs Guess plays out across classes and nationalities.

I've also noticed a correlation between those that have "the eye" ---> closest analogy would be an inherent aesthetic sense versus those for whom the world is far sharply defined or have no inherent "eye" (i use this example because some design schools test for this as part of the admissions process)

I wonder if you need the "eye" to be able to Guess? look at Japanese culture for example...
posted by infini at 7:52 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


>"Can I [x]?"
"No."
"Why?"


And in my experience, an awful lot of Ask culture people have absolutely no problem pushing it that way. When I was a wee lass fresh from an intensely Guess culture* of the southern US, it was physically painful to get asked 'why?' when I said no. So I did a lot of shuffling and hiding the weed whacker to avoid what I saw as an incredibly intrusive rudeness. Now that I am an old lady, I get rude right back.

On the other side, I have such immense difficulty asking for things it is ludicrous. I couch requests with so many apologetic sub-clauses for daring to disturb someone's peace that it's amazing anyone understands that I am asking for something at all. Sadly, people cannot intuit when you need an extension on a seminar paper, although you'd think it would be obvious that everyone needs an extension on a seminar paper all the time.

* it always amused me when I took people from other regions home to meet my mother. They would enthuse about how charming and warm she was! what a lovely woman! meanwhile, I knew perfectly well what it meant that my mom didn't press second and third helpings on food of them and grill them nicely about who their people were for an hour. They never did understand why I could never invite them back home- my mother was screaming 'OH LORD I HATE YOU' in her own deeply passive way.
posted by winna at 8:06 AM on May 8, 2010 [18 favorites]


Hmmm, are there any studies backing up the idea of Ask vs Guess? The more I think about it, the more it sounds very appealing for the its ability to neatly divide people into two categories, but I wonder if it's really all that. Hell, Myer-Briggs at least divided us into 16 types of special snowflake goodness.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 AM on May 8, 2010


I think there's at least a third culture, because while I'm not an Asker I'm not really into Guessing either. I'm more of a Avoiding People Entirely And Figuring Out How To Do It Myself.

And one becomes that way after about 77 no.
posted by francesca too at 8:11 AM on May 8, 2010


Oooh. I remember the question, but somehow missed that answer. As a Jersey Girl who married into a Midwestern Nice family, this is good.

Now, can someone explain drinking coffee with dinner to me? Ew.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:26 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm in Minnesota, and am a native Minnesotan, and am an ask person. You can't hear no unless you ask.

You say that like it's an argument for asking. A Guessers second worst nightmare is hearing no. Their first worst nightmare is forcing someone else (or another Guesser, anyway) to SAY no.
posted by DU at 8:37 AM on May 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


That was a great comment - but what does "pace Moomin fans" mean in the context of that sentence? I know what Moomin IS, but not what it is about.
posted by pinky at 8:42 AM on May 8, 2010


winna: "I knew perfectly well what it meant that my mom didn't press second and third helpings on food of them and grill them nicely about who their people were for an hour"

Not having grown up with these things at all, I can't possibly convey how tedious and unpleasant these displays of "politeness" are. Another issue with more guess heavy cultures (I am sure it is a continuum) is that it is so reliant on "mind reading" that it makes it very difficult for a person to have special needs. People get taken as rude simply for not being willing to eat the hosts food or because they have a need that a reasonable person would not be able to anticipate.
posted by idiopath at 8:45 AM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


You want something? Ask. You'll get an answer in 5 seconds and you can go about your business.

Because what the guess culture person wants above all are interpersonal relationships, not some sort of tangible end-goods. And guess cultures are not incompatible with other guess cultures. Quite the opposite - guess culture is based upon paying attention to others and picking up on their ways. It's not about internalized rule-sets (though those are certainly there) so much as it's about being polite and perceptive.

Which isn't to say that it doesn't have problems. I'm a dedicated guesser but I know that Ask Culture is a lot better for a lot of things. Personally I'm glad for tangerine's comment if only because it gives me a better understanding of Askers other than, "wow. damn that's rude."

(and it's also allowed me to feel better about saying 'no.' Not about asking for things though. I draw the line somewhere.)
posted by Navelgazer at 8:51 AM on May 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


"Hmmm, are there any studies backing up the idea of Ask vs Guess?"

Yep! Lot's of ask vs. guess is covered in Brown and Levinson's original concepts of Politeness Theory. Especially bald-on-record face threatening acts. The theory has come a loooong way since it was first introduced. Especially where other cultures are concerned, since the original model couldn't really account for some of the politeness strategies that are ingrained in societies and that are based on different assumptions about the hearer and speaker, or oriented differently with regard to speech acts, etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:55 AM on May 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


I would read this book! Especially if it had a chapter on how to trick Guessers into revealing what they want so that we can get on with things already.

Here's a rubric for knowing if you've got at Asker or a Guesser on your hands: ask them if they are hungry. A Guesser will describe their state as being both content to wait for food and amenable to eating something anyway.
posted by xo at 8:58 AM on May 8, 2010 [27 favorites]


A Guesser will describe their state as being both content to wait for food and amenable to eating something anyway.

I was about to object to this and then almost immediately realized that somewhere along the way I learned that "I could eat" is the standard "correct" answer to this question.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:03 AM on May 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


I grew up in Guess culture, and I absolutely hate it. Probably because I'm not good at reading social cues, so my life has been a nightmare of Guessing incorrectly. I am trying to convert to Ask culture, and it's really difficult. I still find it very difficult to ask for what I want. I also struggle with people-pleasing, which seems to flourish in Guess culture.

Any other Guess people wish they were Ask people?
posted by agropyron at 9:08 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


As someone who grew up more on the side of Guess culture than Ask culture (although I'm now dating someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool Asker), I have to defend at least one good aspect of Guess culture that I think is totally missing on the other side: when you feel free to ask about any need, no matter how pressing, you end up losing the ability to differentiate between requests that are "oh hey it'd be nice if" and "I'm really stuck here, and REALLY need you to".

For instance: I recently flew out to my brother's wedding in the state where we all grew up. A few weeks beforehand, I sent around an email saying that we'd be flying in on X day, and were thinking of staying in Y hotel where the reception was going to be held. Pretty quickly I got a response back from my brother saying "Hey, you're more than welcome to stay at my place, we'll be staying in the bridal suite all weekend so there's a bed in my condo that will be empty." It was nice to not pay $150 per night to stay in a hotel--but it wouldn't have been the end of the world to not get the offer, because I could have afforded the hotel. If I *had* sent an Ask-er email saying "Hey brother, can I stay at your place?" it would have been implicitly understood that I was only asking because I really, really needed a place to stay, and couldn't afford a hotel. In my mind, this is a big part of why saying "no" is hard as a Guesser; if you're at the point where you're asking me point-blank, I'm assuming it's because it's something that is really important and you NEED me to do whatever you're asking (borrow money, stay at my place, watch your kid, whatever). If it wasn't urgent or important, you would have told me the situation ("We have tickets to this play I really want to see and our babysitter is booked, we're having the hardest time trying to find someone to watch Junior") and let me decide whether I'd offer to help.

Anyway. I don't really get how this works in Ask culture: how do you differentiate between requests that are things that someone would like, versus things that someone actually needs? Does someone need to basically prostrate themselves and beg for help if it's the latter, to make sure you don't say no?
posted by iminurmefi at 9:09 AM on May 8, 2010 [33 favorites]


Oh, and I saw tangerine's comment when it was originally posted, and it helped me a lot. It gave me new perspective on some things I had been working on (like people-pleasing).

Even if there's not enough material for a book, I would love to see this idea spread more widely. The authors of White Knight Syndromehave put selections from their book up on a blog.

I'd love to see a blog that presents the ideas in the original comment, with subsequent entries that develop the concept and explore examples, and where people can share their experiences and perspectives.
posted by agropyron at 9:12 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


you mean "lets publish this thread, suitably edited, along with the original thread bits" and then have an extended conversation there?

i guess that could work
posted by infini at 9:21 AM on May 8, 2010


Tangerine's comment is brilliant. I seriously think a book about it would end up a best seller. It wouldn't have to be a thick book - most of the self-help books just repeat the same thing endlessly anyway.

My own point of enlightenment about this subject came at work. I had started working at a new company as an administrative assistant, even though I was overqualified at that point, and should have been in project management or office management, etc. Anyway, very shortly after I started, the Office Manager/Exec Assistant quit. So the (very small) company started talking about finding someone to replace her, and putting ads in the paper, etc. And the whole time, I'm sitting there thinking "Okay, I'm right here, I just started 2 weeks ago, they just saw my resume, they know I"m qualified. But they're not even considering me for this position!" I was pissed off and insulted. I started thinking I was going to look for another job. But then I decided I wasn't going down without a fight, so I printed out a new copy of my resume, and I marched into the office of the person in charge of finding someone, and I handed her my resume and told her that I would like to be considered for the position. Well, they were all shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you. They said it never even occurred to them that I might be interested, or even qualified. Even though they had just looked at my resume 2 weeks ago. This company only had 8 employees at the time, so it's not like I got lost in the shuffle.

I got the position, and after 6 months, they told me that they were so glad I had expressed interest, because I was the person they had been looking for since they had started the company 13 years before. So I learned a valuable lesson that day: working hard gets you nowhere. Being pushy is what gets you promoted.

The problem I have with a lot of Askers is, they'll ask for freakin' anything. Not all Askers, obviously. But what ever would posses the woman in the original question to think it was in any way acceptable to ask someone you are merely acquaintances with if you could stay in their house? That's being far too willing to inconvenience other people because you're too selfish to inconvenience yourself by staying in a hotel. And if you mention you're going to be in their city, and they don't offer to let you stay with them, then guess what? They don't want you to stay with them! If they wanted you to, they'd offer.

And buy your own weed-whacker, or get down on your hands and knees and cut it with scissors. Don't impose upon your neighbors week after week. They worked hard to afford it, they went to the trouble of buying it, why shouldn't you do the same?

And FWIW, my whole family is from NYC originally and we're all Guessers.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:26 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


iminurmefi: "how do you differentiate between requests that are things that someone would like, versus things that someone actually needs?"

Remarkably enough either of those situations can be presented in plain language.

Sometimes I will say "I could ride my bike but if it is convenient can you come by and pick me up on the way" and other times I say "I fell down the stairs recently and cannot ride my bicycle, but would like to attend, do you think you could come by and pick me up since you are going anyway?"
posted by idiopath at 9:29 AM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


iminurmefi: An ask person will tell you when something is really, really important. Generalising wildly, if an Ask person just asks a question straight, then they don't mind whether you say Yes or No: they'd obviously like a Yes, because otherwise they wouldn't have asked, but a No answer just means they'll move on to their next option.

If it's really important, then they'll explain that when they ask the question.
posted by pharm at 9:31 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


BTW, tangerine, maybe that's how you could approach chapters of the book - Askers vs. Guessers in the Workplace. Askers vs. Guessers in Love. Askers vs. Guessers at the Mall. (People who wait politely in line to pay for something while fuming that the store doesn't open another cash register, vs. people who grab a manager and ask them to open another.) Askers vs. Guessers in Friendships. At Parties. Etc.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:32 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


MexicanYenta: "what ever would posses the woman in the original question to think it was in any way acceptable to ask someone you are merely acquaintances with if you could stay in their house? That's being far too willing to inconvenience other people because you're too selfish to inconvenience yourself by staying in a hotel."

I frequently have hosted couch surfers or been hosted by couch surfers among circles of acquaintance. And we let one another know that we are looking for a place to stay by asking. And we let someone know if we can or cannot host by saying yes or no. There is nothing rude about asking or saying no.
posted by idiopath at 9:33 AM on May 8, 2010


It's not necessarily ingrained in families, either. I'm a total Guesser, but part of that is never asking for anything unless I absolutely have to. My sister is an Asker. This leads to conflict when I tell her no -- I get the dreaded "But whyyyy?" a lot, and it leads to hurt feelings when I need something and she blows me off.

Tangerine, will your book have a section on reconciliation of these things? Because that's the part I need.
posted by sugarfish at 9:40 AM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not that "askers" don't value thoughtfulness or personal relationships, like some people have weirdly postulated, but that their idea of thoughtfulness is being upfront and not what they see as playing games.

Anyway, I think lots of askers are guessers at times and probably vice versa. Perhaps the only people who never switch are those who feel physically pained by the word 'no.'
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:44 AM on May 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


yes and no

I find that predominantly Ask cultures tend to view predominantly Guess cultures as "weak" or individual behaviour, which may be derived from more face saving situations or courtesy as a sign of weakness and then proceed to trample over -- until Guesser realizes what happened and bites back or just threatening growls...
posted by infini at 9:49 AM on May 8, 2010


That's neat and kind of an interesting way of looking at things. Right now my wifes taking an extreme Guessing stance with her work, and getting frustrated with it getting her nowhere - I'm going to suggest an Ask stance.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention!
posted by Artw at 9:54 AM on May 8, 2010


If it's really important, then they'll explain that when they ask the question.

No, I understand that someone *can* explain that something is important and why; I guess (ha!) that it gets at another difference between Guess and Ask culture, which is how much privacy is valued. In an intimate relationship, I totally think being an Asker makes sense, because there's not too many things that I can think of that would be private and uncomfortable to share with with your partner when explaining to them why a request is important.

It's when you get to not-close friends and family or acquaintances that I see the value a communication system that differentiates between wants vs. needs without the need to spill a bunch of private information. If I really need to travel somewhere but have money problems that make a hotel out of my reach, I don't necessarily want to have to tell that to someone I'm not very close to. It's easier, in my view, to have an equilibrium where both sides understand that I wouldn't ask for a big favor (like putting me up) if it wasn't important and I didn't have other options.

I imagine Ask-ers, as a group, value that sort of privacy less than Guess-ers (for example, not needing to tell someone you're having financial trouble and can't afford a hotel, or that you're having a fight with your husband and need someone to watch the kids so you can go do something that needs to get done, or whatever it is that is causing you to really NEED assistance). Maybe I'm wrong, that's just the impression I get when comparing my Guess-er family with my partner's Ask-er family---there's not much that's off limits for them to ask about, not only in terms of requests for assistance or lodging or what-have-you, but also in terms of personal questions. (After all, if it bothers you, then it's on you to say that the question is too personal or something. ARGH.)
posted by iminurmefi at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm mostly an Ask person, but I lived in New England from middle school through my 20s, so I have definite Guess tendencies as well (and it probably doesn't help that I'm a Gemini - not that I really believe in astrology, except when I do (see?!?)). When I do ask, and get a "No," back, I almost never ask why, unless I know the person extremely well, and I often (I think) precede the Ask with Guess phrases, and try to suss out if it's a situation where it's okay to just come out and ask for what I want/need, or if I'll get a Guess-type answer before I do.

My motto is, If you don't ask, you don't get; and if you don't ask, they can't say no. Works for me. Mostly.

People who are more on the Guess end of things make me kind of crazy, because it seems very passive-aggressive to me unless I know them well. I'd never thought of it in terms of Ask/Guess until tangerine's answer. I do appreciate the forthrightness of Ask people, mostly, because I'm not psychic and it's good to know if, say, you're hungry and want dinner *now*, because then I'll go ahead and feed you. Generally, if I offer someone a choice of something and they say "Oh, either way - both work for me," I'll take that answer as a given.
posted by rtha at 10:03 AM on May 8, 2010


I think of Guess culture as being heavier on the social lubricant. Human beings are needy creatures. We're heaving vats of demands and wants. Guess culture makes it possible to gloss over a lot of conflict by shoving most of it under a rug. It is still there, though, admittedly.

I can understand that comes across as fake to people from Ask, but I am much more comfortable being aware that someone doesn't like me because they don't bring my favorite kind of bagel to the office in the morning than to have to cope with a more confrontational dislike. But that is branching a bit out from what I think is the original schema.
posted by winna at 10:05 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is a third way, here, though I suppose this might already be part of the Guesser's equation: behave according to the other person's culture/personality. As a native Guesser, this would just mean asking forthrightly of those who expect that from you (assuming you can recognize them as such). For native Askers, this would just mean hedging a little around those you notice becoming uncomfortable, and graciously offering an alternative/out to those who seem to be giving you a reluctant Yes.
posted by nobody at 10:16 AM on May 8, 2010


> You might as well be asking to steal it.

Only in the upper midwest would someone do this. I'm sure it's probably been done.
posted by heyho at 10:27 AM on May 8, 2010


It's funny - I am a hardcore native of Guessland, and I am noticing how uncomfortable I am made by commenters assuming that tangerine really does want to write a book about this and here is what should be in it. I parsed tangerine's response as a Guess response of deflection, which says far more about me and how I respond to direct suggestion than it does about tangerine.
posted by catlet at 10:33 AM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Solon and Thanks: "It's not that "askers" don't value thoughtfulness or personal relationships, like some people have weirdly postulated, but that their idea of thoughtfulness is being upfront and not what they see as playing games."

That's pretty much it exactly. Life is short, and no one's a mindreader.

Ask/Guess is just an axis of measurement, like introvert/extrovert, thinking/feeling, etc. You could shoehorn it right into the Myers-Briggs! If it really takes off, not many years from now you'll see lots of forum threads of people saying "Well, I'm more of an ENFPG!" etc.
posted by Drastic at 10:46 AM on May 8, 2010


Ah, yes. That amazing comment came shortly after I got out of a relationship in which the Asker vs. Guesser situation was one of the issues. She was very intent on turning me into an Asker. That wasn't working out so well.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2010


I'm an introvert, but I've never ever had this problem on either end. I kind of know some of my friends are very forward and some aren't and I adjust accordingly. I'm by temperament a guesser I suppose, but if I really want something, I have no problem asking for it.
posted by empath at 10:58 AM on May 8, 2010


That's pretty much it exactly. Life is short, and no one's a mindreader.

This is what confuses me. It's not mind reading when half or more of the world's population is doing it in order to maintain civility.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:06 AM on May 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


That whole thread is great (and I'm clearly an Ask).
posted by kate blank at 11:09 AM on May 8, 2010


It would be interesting to see how Ask vs Guess plays out across classes and nationalities.

Americans are Askers, Canadians are Guessers (on average).
posted by Rumple at 11:10 AM on May 8, 2010


Navelgazer: "This is what confuses me. It's not mind reading when half or more of the world's population is doing it in order to maintain civility."

Have you seen the world? At least half of the world's population needs to do better!

(A colon and parenthesis goes here.)
posted by Drastic at 11:15 AM on May 8, 2010


Or else we'll throw them in the basement and lock them up :)
posted by infini at 11:17 AM on May 8, 2010


This is all really interesting to me - and I have to say, I have no idea what I am! I'm a lifelong NYCer, so you'd think, "Ask culture, definitely." But I don't feel that way. My parents most certainly are that way. One of my father's bits of "wisdom" is "Let them tell you no" - that is, don't decide for yourself in advance that you can't have something you want. Ask, and then if you are told no, you can live with it. Don't create the "no" yourself.

It's advice that I admit I follow sometimes, but other times, it's just wildly inappropriate. And that's the thing - my father will always ask. He's crotchety and impatient and has no conception of when it's not okay to ask. My mother is not as bad, but she's quite pushy. She also has a problem that is far from unique, which is not being able to take "no" for an answer. Which is to say, "no" is not always as liberating as you might think!

So I try to walk the line - ask when I think the situation calls for it, hold back if I think it would not be right to ask.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2010


P.S. I highly recommend this piece by Tom Chiarella:
I was just going to say no. Not "Hell no." Or "No way." Or "Nope. Sorry." Just "No." I was going to change this one behavior, my own tendency to elaborate, to explain, to set the record straight when turning people down, when risking the disappointment of others, just to see what it changed in the equation of influence. ...

Waiters. Shuttle-bus drivers. Flight attendants. I began to see how many meaningless questions came my way through the service industry. By asking questions -- Did I want a take-home box? Fresh ground pepper? Could they take that bag for me? -- they were saliently asserting that the conventions of their typical service were somehow favors they might grant me. The problem wasn't my answer, it was their questions. In their own way, these endless questions were an attempt to dominate the transaction, to make it be about them and not me.

My nos gave me control. No. No. No.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:26 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really, what I have gotten out of this thread and tangerine's comment is that it is still just so cool how we can all perceive such seemingly simple things so very differently. I feel like there's a lot of almost defensiveness on both sides about why asks are right or guesses are right, but neither is right ... and I just love having this opportunity to hear how both sides feel about requests and saying no. My mind, it's been blown.
posted by tastybrains at 11:28 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


catlet, I think that's an incredibly valuable and salient perspective. I'm an Asker through and through -- grew up a Guesser, found it unhelpful to the point of being damaging, went through a lot of therapy, and converted. Me and my husband's relationship was saved by both of us converting from (incompatible) Guessers to Askers. So what I see tangerine saying is "Wow, I am really flattered, but I don't know how I would expand this from a single comment to even a slim book without polluting the message. Please give me suggestions, because Lord knows I would like to have an incredibly popular self-help book!"
posted by KathrynT at 11:40 AM on May 8, 2010


hugbucket is happy in this thread. this thread is hugbucket's dream come true.

*sprinkles oxytocin liberally on departure*
posted by hugbucket at 11:49 AM on May 8, 2010


Americans are Askers, Canadians are Guessers (on average).

So true, I've discovered. It's like Minnesota stretched all the way to the ocean. Here on the west coast they may look and act like chill hippy surfers but inside there's a reason for all the smoke in the air *ahem*. It cuts the anxiety. OK, mild exaggeration, but this explained a lot to me about the learning curve I had when I came north.
posted by dness2 at 11:51 AM on May 8, 2010


iminurmefi: "As someone who grew up more on the side of Guess culture than Ask culture (although I'm now dating someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool Asker), I have to defend at least one good aspect of Guess culture that I think is totally missing on the other side: when you feel free to ask about any need, no matter how pressing, you end up losing the ability to differentiate between requests that are "oh hey it'd be nice if" and "I'm really stuck here, and REALLY need you to". "

I don't mean this to be snarky at all, but you've already given the answer. I'm pretty firmly in the ask camp, and I usually telegraph the urgency of my requests by saying "oh hey it's be nice if" or "I'm really stuck here and I really need you to...." I think that's fairly common. And if another asker asks me for something, it's not unusual for me to ask how urgent the situation is, or to say something like "Honestly, I'm all tied up today, but if you really need it and no one else can help, call me back and I'll make time for you." Doing all this stuff with actual words makes a lot of sense to me, and I would say that clarity is the strength of Ask Culture.

With Guessers you're far more likely to get into situations like the Abilene Paradox, where no one really wants to drive into town for dinner, but everyone goes anyway because they are being so darn subtle and accommodating that no one just says "I'd rather not."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:51 AM on May 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


It would be interesting to see how Ask vs Guess plays out across classes and nationalities.

Malcolm Gladwell has a fine example of this in his Tipping Point book. A Columbian plane is almost out of gas and needs to land. But they are guessers or hinters -- so they want the air traffic controllers to guess that they can't go around one more time. But La Guardia is not known for guessing -- they assume that if the plane needs to land they're going to ask. Yikes.

tangerine, if you are going to write something up you might want to look up the studies he refers to about asking/guessing in that book. It's not framed the same way, but it's definitely related.
posted by Killick at 11:54 AM on May 8, 2010


Wow, Pater Aletheias - I have lived the Abilene Paradox many times, and that is what solidified me as an asker. It is great to know there is a name for it.
posted by idiopath at 11:56 AM on May 8, 2010


This pretty much sums up the actions of my two cats. One, just comes right up and rubs against me hoping for some scratches and rubbing. The other sort of paces the far side of the room until I pat the couch next to me with a "here girl" sort of gesture. If I beg enough she will jump up and sit next to me as if doing me the biggest favor in the world. The other is just a scratch crazy whore.

I think this concept needs to fleshed out a little more. I think that when it comes to asking for something I am an asker. I ask, you answer no hard feelings if it is a no. ALso no, "PMG, that is so great I owe you a huge one" if it is a yes.

But, I am more of a guesser (or hinter) when I am being asked. I have a harder time saying no than accepting a no given to me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:58 AM on May 8, 2010


I'm not sure that the Avianca disaster is necessarily in line with Ask/Guess. I've always understood the story to involve simply a language difference. Per Wikipedia:
The NTSB report on the accident determined the cause as pilot error due to the crew never declaring a fuel emergency to air traffic control as per IATA guidelines. The crew asked for "priority" landing which, because of language differences between English and Spanish, can be interpreted as an emergency to the Spanish-speaking pilots but not to the English-speaking Air Traffic Controllers.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:00 PM on May 8, 2010


I think, as several others have said, that except among the Guessiest of Guessers like the proverbial Vermonter who eats pie for breakfast you tend to be a lot lot lot Askier with your immediate family and closest friends. Certainly I'm as guessy as they come and I have no problem asking my family for stuff, nor with saying no to them. The whole point is a way of maintaining interpersonal relationships and civility outside the immediate clan.

The reason Asking causes such friction for people like me is that it's completely ingrained that you only ask a casual acquaintance or not-so-close-friend for something if it is really important. Like "I'm so sorry to bother you but I seem to have amputated my own hand with a circle saw, might it be possible for you to give me a ride to the hospital? If not, no problem and thanks anyway" kind of importance. So when such an acquaintance asks to crash on your couch or whatever it triggers all kinds of flashing THIS IS VITALLY IMPORTANT alarms and makes it impossible to say no. And then it becomes apparent that it wasn't vitally important; thus leading to the resentment and bitterness.

There are, of course, those guessiest of guessers who will bleed to death in front of you while commenting that, wow, the hospital sure is far away because they can't ask even for something that important. But as I said they're like the Vermonter and his pie.
posted by Justinian at 12:06 PM on May 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


IMO there's probably a continuum of Asker to Guesser and where we are on that continuum varies depending on how close we are to the person we're dealing with at any given time.

There are two ways this could go:
1) If I have a close relationship with someone they will be more likely to know how I will respond to a request (and vice versa) without having to ask, but I couldn't expect the same of a stranger.
ergo: closer relationship -> more Guesser

2) If I have a close relationship with someone I don't have to worry about inadvertently offending them, whereas I have no idea what could rub a stranger the wrong way.
ergo: closer relationship -> more Asker

I'm not sure which of those makes more sense/is more common.
posted by juv3nal at 12:11 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is what confuses me. It's not mind reading when half or more of the world's population is doing it in order to maintain civility.

We ran into someone we know at the farmers market a little while ago, and mentioned this Ask/Guess thing and got into an interesting conversation about it.

One of the things that came out of it was that both Ask and Guess people tend to apply judgements to whatever side they're not on, rather than just observing that each has its strengths and weaknesses. I don't see that Guess is more civil - there is plenty of civility in Ask cultures as well; it just plays out differently, and/or is interpreted differently. For instance, between Askers, it is seen as civil to just come out and Ask; Guess may be or is viewed as being confusing, stressful, and/or passive-aggressive. Guessers may or do view a direct Ask as rude or stressful - especially if the answer might have to be "No," - when the Ask person sees it as, well, just asking, and will not be offended if the answer is "No."
posted by rtha at 12:13 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know, Peter Aletheias. In the Abilene Paradox/parable, as described by the Wikipedia article you linked to, I'd say there would never have been a problem had the father-in-law not been a Naive Asker. (I suppose the situation also could have been avoided had at least one of the others been more of a Skillful Guesser.) So the real problem there isn't the guess culture, but rather the father-in-law being out of step with the rest of the group.
posted by nobody at 12:14 PM on May 8, 2010


Just like everyone else I love that comment, and it came at such a good time--I'm so hardcore Guess/Hint it's not even funny, and I know exactly where it comes from--as Justinian said, it's a pervasive cultural haze around New England (plus my parents and their extended family, esp. my mom's side, exudes this sort of silent, seeming non-communication). Moving to Pittsburgh for college and encountering lots and lots of autistic-like Carnegie Mellon nerds and gruff, proudly blue collar dudes forced a major world attitude adjustment for me. My cousin marrying into a Carolina family that's pure Ask helped a little too (and it's hilarious because my mom and sister used to gossip at the Thanksgiving dinner table under their breath about how bold and bizarre they all were, the nerve, heh). Then I started dating my now-husband about six months before that comment, and right around when I saw it I'd just been reeling trying to get used to how different my dude's family interactions are. A girl friend of mine, also hardcore Guess, has misconstrued my husband's family dynamic as proof he's a spoiled brat because he can just ask straight out for anything, things that seem to both of us crazy audacious (thousand dollar synthesizers, the OED for Christmas, dinner meet up somewhere that serves a cuisine he knows full well his parents don't like, for example). But yeah, it's no skin off his back when he gets a No, and he's never in any hurry.

I do often wish I didn't have to waste my time in the delicate dance of Guessing, but it's so ingrained at this point I just have to cut my losses. I'm still startled whenever someone needs a place to crash and they flat-out ask me without any veneer of just saying hi first or hinting at it and seeing if I'll bite. Midwest vs. New England...Chicago felt like an overwhelmingly Ask-ish city to me too when I first started visiting it.
posted by ifjuly at 12:16 PM on May 8, 2010


rtha: I know. I truly do. I was just getting defensive. I lived in NY for 8 years and hope to be moving back there this year - I couldn't consider it home if I couldn't handle the Ask Culture there. (Likewise there have been a number of times in my life when people have gotten frustrated with my near-pathological guessiness.)

Weirdly, something about NY makes it not bother me there, but when I run into pushy Askers elsewhere it stresses me right out. Like, just have to get away from them kind of stress.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:20 PM on May 8, 2010


I think, as several others have said, that except among the Guessiest of Guessers like the proverbial Vermonter who eats pie for breakfast you tend to be a lot lot lot Askier with your immediate family and closest friends. Certainly I'm as guessy as they come and I have no problem asking my family for stuff, nor with saying no to them. -Justinian

That's interesting, because it's actually the opposite for me--the closer the kinship the higher the stakes are (greater potential to offend), or something. And with that is the unspoken understanding your family is supposed to know you well enough to anticipate and offer pro-actively way more than normal with say, a stranger. Seriously, I can't remember the last time my parents flat-out told me "no" to a request (and trying to picture that scene in my head is making me shudder in discomfort!), and not because I'm spoiled but because I pretty much never ask for anything, I wait for them to offer if they're going to.
posted by ifjuly at 12:34 PM on May 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if there is a correlation between askers/guessers and those who like/dislike the phone.

I am a hardcore guesser and I despise the phone. If someone phones me (at work or at home), I know someone is about to ask me for something. Thankfully, most of the time, you can just ignore the phone, allowing you to listen and ponder before replying - which you can't do in person. The phone for me is such an "ask" device.

The opposite is true in that I hate having to call someone. It feels like such an interruption and that I will be putting someone on the spot.

The phone rang about 3min ago. My adrenaline rush and shuddering just wore off enough for me to post this. Now to listen to the message to see what someone wants me to do.
posted by mephisjo at 12:37 PM on May 8, 2010 [28 favorites]


mephisjo: YES! Hearing my phone ring makes my entire body clinch up, and the idea of even calling friends who have asked me to ring them up someday just seems so rude. Just call you? I won't know what you're doing! How would I know I wasn't interrupting something?!
posted by Navelgazer at 12:41 PM on May 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Interesting thought. I absolutely hate the phone. I almost never answer it, and I certainly don't just call people for the hell of it. I even make my wife call in for takeout.
posted by sanka at 12:58 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer - apologies if my comment came off as accusatory; I didn't mean it that way. It was just interesting to see it after the conversation we'd just had at the farmers market.
posted by rtha at 1:07 PM on May 8, 2010


No worries, rtha!
posted by Navelgazer at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2010


Bravo. Well done. Quite illuminating.
posted by Splunge at 1:31 PM on May 8, 2010


Hardcore asker; hates the phone with the fire of 1000 suns. This may be fault of the iPhone though. And AT&T.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:56 PM on May 8, 2010


I'm not sure that the Avianca disaster is necessarily in line with Ask/Guess. I've always understood the story to involve simply a language difference.

As I look now, there are quite a few who take issue with Gladwell's assertion of the role of culture in the accident. But these quotes from the cockpit transcript make it seem like there's a bit of a hint/ask issue:

''Did you tell them we have an emergency?'' the pilot asked his co-pilot, who was handling communications with the controllers.

''I told them we're low on fuel,'' he answered.

posted by Killick at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2010


I, too, agree that "Hint" is better than "Guess" in this particular situation.

As a die-hard Asker, who took years to understand the Culture of Hint (wow, I am loving these terms), I have found something that seems to ease the discomfort of at least some hinters (generally those I've used it with more than once):

"Hey, $PERSON, can I do/have/use/borrow/ X? You can say no; I won't mind."

Once they learn that I truly mean it, it diffuses their hesitancy to say "no," at least with me. I don't know if it helps them with others.
posted by tzikeh at 2:43 PM on May 8, 2010


Also, I am an asker, but I wouldn't just invite myself to stay at someone's home out of the blue. But don't politely offer me your couch (or guest room, or beach house) if you don't mean it because I may very well take you up on it. And, of course, when I offer my guest room to someone else I mean it too.
posted by JoanArkham at 2:52 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


You want something? Ask. You'll get an answer in 5 seconds and you can go about your business.

Because what the guess culture person wants above all are interpersonal relationships, not some sort of tangible end-goods.


These are not mutually exclusive.

how do you differentiate between requests that are things that someone would like, versus things that someone actually needs?

IME, oddly, Askers tend to be *less* direct when it's something they really need. They don't become Guessers, but they... use far more words. "This is kind of important to me. I'll understand if you say no, but I have a bit of a serious problem and I could use your help..." - it's direct, but it's not "hey, can you do this for me?"

That's pretty much it exactly. Life is short, and no one's a mindreader.

This is what confuses me. It's not mind reading when half or more of the world's population is doing it in order to maintain civility.


"Civility" is a huge spectrum, and no one person or culture gets to define it for others. I find it far more civil if someone asks me for something than if they gerrymander their way around every possible clue as to what the hell they want.

I'll risk going all off-the-gauge Asker on you with this quote from Cordelia Chase:

"Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass."
posted by tzikeh at 3:08 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding Avianca 052, I'm looking at the NTSB's Aircraft Accident Report-91/04 right now, and in the "Findings" section, they definitely implicate terminology issues in three of the findings:
12. The first officer incorrectly assumed that his request for
priority handling by air traffic control had been understood
as a request for emergency handling. The captain experienced
difficulties in monitoring communications between the flight
and air traffic control.

13. The controllers' actions in response to AVA052's requests
were proper and responsive to a request for priority
handling. They did not understand that an emergency
situation existed.

14. The first officer, who made all recorded radio transmissions
in English, never used the word "Emergency," even when he
radioed that two engines had flamed out, and he did not use
the appropriate phraseology published in United States
aeronautical publications to communicate to air traffic
control the flight's minimum fuel status.
Then in the following section, Recommendations, there's this paragraph:
Develop in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation
Organization a standardized glossary of definitions, terms,
words, and phrases to be used that are clearly understandable
to both pilots and air traffic controllers regarding minimum
and emergency fuel communications.
The key thing here is the first officer never used the word "emergency" or the phrase "minimum fuel", which have specific technical meanings when dealing with air traffic controllers. Had he said either of these things, all the rules for handling their flight would have changed.

It's important enough that the captain repeatedly asked the first officer if he told the controllers they had an emergency on their hands, which to me seems like the "ask" culture that ought to exist in the cockpit. The first officer thought he had told the controllers something equivalent to "emergency" (also "ask" culture in my view), but he didn't use the magic word, so to speak, so they misunderstood the situation.
posted by FishBike at 3:27 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to get into the business of writing sympathy cards for guessers.

I am so sorry for your loss.

If you need anything, just talk about your problems, pause a lot, and look at me hopefully.

posted by mreleganza at 3:40 PM on May 8, 2010 [17 favorites]


"Hey, $PERSON, can I do/have/use/borrow/ X? You can say no; I won't mind."

Once they learn that I truly mean it, it diffuses their hesitancy to say "no," at least with me. I don't know if it helps them with others.


hahah!

I just failed in a posting for an internal transfer at work, and it almost broke my hinting heart to have to run about asking people for references. It was such a rude thing to do, and the hiring manager kept asking for more references, which I guess should have clued me in that I was perceived as a hiring risk and had no chance in hell.

I got my reference request spiel down to a science, though.

'Dear $PERSON. I have an enormous favor to ask, and please believe that I truly will not mind if you do not want to do this, as I understand that it is a grave imposition*. I wondered if it would be possible for you to serve as a reference for me for $JOB? I thought of you because we have worked together so long and I value our relationship so highly.'

It was completely agonizing, particularly since I am paranoid enough that I ended up not giving some of the names to the hiring manager because I was not wholly certain if these long-term colleagues could not have had secret vendettas against me and might possibly take that priceless opportunity to ninja-like stick a knife in my career aspirations. Hell, some of the ones I carefully vetted may have - I was so perfect for the job it may as well have been designed with me in mind.

<>

* of course, I might not have gotten the job because I'm the sort of person to whom the phrase 'grave imposition' comes as a natural thing to say.
posted by winna at 3:41 PM on May 8, 2010


Snark aside, I will concede as a hardcore asker that there is such a thing as a bad asker, and that's if you do ask "why?" when you didn't get the answer you want. Then it seems like your whole purpose is to make people feel bad and perhaps on a larger scale manipulate people's civility for your own gain.

As people have said, being a good asker means not questioning answers, being clear and detailed on the severity of your request, and making it clear (even if it is urgent) that you will understand and accept a "no" and that you understand you are the one putting them in a spot.

Whenever I ask for a favor, I always end it with "Thanks either way" and I really mean it. If you say yes, I thank you for helping me out. If you say no, I thank you for considering it and allowing me to make you feel uncomfortable for a second (if you're a guesser)
posted by mreleganza at 3:50 PM on May 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'd love to see someone put together an "Are you a Guess or are you an Ask?" quiz. Though would that be too Askish? :) Seriously, though, I still can't decide what I am. I feel like I'm part of both cultures.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:07 PM on May 8, 2010


I'm a natural born Guesser doing my damnedest to become an Asker. While I appreciate the elegance and intricacy of Guess culture (done properly, it's like a perfectly improvised minuet), I think Guessers can miss out on a lot of opportunities or can get sunk into resentments.

I've forced myself to ask for work references recently (my missives reading a hell of a lot like winna's above), and when it comes to dealing with interpersonal stuff, let's just say that it took a flurry of email, (including one sent two minutes after the first, which may have sounded too rude) a phone call and some hemming or hawing to sort things out with another semi-Guessian today. The advice above to say something like "It's OK to say no" is good advice, but it's not always sufficient.
posted by maudlin at 4:39 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a useful idea, thanks tangerine.

Nothing wrong with calling it the Ask / Guess cultural dichotomy. Since a few people were discussing terminology, I'd offer:
[beneficiary]    [benefactor]
Ask           -> Decide      [ask culture]
Hint          -> Guess       [guess culture]
I'm not sure what else to call Decide. Maybe Up-to-you works better. Replace beneficiary with initiator for mutually beneficial exchanges.

There is value in handling both protocols. The Ask protocol makes the beneficiary do all the work of expressing his needs clearly so that all is left is to accept or decline. This is convenient if you want to hit a large pool of benefactors. Large markets (jobs, etc) pretty much require this protocol (the lone guesser is just a lost opportunity for everyone). Whereas the guess protocol requires you to know the other well, remember his past hints, have some cultural values in common, etc. Both parties need to do some of the work. You can only do it with a limited pool of relations.

So I'd say ask culture works wide, guess culture works in depth.
posted by Tobu at 4:59 PM on May 8, 2010


I've told my family about six trillion times that they need to just bloody ask me things (and by extension just bloody say no when I ask). It's sort of a personal (but friendly) war at this point; sometimes I'll intentionally miss hints just to watch the verbal gymnastics. Fortunately my wife has no problem saying what she means.

With people who aren't my family I'm content to play the Guess game as long as the interaction is relatively unimportant. I'll do the "I could eat" dance at lunch but when production is down shut your pie hole and tell me what you need and we'll sort out who pissed in whose cheerios later.
posted by Skorgu at 5:02 PM on May 8, 2010


All of this is highly context-specific, too, I'd guess. We got home from nearly three weeks out of the country the other night, and our friends who live downstairs were all "Come say hi when you get in!", so we did. And I walked into their place, opened their fridge, and said "Can I have a beer. Thanks." But if they weren't our best friends I wouldn't have done that, of course.
posted by rtha at 5:19 PM on May 8, 2010


Tobu's table made clear to me a small problem, which I think points to why Guess is a much better word to be using here than Hint.

Might it be fair to say that those for whom "Hint" seems like the better choice are themselves mostly Askers?

Because while I feel a strong affinity to Guess culture as originally described, that doesn't mean that when I want or need something I'm bumbling around trying to Hint at it so I don't need to say it out loud, like I'm fishing for the offer to be made without my actually asking. That would be rude. Rather, I'm going to try to intuit (Guess?), before asking, whether I should ask, based on how much of a burden it might be to fulfill the request, how much I actually need the help, and probably a handful of other criteria. Because the assumption is that the other person will say yes (or say that they're too busy), and so you don't want to ask if you think they might resent it. "Hint" just sounds offensive if you're going to slot it in as the equivalent of Asking.

(Maybe I'd put Hint on the other side of the table if you wanted to keep it, as the equivalent to Decide, hinting at the request's impossibility instead of outright saying no.)
posted by nobody at 5:23 PM on May 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


When it comes to personal relationships I'm totally a guesser, but at work (or when I don't give a flying fuck about the other person) I'm an Asker.
posted by Mick at 5:25 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


mreleganza, I totally agree. Asking "Why?" or "Why not?" after getting a "no" answer is pretty fucking rude. You asked, you got your answer, if the person wanted to explain, they would have.

When I was really in the weeds with my non-sleeping infant, I grew to *treasure* my Ask friends. Because I knew that I could always "safely" ask them for help, because if they couldn't give it -- or even just didn't want to -- they would SAY so. Now, in truth, it turns out that most people are happy to come over and watch an inveterately squalling infant while Mom takes a shower and weeps, and will wish they could do more. But in the depths of my anxiety, I was more willing to break down than I was to risk inconveniencing someone.
posted by KathrynT at 5:28 PM on May 8, 2010


nobody>

I started with hint to have something not entirely passive that gets a reaction and starts the negotiation. Really it should be a back and forth:
Guess availability, hint need -> Guess request, hint availability back -> Hint request -> Offer -> Accept (add steps as needed)
With some memory, since you don't need as much set-up when you know the other well, you can have some steps be done well in advance (don't hesitate to call me if you need anything!). Ask -> Decide is just doing it in one step. Faster, more upfront, less personal, less opportunity for face-saving. Ask -> Refuse -> Why is being a pushy asshole.
posted by Tobu at 6:05 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am a Guess because I hate being Asked.

I am an Ask because I was raised in that way.

I think that the answer was great.

But in between the yes and the no is is a maybe.
posted by Splunge at 6:16 PM on May 8, 2010


Wow. This is fascinating. People who hate the phone? It's rude for me to say 'I'm in town, can I crash?'. I'd like to think the people I've said that to have been fellow askers who haven't minded (or even noticed) the apparent imposition, but I suppose if they were guess people I wouldn't have realised anyway as they wouldn't have said anything.
posted by twirlypen at 6:47 PM on May 8, 2010


I think I've found another huge cultural divide that's been creating mixed signals for people, that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I don't have a catchy name for it, yet. I think maybe line-item culture vs. commune culture, but there's too much attendant value system stuff laden in there.

Line-item culture: Has a social relationship with people, wants to maintain this. Pays careful attention to favors, gifts and nice things mentally record keeps and try's to keep score so that they are on equal standing and treating the friendship with the same amount of respect as the other party. Gets offended and upset if the other party doesn't acknowledge or notice their contributions.

Commune culture: Has a social relationship with people, wants to maintain this. Try's to share generously whenever they have a windfall or if someone seems to be in need. Assumes it all works out in the end. Views favors as contributions to the friend bank in a general sense not worried about parity just about an absolute willingness to respond in the same way. Gets offended when someone asks permission to borrow or seems hesitant to ask favors or seems to assume "they are keeping track."

Essentially, line-item culture wants to really make sure they are holding up their end of the friendship by remaining on equal parity. Commune culture wants to make sure they are holding up their end of the friendship by playing what's mine is yours. Commune culture gets annoyed when line item people try to pay them back. To them that's not something friends do. Line item culture gets annoyed when commune culture refuses their attempt to pay back, because they feel like their contributions aren't being acknowledged.
posted by edbles at 6:47 PM on May 8, 2010 [32 favorites]


I am an Asker. I'm going to call you guessers out on something. Several of you have claimed you're being super sensitive to feelings, but...YOU GUESSERS HAVE MAGIC INVASIVE MIND READING POWERS AND DON'T REALIZE IT. Sometimes my non-lizard brain wants to do something and my lizard brain hates it. Guessers being able to see what my lizard brain is doing and respond to that is annoying. "But that's not what I SAID," my brain yells. If these feelings were important I would have expressed them out loud instead of just on my face which pretty much just does whatever it wants to do without checking in with me first. Being able to choose words is the filter I use to hide my more ignoble mental thought process. This desire Guessers have to expose them is unsettling.

Although I guess my tendency to railroad over your feelings, because you haven't expressed them in a forceful manner probably is bullying and unproductive from your side of the fence.
posted by edbles at 6:58 PM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


You people are great. I'm laughing and nodding as I read through this. Some excellent examples and food for thought here. And since so many people seem interested in a book, I'll see if I can put together a proposal.
posted by tangerine at 7:02 PM on May 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


mreleganza, I totally agree. Asking "Why?" or "Why not?" after getting a "no" answer is pretty fucking rude. You asked, you got your answer, if the person wanted to explain, they would have.

Thirded. Asker doesn't equal rude, but there are rude askers (just as there are rude guessers). No true Scotsman Asker would continue on after the question is answered with anything other than a "thanks!" or a "No problem, thanks anyway," because it's the nature of the Asker to accept the answer they're given.

Line-item culture: Has a social relationship with people, wants to maintain this. Pays careful attention to favors, gifts and nice things mentally record keeps and try's to keep score so that they are on equal standing and treating the friendship with the same amount of respect as the other party. Gets offended and upset if the other party doesn't acknowledge or notice their contributions.

Oh, GOD, a whole other spectrum of hell for the Asker-type. I had a friend for whom it was imperative that her group of friends recognize her birthday, send her cards, preferably gifts, arrange a party *for* her, etc. She was super-offended when I didn't give or send anything, or call, and when I explained that I don't remember *anyone's* birthday, and really don't do birthdays in general, and it had nothing to do with my friendship with her personally, she said I was exceptionally rude. Personally, I think it's pretty rude to demand that your friends *must* go completely bananas over your birthday to satisfy whatever weird neediness you have that manifested itself this way.

But what do I know; I believe the answers I'm given. ;)
posted by tzikeh at 7:06 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I used to be a guess person, and immediately switched to ask because of one person I met.

We were going on a date; I didn't have a car so I suggested he drive and I walk to some mutual spot, hoping he'd get the hint and offer to pick me up. After several "hints," I flat-out asked because there was no way I was walking four miles to go on a date.

He said he'd thought about asking me if I wanted him to pick me up but was afraid the only reason I said I was walking was because I was afraid he was dangerous, and that I'd be offended if he offered.

Sigh.
posted by biochemist at 7:08 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


When it comes to "really need" vs "it would be nice," I usually don't ask (or hint) unless I really need something. It's not that I mind saying no, I just prefer to do things for myself because it keeps me from grating on people overtime.

In the case above, I have a phobia of walking anywhere so I already knew the moment I suggested it that it was never going to happen. >.> If he'd said no something "would have come up" the week of the date.

I'm the same way with emotions... I will flat out ask if you're feeling XYZ and if it might be because of ABC (not personal problems, but if I suspect someone has an issue with me or what-have-you.) Some people will flat out lie me to me which really pisses me off... I'd understand being polite if I hadn't asked, but if I do I'm inviting you to be honest with me. (But maybe they didn't have an issue before but developed one because they thought it was rude that I asked... hmmm.)

And I hate it when people try to guess how I'm feeling. Because 90% of the time the people who do it are wrong, and also annoying.

Okay... rant over, lol.
posted by biochemist at 7:33 PM on May 8, 2010


Killick But La Guardia is not known for guessing -- they assume that if the plane needs to land they're going to ask. Yikes.

New York TRACON not LGA Tower.
posted by mlis at 10:25 PM on May 8, 2010


I read almost all the way through the thread thinking that I was a diehard Asker...then I realized what a difficult time I have saying flat out "no" to things. Especially to people who are ultra-Askers and seem to ask questions under the assumption I'll say "yes." ("That wouldn't be a problem, would it?" type people) I do give "no"s, but almost always either with a reason or a "that's not really a great time/place," or "that wouldn't be convenient." I'm still trying to work on assertiveness to get rid of those little hedges. Now I realize in comparison with over half the world, I am already considered super-assertive.

Also, I try to phrase all my Asks by including really easy ways out in them. If I'm asking to stay with someone who's not a super close friend (something I actually only rarely do), I'll say something like, "I'll be in town X-X. Do you think I could crash on your couch, or are you going to be busy? If you're busy, that's totally cool - I've found this weird hostel that sounded interesting, too." (I'm also completely willing to stay at the hostel.) According to the more diehard Guessers, that is still not tentative enough. I guess I'm both 1) near the middle of the spectrum and 2) never going to win with the extreme folks from either side.
posted by wending my way at 11:50 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


What about a book that was just stories?

Surreptitious Mowing: Stories of Guess Culture in Ask Culture Territory.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:34 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asker here. I can hear Guess but I do not speak it well. Odds are that I can understand what someone wants of me, I can perceive those subtle infiltrating feelers, but unless those wishes come up into explicit conversational space where I can talk about them directly, I have a hard time negotiating or expressing refusal. Guess often feels to me like the hinter is attempting to secure his interests without my full consent. It tends to comes across to me as intensely unfriendly. Under Ask rules, I can be assertive and nuanced. Under Guess rules, given my lack of fluency, my choices seem to come down to (a) doormat or (b) oafish and clumsy.

This came up for me just the other day, when somebody seemed to be trying to maneuver me into a position in which I would probably end up paying the lion's share of a bill that fairness might indicate we should split. Or, from another angle, was Hinting that it would be nice for him if I paid an extra hundred bucks. This did not go so well. I went with clumsy and played dumb; he flounced off in a guilt-trippy huff; I guess we're done with each other. Amazing it didn't happen sooner, really.

If that book were to be written, the chapter I'd most want to read is "Ask vs Guess at the Doctor's Office". I help medical students develop clinical communication skills, and a lot of what we try to teach them is to Ask clearly and with respectful openness to "No." It'd be interestingly difficult, I think, to try also to teach them to communicate with hinters well. I wonder if we may be giving the hinters short shrift.
posted by sculpin at 12:41 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think people value different levels of privacy, and I think that's related to the Ask-Guess thing too. For example, as people have pointed out above, Ask culture requires that you explain everything in much more detail than Guess culture does. I'm a very private person and the reason I dread saying "no" to a persistent Asker is not because I worry about disappointing that person or hurting their feelings, but because I dread all of the why questions that come after my "no." And I dread all of those follow-up questions because the asker often seems to think that their questions have simple answers, and from my point of view, they usually don't. In this way, I find Guess culture people easier to talk to, because they are more likely to make themselves available to talk without a specific goal in mind, and that allows me to frame whatever I want to say however I want.
posted by colfax at 2:53 AM on May 9, 2010


For example, as people have pointed out above, Ask culture requires that you explain everything in much more detail than Guess culture does. I'm a very private person and the reason I dread saying "no" to a persistent Asker is not because I worry about disappointing that person or hurting their feelings, but because I dread all of the why questions that come after my "no."

What? I disagree. Ask culture allows you to hide behind the mask of your words. Guess culture forces everyone to examine every data point you are putting out there whether or not you consciously chosen to present it.

Thirded. Asker doesn't equal rude, but there are rude askers (just as there are rude guessers). No true Scotsman Asker would continue on after the question is answered with anything other than a "thanks!" or a "No problem, thanks anyway," because it's the nature of the Asker to accept the answer they're given.

THIS. The situation tangerine is describing is that you have two parties. Both have a favor to ask, both respect your right to say no. One chooses to respect this by never overtly asking to question and respecting your offer or your silence. The other chooses to respect your answer by giving you that chance to answer directly. The "Why not?!" people and the huffy guesser upthread who demanded an extra hundred dollars don't really fit this paradigm. What's really interesting is that even though both of these people are coming from a place of respect, one of them will end up offending you. tangerine's insight is that the behavior of each side comes from a place of respect and politeness, even though it seems incredibly rude to the other side.
posted by edbles at 6:57 AM on May 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think maybe line-item culture vs. commune culture, but there's too much attendant value system stuff laden in there.

Oh man, this. Was it Douglas Adams who said something like "Do a Briton an unsolicited favour and he'll break his neck trying to even up the tally"?
posted by kittyprecious at 6:57 AM on May 9, 2010


I'm coming late to this thread, but it seems as good a time as any to delurk on Metafilter. (Though I've posted here in another guise a bit in the past.) I'm very happy to have been able to give tangerine's amazing comment a bit more publicity. And I'd totally read a book on the topic — seems to me it could be a nice combination of self-help book and collection of excruciating tales of awkwardness that would make people squirm in empathetic recognition.
posted by oliverburkeman at 8:22 AM on May 9, 2010 [11 favorites]


ask them if they are hungry. A Guesser will describe their state as being both content to wait for food and amenable to eating something anyway.

I'm not sure if this will have many false negatives, but as an Ask person myself I can tell you it will have false positives. "I am content to wait for food and amenable to eating something anyway" means that I am content to wait for food, but that I am amenable to eating something anyway. This is also the answer to iminurmefi's question, by the way: if a desire exists but is not urgent, we will clearly state that it exists but is not urgent.
posted by roystgnr at 8:40 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


the asker often seems to think that their questions have simple answers, and from my point of view, they usually don't

From my perspective as an asker, I'd be more likely to say that this has more to do with your lack of native fluency in Ask than in Ask's intrinsic simple-mindedness. As an asker, Guesswork looks to me like it presumes a simple answer, but that's probably just because I'm so hamhanded with it. I think people committed to either mode tend to assume that the person being addressed will be able to answer easily.

If I had been asked outright, my answer to, "Would you pay an extra hundred bucks for me?" would have been a lot more complicated than, "No." I wasn't actually averse to shelling out so much as I was averse to a whole raft of possible social implications around that. In Ask mode, I know how to negotiate that pretty easily so we both wind up with a complex and nuanced understanding of where we stand. In Guess, all I can do is dodge.
posted by sculpin at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Huh. I'm going to be contrary and say that I don't really get why the comment has been so favorited. I see qualities of so-called ask vs. guess "culture" in most folks that I know, especially myself. I see aspects of this expressed both through cultural traits as well as family dynamics, but I don't know how you could actually draw a line with this as the criteria. As infini said above, "I'm simply complicated." No offense tangerine--I think it's an insightful comment in terms of analyzing specific aspects of individual human interactions, or tendencies we may have to a lesser or greater degree, but when I see people pop into this thread and say stuff like "I'm totally a guesser!" or whatever, it makes me itch in the same way that the business development seminars I went to where we were asked to define ourselves as tortoises vs. lions or whatever made me itch. This sort of facile analysis is the essence of pop psychology.

It is a fact that there is a certain amount of "fluff" or indirection which we all negotiate every day when we are trying to get others to do things for us. Some of us have less tolerance for that compared to others, for different reasons. Some interactions require more or less of that indirection. At different times of day, at different times in our life, etc., we may be willing or able to deal with different levels of indirection. And depending on the matter at hand it may be difficult or easy for us to ask someone directly for something--I may have no problem asking you to help me move, but asking the clerk to get me the pants in this color makes me twitch.

So the flip side of the apparent utility of framing our behavior within a category of 'asker' vs. 'guesser' is to then look at ourselves with a more limited perspective. Actually, we can always choose at any given point how to act, and I think we are best served by opening ourselves to the full range of possibilities of interactions, examining our reactions to things, figuring out what we want, and trying new things. In the end I think it's more powerful to let go of any sort of framework rather than to keep adopting new ones.
posted by dubitable at 11:18 AM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


I remembered the post on Friday night (true story!) and I now owe tangerine a vote of thanks for salvaging my evening. My upstairs neighbour is an Asker. Oh, how she is an Asker. (She was born and lived in Hungary until she was about 12 and moved with her family to Canada; I don't know if Hungary is Asky in general.) I come home. I work full time, I'd had a cold all week and was feeling a little better that day; I figure I'll have a nap, just for an hour, and then do whatever. As I lie down, she knocks at the door. It's a distinctive knock, plus I can hear her coming down the cast-iron stairs that connect the landings outside our respective apartments. I ignore the knock ("Why won't she get the hint? Piss off!), and she waits for a bit, and then knocks again. I stagger up and answer the door, compelled by forces of politeness.

Conversation proceeds like this:
Her: Did you get my message? Well?
Me: (I'm tired! I'm standing here in a t-shirt and underwear! It's Friday, and you know I work full-time! Piss off!) Um, no. Um, what message?
Her: About the poetry reading.
Me: Poetry reading? Actually, I'm, uh, just got back from work and I'm having a nap. (Fuck off!)
Her: It's my old friend, her poetry reading, etc., let's go!
Me: (trying to distract) Oh, so, uh, tell me about this person. (I am crawling back into bed, and she sits on a chair.)
She tells me about this person, as I lie there with the covers nearly over my head. (I am having a nap! I am tired! Go away!)
Me: Is... is it at Rhizome? (Brightening momentarily, as Rhizome is in walking distance and has awesome Cheesy Macaroni.)
Her: No, Gastown.
Me: But, um, then we'd have to take the bus. (Hell no I am not going downtown.)
Her: More persuading, she doesn't want to go by herself, etc.
Me: I remember Ask/Guess, which descends trailing clouds of glory, like a Deus Ex Machina. I take a deep breath and say: "No, I'm not into it."
Her: "Oh, okay."
Me: ......

The evening was saved! I took a break, then later went up to her place and we watched Happy Feet. Thanks, tangerine!
posted by jokeefe at 11:52 AM on May 9, 2010 [9 favorites]


Oh how weird—I was just talking about Ask vs. Guess Culture with a coworker yesterday. I refer to that idea all the freakin' time. Thanks, tangerine!
posted by limeonaire at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2010


dubitable: "esser' is to then look at ourselves with a more limited perspective. Actually, we can always choose at any given point how to act, and I think we are best served by opening ourselves to the full range of possibilities of interactions, examining our reactions to things, figuring out what we want, and trying new things. In the end I think it's more powerful to let go of any sort of framework rather than to keep adopting new ones."

The thing is I don't think any of us really think this is the master narrative to explain all social interactions. You don't have to think that every person is binary at all times either ask or guess for the criterion of "ask vs. guess" to be helpful in navigating situations.

I absolutely think that all of us are a bit askier some times and a bit guessier others, but the useful thing is that when I get in an awkward impasse, the question "is an ask vs. guess conflict happening here?" is a useful tool to have in my social toolbox.
posted by idiopath at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


but the useful thing is that when I get in an awkward impasse, the question "is an ask vs. guess conflict happening here?" is a useful tool to have in my social toolbox.

Yep, ditto.
posted by rtha at 12:07 PM on May 9, 2010


Also, I try to phrase all my Asks by including really easy ways out in them. If I'm asking to stay with someone who's not a super close friend (something I actually only rarely do), I'll say something like, "I'll be in town X-X. Do you think I could crash on your couch, or are you going to be busy? If you're busy, that's totally cool - I've found this weird hostel that sounded interesting, too." (I'm also completely willing to stay at the hostel.) According to the more diehard Guessers, that is still not tentative enough. I guess I'm both 1) near the middle of the spectrum and 2) never going to win with the extreme folks from either side.

Yeah, near the middle of the spectrum, and doing a great job of bridging the gap! I think you're exactly right. Askers should be free to ask, but should *always* give the askee an easy way out.

This is where the original asker failed (the one tangerine was responding to in her ask/guess post). That asker was polite with her request (well, maybe up to the point that she started texting them), but she did NOT proactively acknowledge the ways in which the askee might object (small space, little personal connection with the asker, etc.).

Open communication is the key. It shouldn't matter if the askee is an asker or a guesser; it should only matter that the person initiating the ask is very clear that "no" is an acceptable answer. The best way to do this is to suggest upfront ways the askee could acceptably say "no." Paving the way for the askee to say, for example, "yeah, our space really is too small; thanks for asking though, and sorry I can't help you out here!"

Because most people, both askers and guessers, at bottom really do want to help others out. They just also want to have the freedom to say "no" when they want to. So the best solution to the problem is just for the asker to anticipate the "no" possibility, to make the urgency of his/her needs clear, and to go to great lengths to make sure the askee is completely comfortable with either Yes or No as an answer. That's the asker's responsibility. Anything short of this is either presumptuous (ask) or manipulative (guess).
posted by torticat at 12:08 PM on May 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


but the useful thing is that when I get in an awkward impasse, the question "is an ask vs. guess conflict happening here?" is a useful tool to have in my social toolbox.

Yes, I don't think I'm disagreeing and am more or less saying the same thing--what you isolated is what I think tangerine's real insight was. However, when I see people in this thread talking as though it's a major epiphany which defines our identities (which, granted, it may be for some and I don't mean to dismiss that) and talking about tangerine writing a book about it, well...my skepticism is provoked.

Anyways...carry on. I certainly don't want to hate on anything people are finding genuinely useful, just thought I'd throw a counterpoint out there: "let's not get carried away, people."
posted by dubitable at 12:24 PM on May 9, 2010


This sort of facile analysis is the essence of pop psychology.

Which makes it perfect for a book. "He's Not That Into You" began as a line from Sex in the City, ferchrissake, and look at what a cultural zeitgeist that thing became.

Not every piece of published work has to be worthy of a Pulitzer or a Nobel in order to make someone's life better, as evidenced by the response just here at MeFi.
posted by pineapple at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


ja. i'm very much a subtle guesser in early relationship building and this helped me feel way better about the a) preference/habit and b) the friends who have over the years told me to be more bold, upfront and put it all out there. uh huh, yeah, lets let the laundry dry out in the sun. i prefer face saving measures in most complex intricate interpersonal human interactions to "in your face" askiness.


but also, this:

but the useful thing is that when I get in an awkward impasse, the question "is an ask vs. guess conflict happening here?" is a useful tool to have in my social toolbox.

Yep, ditto.

posted by infini at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2010


Which makes it perfect for a book. "He's Not That Into You" began as a line from Sex in the City, ferchrissake, and look at what a cultural zeitgeist that thing became.

Heh, just when I was going to say that I wouldn't personally be interested in buying a book that could be summed up completely by the blurb on the back cover, "He's Just Not That Into You" is the perfect example of millions of people doing just that, so why not? Go for it!
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:20 PM on May 9, 2010


Adding another "favorite" to tangerine's original response! I hadn't encountered that thread before, but I'll be looking at my challenges in relationships different now.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:48 PM on May 9, 2010


As with nearly all metrics, i aim for the middle on Ask v. Guess. Sometimes this makes me great at both, sometimes this makes me sucky at both.

I did just use the Ask v. Guess Theory of People to help two committee members get along better. They're on opposite extremes. One passive-aggressively festers and gets whiny, the other requires the entire world to be her politeness cop because she'll just say whatever comes into her head with the caveat of "just tell me if I'm ever annoying/interrupting/whatever."
posted by desuetude at 7:30 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


So in the instance of giving a case study for Tangerine's book (hope hope) and also just giving the Asker MeFites (even more) understanding of where this Guess Culture can come from:

I grew up as the youngest of four sibling in a very loud and uproarious family. I also grew up both precocious and perceptive. Like any kid, though, I had to be taught most social cues and how to look for them. I was highly talkative, and more than once when my family would go out to eat I'd get lectured on the way home about how I'd been speaking in the accent of whoever our server had been, without realizing it.

Other times I would ask, say, if a friend could stay the night, and have my mom pull me away to tell me that I can never ask that while the friend is there with me, and because I did so the answer was 'no.' Another time I spent a sleepless night at all of six years old because I had gotten detention for talking and was afraid to mention it to my parents (who, I swear, are actually great and forgiving people) and when I finally ran outside at 5:30 to catch my dad getting into the car and tell him about it, he did his best to handle it, but he was far more concerned with my oldest brother having been arrested in Louisiana, whom he was off to attend to.

So I learned very early that (1) there were rules about asking for things, and that the answer would depend upon knowing these rules, and (2) that people's reactions were highly capricious and dependent upon circumstances. Being the youngest of four kids meant that I also got to see a lot of entertaining interactions while I could amuse myself by simply observing. SO I picked up on subtlety fairly early on as well.

I take pride in being a guesser, because I'm pretty damned good at it. It's not about passive-aggressive "hinting" so much as understanding who will respond well to things and targeting your requests there. There's a lot to envy about Ask Culture, not the least of which is the side-effect of an un-self-consciousness about self-promotion, which has been the bane of my professional life (and I could write a book about my few successes and myriad failures in trying to prove myself by work alone.)

An interesting aspect I'm seeing in the discussion, however, is that many Guessers have made a point of transforming themselves into Askers. Part of this comes from utility, no doubt. Ask Culture is far more direct - the chief among its many virtues - but it also comes through, form the standpoint of a Guesser, by psychological breakthrough. I am allowed to do this. This is okay. I can Ask. I can say 'no.'

There are no accounts thus far of Askers training themselves into Guess Culture, however. Again, I imagine that part of that is about the utility. If one is cool with asking for anything, and just as cool with those requests being rejected, then what is the purpose of a social dance around the issue? Life, however, is not so simple, and the Guessers for all of their trepidation are able to increase their odds of success by reading signals that the Askers aren't as practiced to be attuned to. While our stereotype of the Asker will probably be successful in life due to perseverence, the stereotypical Guesser probably came from a "cultured" position in society. Mannered cultural mores have, after all, been part and parcel of the exclusive upper classes.

Which is not to say that they don't exist elsewhere, of course. Or that all Upper Class members are Guessers. My own experience with Russian "aristocracy" showed them to be extremely friendly and welcoming to all, but also quick to cut through the bullshit of the Guessers' dance. Meanwhile the poorest of Southern American families would be apt to welcome one with the Hospitality of Guess culture. The point is that the cultures transcend class distinctions, though the understandings of different Guess Cultures, while quickly picked up by other Guess Cultures (the scion of Guess Culture can immediately recognize a "Hi. Anything we can do for ya?" to mean"Please get out of here. We'd rather not have you in our town," for instance, no matter how friendly it sounds) may by nature by exclusionary.

So the other reason that Askers may not transition to Guessers is that Guessing is a very intricate, essentially unconscious thing. We are trained from infancy. In the case that an Asker would even want to become a Guesser, how could they hope to do so?
posted by Navelgazer at 8:01 PM on May 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


Also, watching The Office with this spectrum in mind makes it immensely more amusing. Pam and Jim are both total guessers, of course, and smug as shit about it. But it also took them years to get together as a result of it.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:11 PM on May 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


...which brings us around to the sequel: Askers & Guessers in Love

Seriously, you see this almost daily on AskMe: "I kinda like this guy and I think he might like me too because the other day he [did whatever] but maybe he doesn't like me *that* way because another time he [said whatever]..." (spun out over about 16 paragraphs)

The first answer is usually: "Why don't you just ask him out on a date?"
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:55 PM on May 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


If I had been asked outright, my answer to, "Would you pay an extra hundred bucks for me?" would have been a lot more complicated than, "No."

One thing I bet both Askers and Hinters can agree upon, 100%, is that money questions are awkward, period. Ack!Money! bridges the Ask/Hint cultural divide.

This sort of facile analysis is the essence of pop psychology.

The fact that about a gazillion people in the original thread, and in this thread if they hadn't seen it before, posted that they had lightbulbs go on over their heads, indicates that it's an extremely useful framing of an all-too-common type of misunderstanding, whether it's "pop psychology" or not. People recognizing their own personalities when reading about others' gives valuable insight into their own interactions with other people, and the world around them, and that's never a bad thing.

If we look at the original thread, the number of people in one group (you can tell the "askers" from the "hinters" there instantaneously, once that lens is popped into place) finding the answers from the people in the other group *unfathomable* is evidence enough that a book on this subject would introduce a much better understanding of one another, making so many exchanges less fraught than they would be without it.

I think a book, split into chapters as mentioned above, plus anecdotes (certainly the MeFites can provide endless examples), would be a hot seller and a topic of much water-cooler discussion.
posted by tzikeh at 8:59 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


We are trained from infancy.

ah, Navelgazer, thank you for reminding me of those torturous rides back from social evenings out to parent's friends family type gatherings on the weekends and yes, my parents would form groups to play (non gambling) cards with other families with children almost every weekend.

I still took years to learn but that's because of multiple mixtures of cultures getting in the way of the subtle nuances and cues of any one particular culture/society

and bingo on the Guess to Guess - i find it easier with other Guess cultures regardless of continent than the Askers who can't differentiate

Hear hear to tzikeh's point.
posted by infini at 10:09 PM on May 9, 2010


Wow, tangerine's answer popped up in a bunch of blogs before the article was even created. Never knew MeFi was that popular. xD
posted by biochemist at 3:23 AM on May 10, 2010


I'm a Guesser and my partner is definitely (as I think is the case with most engineers, or at least the ones that I've met) an Ask. Having been raised in a family with engineers, it doesn't bug ME all that much (except when he follows my announcement that I finished cleaning my desk - which was bugging him more than it was me - with "Great! Can you clean the bathtub next?" @##@190u#!@#()*~!!!) but it makes him MENTAL when I try and preface and subtley form my questions for him. "JUST SAY IT ALREADY, WOMAN." I'm learning to be an Asker w/r/t him while maintaining my Guess status in the rest of the world.

It's definitely a very helpful way of looking at things so as to not start lighting people on fire.

(I also would posit that most Scandinavians are Guessers, not Askers, because we do better with subtext than actual text. Hell, if we could get along without opening our fool mouths at all, we'd be happy with that.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:00 AM on May 10, 2010


Hell, if we could get along without opening our fool mouths at all, we'd be happy with that.

looks up over cube half wall at silent room full of finz, pecking away at keyboard in perfect harmony...
posted by infini at 5:11 AM on May 10, 2010


My upstairs neighbour is an Asker. Oh, how she is an Asker. (She was born and lived in Hungary until she was about 12 and moved with her family to Canada; I don't know if Hungary is Asky in general.)

Pet theory: it's not that Hungary is Ask-y, it's that people rarely pick up a second language well enough to make them a capable Guesser in their non-native tongue. (Unless they start young and are immersed in for a long time) We've established that it's tough for a Guesser to move between regions of the US, owing to completely different social mores; now imagine that, but with a language you're not 100% comfortable with. If you're relying on a network of assumptions and nuanced language to guide all your interpersonal activity, it would be shockingly difficult to navigate through the weird anachronisms of English well enough to be anything but an Asker.

This is fun! Like writing a communication theory thesis over again, except I don't even have to pretend to cite anything. I also ghostwrite book chapters for low low rates!
posted by Mayor West at 5:25 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Edbles' Commune vs Line-item culture post is dead interesting. Cheers!
posted by Cantdosleepy at 5:45 AM on May 10, 2010


There are no accounts thus far of Askers training themselves into Guess Culture, however.

An Ask person might well learn to spot the signals that Guess people are sending, and simply refrain from asking when they can see the answer will be no, or make offers when they can see a straightforward request is not forthcoming. (Which everyone, Ask or Guess, already does to one extent or another; many people seem to be defining Ask as "those boors who are oblivious to all social cues" which is missing the point entirely.)

But even if they do all that they're not going to adopt the guilt (at saying no) and resentment (at "having" to say yes) that seem to be a built-in part of Guess culture. They're still going to think of themselves as Askers even if they've learned to perfectly simulate a Guesser.

the stereotypical Guesser probably came from a "cultured" position in society

I don't think it has anything to do with "culture" in that sense. A lot of people (you included) have already mentioned Guess regions that don't fit this: rural new england, the midwest, etc. Guess seems to be tied to monoculture or relatively homogenous populations in which people's social expectations will be similar enough that Guess is even possible. That includes old money aristocracy as well as hilltown farming communities; class is a red herring.
posted by ook at 5:52 AM on May 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


Lifelong asker here, trying to tame my obnoxious ways and become more like a hinter. Especially since I'm moving to the UK, where the cultural baseline for things like requests/questions is much more off-record and indirect than American culture. I imagine that if I'm successful in my endeavor, I will feel some guilt/resentments that hinters feel, not because I'm a newly indoctrinated hinter, but because I've done something within an environment that is perceived as a rejection (saying no) or that I must accommodate (saying yes).

The buoy always rises to the water level; if saying no is the new rude, I don't want to do it, regardless of how much of a asker I may remain at heart. Context and audience matter, and are taken into account when people in society make requests and impose upon others. It's not solely about what kind of person you are, but what kind of person you are in relation to who you're talking to, what kind of person they are, the degree of imposition (threat) your request poses, and what your relationship (level of social distance) is with that person. And the expectations/baselines of the culture.

tangerine, if you decide to write a book, please check out this one first, as it will help inform some of the ideas you have with already-covered ground on the topic. I personally love the idea of a book. Written in a way that is accessible to laypeople (ask/hint is perfect!!), it could be really fun and helpful!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am an Asker by nature, and a couple of years ago I started to deliberately incorporate Guesser-type behaviors into my repertoire. The main reason for this is that when asked, most people feel compelled to answer, and in doing so are forced to accept the implicit assumptions built into the question. Accumulation of these assumptions can poison a discourse. I find some amount of Guesser-style "feeling it out" is useful especially when the meanings of terms used aren't mutually understood.

So the canonical bad question is something like "Do you still beat your wife?" or "Do you love me?", but even answering something like "Hey are you busy later?" means you have to accede to the asker's notions of "busy" and "later", and that accession will carry forward through the relationship until some unacceptable event ("Dude where were you, dude?") forces reevaluation. Now before I engage in point-blank Asking, I try to estimate how much semantic damage the question will do, and think about how to deal with it if something goes wrong down the road.
posted by avianism at 9:58 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't beat my wife because I love her. What does that make me?
posted by iamkimiam at 10:05 AM on May 10, 2010


A guesser! You should always Ask, maybe she'd like that!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:10 AM on May 10, 2010


You know, "askers" can't be bothered to devote a minute's thought to being considerate of others' feelings, but they're not rude. Oh, no.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:15 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh c'mon. You've read through all of this and you still think "ask" == "rude" and "guess" == "genteel civility" is an accurate description of the idea?

unless you were being subtly sarcastic in which case I have missed your subtle signals oh gosh what does that make me
posted by ook at 10:33 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


If by "the idea" you mean what tangerine said then I should say that I'm not trying to put any words in her mouth. I'm not saying that that is her idea at all.

But, yes, I've read every comment in this thread, and I think "ask"=="rude" is a good first approximation. Some people seem to think that only overt acts ("What time is it?" "Honk off, Bozo!") can be rude. But actions that arise from a lack of consideration for others are also rude.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:58 AM on May 10, 2010


TBH I'd sooner someone flat out ask me for something rather than dfither around dropping hints and getting all pissy with me when I don't get them.
posted by Artw at 11:03 AM on May 10, 2010


ook, are you talking to me? Crabby Appleton? avianism? If me, no I'm not being sarcastic, nor do I think ask=rude/guess=civility. I was trying to point out that the pragmatically understood "line" where direct behavior may cross over into rudeness is demarcated differently in American and UK cultures, and we adjust accordingly (or at least try to).

FYI, my beat-wife comment, which I should have linked to something, was an elaboration on avianisms comment, which I may have mistakenly read as a reference to the textbook ambiguity found in the phrase "I do not beat my wife because I love her." This could be ask or guess oriented, depending on which interpretation you go with, which I though was kind of funny and apropos. But yeah, maybe too obscure and weird on second thought.

posted by iamkimiam at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2010


[...] I think "ask"=="rude" is a good first approximation.

From the point of view of a guess culture person on the receiving end of a request, it sure feels that way. But I think that the ask culture person making the request just doesn't see it as a rude thing to do, and probably doesn't understand why anybody would.

So even when they do make an effort to consider the other's feelings, they fail at it by not knowing how to actually do that in the case of someone with such a different way of dealing with other people. So it's potentially rude, but at least it's unintentional rudeness.

And I think once the guess culture person starts to understand that there is this whole other kind of behavior out there, that behavior starts to seem less rude, too.
posted by FishBike at 11:05 AM on May 10, 2010


But, yes, I've read every comment in this thread, and I think "ask"=="rude" is a good first approximation.

Ask people can be rude, but so can guessers, and both can be special snowflakes about it. Beating around the bush making arcane hints to try to lead someone to do what you want them to do, working oneself into a snit over this "slight," and refusing to communicate clearly can also be rude. We call it passive-aggressive, but it's a lack of consideration for others, too.
posted by desuetude at 11:09 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Hey are you busy later?" is a bad question for an Asker to ask. The proper way to put it (in my Ask culture) would be:

Me: I would love to check out [X] this afternoon. Would you be into that?
Them: No, not really.
Me: Ah, too bad.

The end.

If someone DOES ask something like "Are you busy later" you're free to answer with: "That depends. Why do you ask?"

And, for the record, I find people who insist on forcing me to guess what answer they're hoping for to be rude.

But then I remember it's a cultural difference and to take offense will do no one any good.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:40 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I live in Minnesota, there are no "Ask Culture" people here. Guess Culture is a huge part of Minnesota Nice. Besides general manners, Minnesota Nice encompasses many things "Ask Culture" people would find infuriating. Sure, we'll gladly help you with whatever we have, if look like you need it, always. It's no problem generally. We are genuinely glad to help.

Unless you can't see us because we're conveniently not there.


Oh Lord, yes. I may be a New Englander, but I was raised by a Minnesotan and learned "Minnesota Nice" by osmosis.

Add in some Minnesota Nice and New England Chill, stir in a few illustrative anecdotes, and some more of your beautiful common sense, and whiz bang a book.

Minnesota Nice + New England Chill = Totally Neurotic About All Social Encounters To The Point Where I Can't Say No or Even Imply That I Won't Do It Without Feeling Horribly Guilty And Unable to Live With Myself. Also, Pains Me To Ask. For Anything. Ever.

I think, as several others have said, that except among the Guessiest of Guessers like the proverbial Vermonter who eats pie for breakfast you tend to be a lot lot lot Askier with your immediate family and closest friends.

That would be me, yes. Non-proverbial. Actual Vermont. Has eaten pie for breakfast. I can deal with Askers from having grown up in a family of engineers who don't do so well with the social skills, much less the subtlety, but I can't ask for anything or stick up for my own needs in social encounters unless it's with like my mom or something. Even then, if anyone ever flat out ASKS me for something, I really truly can't say no. I get myself into all kinds of stress over this. Nor can I ask for anyone to help out. That's tantamount to admitting failure. Guessiest Guesser That (N)Ever Guessed.

I am a hardcore guesser and I despise the phone. If someone phones me (at work or at home), I know someone is about to ask me for something. Thankfully, most of the time, you can just ignore the phone, allowing you to listen and ponder before replying - which you can't do in person. The phone for me is such an "ask" device.

The opposite is true in that I hate having to call someone. It feels like such an interruption and that I will be putting someone on the spot.


Also me. I hate it so much I've been procrastinating rescheduling an appointment because I have to CALL the doctor's office and I feel like I'm IMPOSING on the receptionist. HAPPENS TO ME ALL THE TIME. Also: delis. Can't go up and ask anyone for anything. I miss out on a lot of freshly sliced sandwich meats and buy the packaged stuff because I don't want to impose at the DELI COUNTER.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:41 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was responding to Crabby Appleton, iamkimiam. Sorry for not specifying.

But actions that arise from a lack of consideration for others are also rude

"Ask" behavior doesn't arise from a lack of consideration for others. (If it were that simple, this would be a much less interesting discussion about "polite" versus "rude".) Ask doesn't mean obliviousness to social cues -- it arises from the understanding that people's ideas of what constitutes appropriate behavior differ, and the belief that the best way to resolve those differences is to talk about them.

Neither does "Guess" arise from a magical attunement to other peoples' needs or desires; it mostly arises from a pre-existing shared set of beliefs about what is and isn't appropriate. Absent those shared expectations, Guess cultures wouldn't work at all (because we are not, after all, mind readers; hinting around can only get you so far.)

Go back to the original example, the "can I use your guest room" question. To some "guess" cultures the expectation would be yeah, of course the guest room is available for guests, that's why it's a guest room. To other "guess" groups the expectation would be no, the guest room is very special and only particular people are allowed to use it. The definition of appropriate hospitality is different between those two groups, even before you bring Ask into it -- the only way to be sure you're behaving appropriately is to either already know the definition for the particular group you're dealing with... or to ask.

A polite Ask person doesn't ask for things they know are burdensome, and definitely doesn't press for explanation or try to change your mind if the answer is "no". A polite Guess person doesn't work themselves into a resentful snit just because someone asks them a favor, and doesn't expect others to be mind-readers.
posted by ook at 11:51 AM on May 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Other relevant areas of sociolinguistics/sociology/philosophy that address the Ask/Hint divide: Pragmatics (Wikipedia link) and High-context vs. Low-context cultures. Also, I just found this (only skimmed it so far, but seems interesting and relevant): A cross-cultural analysis of websites from high-context and low-context cultures.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:08 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


iminurmefi: I don't really get how this works in Ask culture: how do you differentiate between requests that are things that someone would like, versus things that someone actually needs? Does someone need to basically prostrate themselves and beg for help if it's the latter, to make sure you don't say no?

Good Lord, no. Listen, I'm busy and I have a lot on my mind. Not too busy to interact with you, but definitely too busy to spend any measurable amount of time analyzing your hidden thoughts and overall well-being. Get to the point and say what you feel, say what you mean! I am not a delicate snowflake to be utterly destroyed by a breath of hot air or a few words spoken at liberty. I sincerely desire to know what it is, precisely, that would bring the greatest portion of joy into your life! How can we work together, you and I, to achieve a mutual beneficial outcome? What are your true thoughts, your honest fears, regarding this transaction? Perhaps no amicable solution is possible but at the least we're freed from those nagging doubts. We've emancipated one another from that treacherous guessing game that needlessly spoils goodwill and poisons the honeypot of our intentional family. I want community with you - and your aversion to any possible offense I might take is preventing us from knowing one another more deeply. Tell me whatever it is that will help you be more human. I will do whatever it is in my power to see it done. If it cannot be done, then we'll both be richer for knowing that this is the case. Share!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:20 PM on May 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


iamkimiam: The key word in my wife-beating question is "still"; the implication being that the person questioned has to admit to having beaten their wife in the past, regardless of whether they answer yes or no.
posted by avianism at 12:25 PM on May 10, 2010


but definitely too busy to spend any measurable amount of time analyzing your hidden thoughts and overall well-being.

Especially when you have to calculate all the variables like: where are they from? (e.g., Korea and Minnesota are both Guessers, but very different about it.) How long have they been here in this area? How long have they been in the states? Are they an older generation? Are they male or female?

Every variable changes the underlying assumptions of what I should guess they're hinting around at. No thanks!

No thanks. You really need a stable, homogeneous population for Guessing to work, and the San Francisco Bay Area isn't that.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Baby_Balrog: "Tell me whatever it is that will help you be more human. I will do whatever it is in my power to see it done. If it cannot be done, then we'll both be richer for knowing that this is the case."

This makes me wonder if ask is privileged in regards to normative deliberation in comparison to guess. Will a guessier person generally be less likely to think normative deliberation is possible? Does guess culture make normative deliberation more difficult?

I have known people that proposed (right or wrong?) that explicitly stated desires are preferable to shared cultural background because it was more progressive, and more likely to be flexible enough to make room for positive social change.

When we decide that a certain kind of joke or a certain set of gender or race based expectations, which are built into a culture, ask culture could theoretically be more open to swift correction with less hurt feelings (ie. I can say "don't call me a breeder, that term hurts my feelings" and have it be taken as a straightforward piece of information rather than a putdown or scold, thus speeding the progress and skipping some stage of mutual resentment).
posted by idiopath at 12:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"... set of gender or race based expectations, for example, which are built into a culture, are no longer appropriate, ask culture could ..."
posted by idiopath at 12:36 PM on May 10, 2010


avianism: "iamkimiam: The key word in my wife-beating question is "still"; the implication being that the person questioned has to admit to having beaten their wife in the past, regardless of whether they answer yes or no."

Yeah, I glossed over the 'still' on first read and assumed you were talking about the canonical syntax example of scope ambiguity, which is "I don't beat my wife because I love her," where interpretations range from 'a wife-beater giving rationale for why he does it (not out of love, but something else)' to 'a non-wife-beater keeping his hands to him/her-self because to not do so would be proof of not loving the wife.' There's a range of implications with these interpretations, based on shared knowledge/expectations, including things like 'to beat your wife means you don't love her', 'I have other reasons why I beat my wife', etc.

Basically, context and pragmatics determine how much scope the word 'don't' has (either over just 'beat my wife' or over 'beat my wife' AND 'because...'). It's interesting, because alternate interpretations are present in many phrases, and people do not even realize that they're there once they've locked into one or other. They respond based on the more present interpretation they're holding in their mind. Sometimes these responses apply to either interpretation. So what you end up with is two or more people having a seemingly agreeable conversation, but the parties involved actually hold wildly different viewpoints, unbeknownst to each other. It's happening in this thread, and it happens all the time, on and offline. It's really funny once you start seeing it everywhere. It's amazing anything ever gets done and we don't spontaneously kill each other when we realize that we don't actually agree (or that we were in agreement all along, but thought we weren't).
posted by iamkimiam at 1:09 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Er, and by 'implications', I mean 'implicatures'
posted by iamkimiam at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2010


I wonder if some of the disagreement about the Politeness/Rudeness of Ask or Guess behavior may have its roots in a history with Asking or Guessing by specific Polite/Rude people. I know that's the case for me.

This thread has been an eye-opener. It never occurred to me that people might consider asking a direct question to be manipulative. For me, dropping hints in order to get people to do what you want is the very definition of manipulative. But as I've thought about it for the last couple of days, it occurs to me that I am judging Guess behavior based on my experience with the primary Guesser in my life. It is possible that the reason that person's Guess behavior drives me nuts and seems so very passive-aggressive, manipulative, and disrespectful is simply that that person is passive-aggressive, manipulative, and disrespectful. Whether she asks me outright to do something for her or she just indicates that the need is there and waits for me to offer to step in, she's still going to approach me with personality flaws and personal history intact, and it's still going to be an unpleasant situation. Though I would still prefer to be asked than just guided toward the appropriate action.

I do have a question for the Guessers here. If you don't give people the option of saying yes or no, how should they respond to the unstated but obviously intended question? Say you are the New York visitor in the original question, and rather than asking to stay with the OP, you just let them know what was going on hoping they would offer the use of the apartment, but they didn't. Would you feel that they were being rude by not responding to your overtures, or would you assume that they would probably love to, but had some legitimate reason why it wouldn't be possible? If the former, how could they respond politely (and honestly) to your hints but still not make the offer?
posted by Dojie at 1:15 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Basically, context and pragmatics determine how much scope the word 'don't' has (either over just 'beat my wife' or over 'beat my wife' AND 'because...')... Sometimes these responses apply to either interpretation. So what you end up with is two or more people having a seemingly agreeable conversation, but the parties involved actually hold wildly different viewpoints, unbeknownst to each other. It's happening in this thread, and it happens all the time, on and offline. It's really funny once you start seeing it everywhere. It's amazing anything ever gets done and we don't spontaneously kill each other when we realize that we don't actually agree (or that we were in agreement all along, but thought we weren't).

iamkimian: There’s a field of study for that thing that happens in a production meeting where you’re watching director and a designer fight with each other for an hour even though they are saying the same thing and just hearing the words the other one is staying instead of listening to the meaning?! WHY ISN’T THIS TAUGHT IN HIGH SCHOOLS?!
posted by edbles at 1:27 PM on May 10, 2010


I banged out that comment late one night without putting a whole lot of thought into it and ever since then I've regretted using the word "guess" instead of "hint," which I think would make more sense.

I was looking at other blog posts about tangerine's comment and they suggested Ask vs Intuit.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:56 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


WHY ISN’T THIS TAUGHT IN HIGH SCHOOLS?!

Dude, I have no idea. But it should be. And the International Phonetic Alphabet. But anyways.

Another really good example of this ambiguity in the English language is found in the meaning of the word 'ahead'. If there is a meeting next Wednesday and your boss says, "Move the meeting ahead two days," depending on context, priming, and a person's individual definition for 'ahead', you will think the meeting is now on Monday, Friday, or ambiguously either. This is because, in western society, we have two basic conceptions of time, and these conceptions about time are figure-ground inverses of each other, where time, person and spatial reference are involved. In one conception (the time-moving metaphor), time is the figure and it moves along space, where we are fixed. Individual events represent points in time. "Christmas is coming up" or "Time is flying by!" In the other conception (the ego-moving metaphor), we are the movers across the space of time. "We are coming up on Christmas" or "I am making good time! (meaning, I am covering lots of ground, as represented by time)." For those people whose definition of the word 'ahead' is fairly flexible (can apply to either conception of time), you can prime or influence one interpretation by contextual clues in the world around them. Several experiments, mostly by Lera Boroditsky* and Michael Ramscar show this disambiguating priming effect.

The point is, two people can show up to the meeting on Monday...maybe they have different conceptions of the meaning of 'ahead' and something about the context disambiguated the situation for both of them (the office being closed on Friday forces a Monday interpretation)...they go on their merry ways, unaware that they avoided a big potential miscommunication. Or one shows up on Monday and the other doesn't...both wondering WTF?

This applies to almost any situation. "How could she possibly ask to stay at my house, when it is common knowledge that 'guest room' means X?" Or, "How could she possibly say no to my request to stay at her house, when it is common knowledge that 'guest room' means Y?"

*I know I link to her a lot on MeFi. I'm sorry. I find her work fascinating, and tends to be relevant to these types of discussions. Don't know her; never met her; not a stalker.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:05 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ha! Sorry to be so chatty, but I just thought of a perfect instance ask/guess meeting the time-conception AND scope problem:

On the 21st I'm moving out of the bay area to Sacramento, where I will spend four days with my family, after which I will leave the country. During that time, I will have to sell my car. Many of my friends know all or some of the details of this plan.

In talking with various people, I've said the following, "My last day in the bay area is the 21st. I have to sell my car in four days." People have reacted to this in various ways, basically amounting to the following:

A. How will you get to Sacramento without a car?
B. Wow. Too bad you have to sell it in such short time in Sacramento; you could get more for it in the bay area.
C. Wait. You have to sell the car within the next four days? Or within the four days once you arrive in Sacramento?

So the 'A' people picked the literal, close scope interpretation, where 'in four days' starts from their perspective (ego-moving) 'now'. If they're guessers, they may also interpret my saying this as a hint for needing rides around town and/or possibly up to Sacramento.

The 'B' people picked the contextualized, far scope interpretation, where 'in four days' starts from a timeline perspective (time-moving) 'later'. If they're askers, they may suggest 'solutions' to the time crunch, regardless of whether or not asked for them. If they're guessers, they may also suggest solutions, taking the hint that I was asking for help in solving a problem.

For the 'C' people, they recognized the ambiguity in my statement. If they're askers, they may boldly, on-record ask for clarification for which interpretation I meant. They may do this as guessers too, but I'd imagine the askers would be more up-front about it.

Which category my friends fell into was also based on how much information they already had when I made that statement, how I said it (contextualized it), as well as what type of people they are.

This is the stuff I think about. Ugh. I need a life.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:24 PM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


For Guess culture, see the amazing world of Persian Taarof.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 2:32 PM on May 10, 2010


I love this! And I have read about a third of the comments, so I apologize if this is repetitious.

In my personal life, I am a complete Guesser. I cannot say no. As a guesser and I assume that when someone asks for something I am supposed to say yes, as though they have agonized about the request as much as I would (this is the middle child in me as well). My husband and his family are all Askers. We've been together 13 years and I still have trouble navigating requests. Especially from in-laws. It is an ongoing problem--throw a grandchild into the mix, and holy cow! the frustration.

However, in my professional life I answer questions much like an Ask person. I say no a lot. In fact, I was brought in while on maternity leave specifically to say no to someone. It's part of what I do, and I am able to do it well. Maybe because I am good at considering all angles due to my guess tendencies. And when I say no, people listen. It feels so very good to say no. But, when I say no, I have black and white laws to back up my response.

Can't wait to share these ideas with my husband, but I'm already second guessing discussing it with him, because to me, it would be offensive to be called an Asker. Phew, I have got to get over myself!
posted by fyrebelley at 2:52 PM on May 10, 2010


Dojie, I think you're right on the money that a lot of people are judging whether Ask or Guess is better based on a few particularly irritating people they know who can't gracefully accept a no. There are always going to be people who are put out by not getting what they want from you; the way they communicate this disappointment to you may be more or less annoying depending on your personal tastes but are rude across the board. A disappointed-and-rude Asker is going to try to wheedle a yes out of you: "But why not? It's not a problem if your apartment is small; I take up no space anyway! I don't mind that your wife just gave birth a week ago, I love infants!" A disappointed-and-rude Guesser, on the other hand, is going to make little passive barbs or sigh a lot in hopes of guilting you to yes. (Personally, I find it easier to just ignore the sighing and barbs than to try to parry someone who is more aggressively asking why, but I recognize that's a personal thing because I don't think that fast on my feet in the face of direct questioning. To each his/her own.)

To your question of
If you don't give people the option of saying yes or no, how should they respond to the unstated but obviously intended question? Say you are the New York visitor in the original question, and rather than asking to stay with the OP, you just let them know what was going on hoping they would offer the use of the apartment, but they didn't.
In the ideal Guess culture world, assuming neither person was a twit who is put out by not getting their way, the interaction would proceed with Person A saying "Oh, I'm going to be in town during [dates] and I'm trying to figure out where to stay. I'd love to see you if you have any time free while I'm around." Person B could either say, "You're welcome to stay with me, if you'd like; I live at [location] and have a guest room" or could say "Good luck finding a place--I've heard good things about [hotel X], you might want to check them out." Person A would understand that the second response was a no, and if they're not a twit, would assume the same thing that an Asker would after getting an explicit no-that's-not-possible back: Person B doesn't have a room, or doesn't want to offer it, or is busy that week, or doesn't like houseguests, or whatever. There's not going to be a gnashing of the teeth and rending of the garments over it, any more than there would be from asking directly and getting a no.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:02 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh! And! to this: It never occurred to me that people might consider asking a direct question to be manipulative.

I think the thing to realize is that for many (most?) Guess people, there are times when people ask for inappropriately-large favors gets a sort of pass, and that's when it's really, really important. I'll totally ask my partner to give me $20 if I am running low on cash without a second thought, but that would be totally inappropriate for me to ask to a coworker. Unless, of course, there was some extenuating circumstance like my car had broken down, and I needed to get home using a cab, but there were no ATMs around and I was stranded.

So, when someone asks a Guess person for something that seems to be beyond the bounds of appropriateness given their existing relationship (the original question is a good example of this), many of us are going to jump to "well they must realize how inappropriate of a request this is, they must be agonized about having to ask it, and it must be really important / they must be in a bind." And so we say yes, or we feel really, really bad about saying no. And if we are able to figure out that this person is asking for something that seems inappropriately large and doesn't have a "good" reason, we feel taken advantage of.

You can see where this is leading to, right? The Asker doesn't mean for it to happen, but their cluelessness about the norms under which a Guesser is operating means that they keep getting a yes. (Score!) And the Guesser gets more and more fed up, feeling like the Asker is taking advantage of commonly-understood (ah! but not so commonly understood, alas) social norms to extract a yes over and over and over, totally taking advantage of the Guesser's willingness to keep their social network strong by helping someone out even if they don't know them that well.

On the Guess culture side, obviously a lot of the bad feelings can be mitigated by assuming someone who is asking for something big is just an Ask-er, and that it's okay to say no without guilt. (Of course, this means we're probably turning down some other poor Guess-er who is in a bind, but absent the willingness to ask probing questions about "well why do you need to stay with me? do you not have the money to rent a hotel?" them's probably just the breaks.) On the Ask-er side, I think it would also be pretty easy to avoid the bad feelings by just being clear that the request isn't some emergency thing and explicitly saying that a "no" response is okay. Something like, "Hey, I'll be in town on [X date] and was wondering if I could stay with you a few nights? I have a few other options for lodging so it's totally fine if that won't work, I just thought I'd at least ask to check." (Some Guess-ers will still find this a bit much, but at least it doesn't feel manipulative: the person is being clear that they know this is a big favor, and that they expect a no or at least are okay with it.)
posted by iminurmefi at 3:38 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Crabby Appleton: You know, "askers" can't be bothered to devote a minute's thought to being considerate of others' feelings, but they're not rude. Oh, no.

Sorry, I couldn't infer what you're trying to say because your comment is so rude.

Also, eponysterical.
posted by tzikeh at 7:19 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem with that model, ininurmefi, is there is no consensus on what is appropriate to ask a coworker (or whomever) and what is not. I agree that asking a coworker for $20 is not appropriate, but not wildly so. I've probably loaned half of that to cover someone's lunch. And if I was in a real bad lurch like you described, I certainly would not spare you the details in why I was asking.

In fact, to me, the rude transgression would be to ask a favor like that and withhold the reason by it. See how differently we think, how different we define rude and appropriate? I just don't know how else to bridge that gap without speaking pretty directly (i.e., being an asker). I agree, and have said upthread, that a good asker asks in ways that will put the recipient at as much ease as possible wrt saying no.
posted by mreleganza at 7:25 PM on May 10, 2010


Here's a rubric for knowing if you've got at Asker or a Guesser on your hands: ask them if they are hungry. A Guesser will describe their state as being both content to wait for food and amenable to eating something anyway.

NO NO NO!! I am very much an asker. If I've got an opinion, you will know. But I am mellow, and often indifferent to food. If I say I am equally happy with either option IT IS TRUE DAMNIT so fucking pick a restaurant or let's get on with our lives. /flashback to unpleasant relationship with a severe guesser-type
posted by little e at 8:58 PM on May 10, 2010


I think that the guess culture, in which I am firmly entrenched, is based on the idea that you are supposed to put another person's needs and wants before yours. This sounds needlessly self-abasing unless you understand that the other person is doing the same to you.

If you voice what you want too clearly, the other guesser (himself prioritising your wants) would be forced to succumb to your wants, that's why it's considered rude. That's why it is only an emergency option.

Saying "no" is considered rude because you are putting your wants before the other person's. Forcing another person to say "no" is rude for the same reason.

Ideally, both Guessers would in a couple of exchanges divine which person's needs have priority (for instance, the other person got to choose the restaurant last time, it's my turn this time; them staying over has an important reason; the other person is awfully hungry and I don't care either way) and then act accordingly. However, the ideal exchange depends on both people being attentive to each others needs and the norms of give and take. It is really easy for someone egoistic to abuse this situation to get his own way.

For a guesser who is not aware you are an asker, you merely seem like an egoistic guesser.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:58 AM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Examples of Ask and Guess in Office Space 1, 2.
posted by syzygy at 2:45 AM on May 11, 2010


I'm a true blue guesser. I've just read this whole thread as though it was an instruction booklet for my life. (Tangerine, you are in a unique position here. It's all truly revelatory.)

I was just about to sign off without commenting, because I didn't want to offend anyone by posting a comment that wasn't really really worthwhile.

But edbles' comment, "YOU GUESSERS HAVE MAGIC INVASIVE MIND READING POWERS AND DON'T REALIZE IT" blows my mind.

We're not reading your mind. We are totally surprised that you have missed half of what language is (to us)! It's not invasive- you're saying it! (or we just think you are). When you Askers are speaking, we're not just understanding your words- we're gathering info from your pauses and hesitations, your volume of speech, how tight your arms are crossed, and if you might be looking at us kinda funny. The message, for us, is made up of one part 'words you said' and one part 'how you seem.'

Now I wonder if the Askers in my life view me as a doormat. Are they surprised when I try to do the things I think they are hoping I'll do? Or do they not notice at all that their actions influence mine?
posted by alight at 7:12 AM on May 11, 2010


We may not have missed it, alight. It's not unlikely that we tend to develop the ability later and less fully than Guessers since it's less crucial to us in everyday life, but Askers aren't necessarily unable to hear any of those nuances. It may be that we would consider it rude -- even rude in the extreme -- to appear to pay attention to that channel.

If you're telling me "You bet!" and my intuition is picking up "No way!" probably two or three things will happen unless I'm thinking carefully about how different people can be:
  1. I'll work hard to appear to take your "yes" at face value, because to my mind, that is the message you want me to believe and act on and I am acceding to that. Of all possible messages, this is the one you are choosing.
  2. But if your arms are crossed and your lips are tight, those pursed lips won't say, "I really mean to tell you no," to me; they'll say, "My verbal messages are untrustworthy." Depending on what I've asked, an alarm bell may ring: "Is this person really going to do what they say they'll do? Am I going to be screwed over because they don't value their words? Swell, now I'm in a bind. I can't politely show it, but I'd better be prepared for the possibility that they're not being truthful with me."
  3. In any case, if this is something I see from you more than once or twice, I'll avoid asking you for much of anything again. That's not really because I want to make you comfortable; it's because I will be uncomfortable with what I'll perceive as your inability to negotiate a commitment. That perceived inability is likely to lead me to think of you as unpredictable and a risk for weird retaliations or inappropriate demands. It definitely puts you outside my social norms. Which means that, at least where I'm concerned, you'll be somewhat cut out of the complex network of favors and negotiated commitments that characterizes a lot of social life. Our relationship will cool.
The message for me isn't one part "words you said" and one part "how you seem". To me, those are two linked messages, and if they don't match, something is screwed up.
posted by sculpin at 8:25 AM on May 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


It's making its way through the *shudder* blogosphere:

The New Republic and Marginal Revolution take a turn.
posted by Skorgu at 8:28 AM on May 11, 2010


I'm torn between kind of agreeing with the TNR guy and thinking he's a jackass.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:44 AM on May 11, 2010


We're not reading your mind. We are totally surprised that you have missed half of what language is....When you Askers are speaking, we're not just understanding your words- we're gathering info from your pauses and hesitations, your volume of speech, how tight your arms

Now I wonder if the Askers in my life view me as a doormat.


It's not that I'm missing half of language. It's that your messages are contradictory or unclear, or difficult to decipher if I don't know you well. It is very frustrating when I can *tell* you aren't saying what you mean--we have useful words! Let's use them!

I don't think of the guessers in my life as doormats, I just know I can't believe what they tell me, so I don't ask.

On preview, pretty much what sculpin said.
posted by little e at 8:49 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ideally, both Guessers would in a couple of exchanges divine which person's needs have priority (for instance, the other person got to choose the restaurant last time, it's my turn this time; them staying over has an important reason; the other person is awfully hungry and I don't care either way)

Yes! Now that we have a baby, I am likely to get up every time she cries because I feel like I should (partially as the mother I guess). I wanted times set up that each of us were on duty. I was so exhausted, and finally I just started stating rather emphatically "We need some rules. We need some rules" Because without rules, I was always going to be the one getting up. Always. I need something to help me prioritize who's turn it is to pick the restaurant, get up with the baby, etc.

For restaurants, movies and the like we've developed a 3, 2, 1 scenario that works well. Person one names 3 possibilities, person 2 chooses 2 and then person 1 chooses. Works well.
posted by fyrebelley at 9:21 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hey everybody, let's have a slumber party at Jessamyn's house! :)
posted by Jacqueline at 10:11 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


It may be that we would consider it rude -- even rude in the extreme -- to appear to pay attention to that channel.

This.
posted by edbles at 10:14 AM on May 11, 2010


I really liked Tangerine's comment. It's something I've thought of myself, but never put in succinct words. I decided long ago to be an asker - I'm just no good at reading subtle signals, so if you want or need something, just say it, and I'll do you the same courtesy. That doesn't mean that requests can't be rude or insulting, or that I won't try to discern if a request is going to be too much a burden.

One nice thing about ask culture is that if someone does something rude, than there was an actual event that happened and can be delt with. If Stranger Joe asks me for a hundred bucks for no good reason, I can say no, and take further action if I want to - by telling him the request was inappropriate, or warning others that Joe makes unrealistic requests. Guess culture has subtle jabs, but it is too much to expect that someone who is already out of tune with what is appropriate to correlated their action with the result. It is also easier to maintain xenophobia in guess culture - if everyone in town starts mowing their lawn at a different time so that the new African American family in town can't borrow their lawn mowers, well nothing actually happened that can be called out. There is no opportunity for a teachable moment, or for people to consciously realized why they are treating people differently. No one is responsible for their actions.

Guessers can be really difficult for me to deal with. There have been times when I have realized, long after the event, that when Sally asked me if I wanted a Coke, what she really wanted was for me to leave, and why did I take her up on her offer and oh god I'm too awkward to exist.

It's been really interesting reading the comments from the people on the guess side of things - it's made where they are coming from more clear to me, aside from my pre-existing perceptions.
posted by fermezporte at 10:58 AM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now I wonder if the Askers in my life view me as a doormat. Are they surprised when I try to do the things I think they are hoping I'll do? Or do they not notice at all that their actions influence mine?

No, we just wonder why you're so HUFFY all the time. I know you love having flowers out on the back deck, so why are you so mad every time you get up to water them? If you really hate doing it, why don't you ask me to do it every once in a while? I'm happy to do it, but I don't really know when they need watering, and I don't want to risk killing your geraniums through overwatering, plus I have a lot of other things on my mind and the flowers don't always bubble up to the top of the stack.

Bottom line: I have my own crap going on, and I presume you do too. I'm not going to insult you by trying to pretend your desires are so simple that I can easily keep them in mind, and I'm not going to exhaust myself trying to manage several other people's lives that are all equally complicated. It's not extreme to expect that if something is important to you, you'll mention it in a clear and unambiguous way. If you're not willing to utter literally one simple declarative sentence, well, I can't do a lot to help you out.
posted by KathrynT at 11:00 AM on May 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


although, wait a minute. For all the Guess folks out there -- is it that you don't want to ask because if you get a negative answer, that implies that you've committed some sort of face-losing faux pas by even asking? That when someone says "no," they will automatically think less of you?
posted by KathrynT at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of people are saying Guessing only works when you really know the other person, or that it's for the purposes of encouraging a positive reply, but to my mind it's for the exact opposite reasons.

When I avoid flat out asking people for stuff, I do it because I don't know their situation well enough. I don't know if they'll feel bad for saying no, or even if they'll feel they have to say yes because they've overestimated how important my request is (and even if I were to Ask, it's impossible to be completely clear about that stuff without an excessive amount of talking). I also want to avoid making them feel they need to explain why they're refusing, in case it's something they don't want to talk about.

It's not that I'm trying to manipulate a "yes" out of people. It's that I'm trying to find out if they're already happy to say yes.

Also, I think it's easy to conflate Guess culture behaviour with plain old passive aggressive not-even-hinting-what-you-want culture. There's a spectrum from Ask to Guess, but like with all of these things there's also the Island of Assholes off to one side.
posted by lucidium at 12:29 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I think it's easy to conflate Guess culture behaviour with plain old passive aggressive not-even-hinting-what-you-want culture. There's a spectrum from Ask to Guess, but like with all of these things there's also the Island of Assholes off to one side.

QFMFT. I'm definitely a Guesser, but I've never been accused of being passive-aggressive. Not the same thing at all. If I want to be aggressive, I'm just flat out aggressive. The "Guess Culture" thing is that I want to feel out the situation before I put in a request to see if either a) I can do it on my own (preferable) or b) the party in question is ok with it. I'm not trying to make you play mind games and I'm not trying to be passive-aggressive. If we've got an issue, I will talk to you about it. This isn't about that at all. It's about the normal give/take dynamics in relationships and how you go about getting your needs met. I guess some people do so in a passive-aggressive way, but those people could be Ask or Guess Culture people. (Probably the latter, but my example upthread about "Great, can you clean the bathroom next?" is a perfect example of a passive-aggressive Ask person making jabs that I'm a slob while simultaneously asking me point blank to do something.)

Guess Culture and Passive Aggressive Culture aren't the same thing. The former is about trying to get an independent read on the situation before making a request (sometimes rendering the request itself unnecessary) the latter is about being a tool.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:44 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


although, wait a minute. For all the Guess folks out there -- is it that you don't want to ask because if you get a negative answer, that implies that you've committed some sort of face-losing faux pas by even asking? That when someone says "no," they will automatically think less of you?

When a guesser asks outright it means that he already has the assumption that saying yes is probably ok with the askee, that the askee is willing to prioritise the asker's wish.
When an askee gusser says "no" it means he is so not ok with it, feels so imposed upon that he forces himself to be rude to the asker.
If a guesser said no to me, my train of thought would be, "oh shit, how could I so misinterpret my own claims to this person's kindness? He must think me super-selfimportant and self absorbed. I forced him to blow me off, something I know is embarassing for him. I must have really fucked up." Cue mutual embarassment best avoided. (It ties into what I said before: a pllite guesser puts someone else's needs above his own.)
posted by Omnomnom at 1:12 PM on May 11, 2010


That said, several
people have said that it's a continuum and that's true. I'm also directer with some people than others, especially if I know they are askers. But some boundaries can never be crossed!
I had a friend who asked me to import two pairs of shoes for her from a trip and then made a disappointed face when I only brought her one. She also regularly asked acquaintances in other countries whether she could. stay with them and bring a friend. Sure, I learnt to say no, but why should I have to? I want friends who know that two pairs of shoes are perhaps too much for a full suitcase and that while I may put you up this is expecting a lot of my hospitality. I want friends who notice that I never ask for things like that and who adapt to my sensibilities as I adapt to theirs. We are no longer friends. For several readons, but also We found each other too rude. She was extremely put out that I would never ask my friends to put up with her, a complete stranger. She thought it was egoistic of me.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:27 PM on May 11, 2010


Put up with her = let her stay a week, sorry for typos and spamming.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:29 PM on May 11, 2010


Mother Jones has picked it up.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:32 PM on May 11, 2010


whee! I know a famous person! Go, tangerine!
posted by small_ruminant at 1:56 PM on May 11, 2010


One of my exes was a Guesser, although she's gotten better about it, and it took us several months to negotiate how to communicate - like some other posters above, I couldn't tell whether she wanted me to respond to her words or her non-verbal cues, and I would end up going with words, because there was less chance I was misunderstanding them. This drove her nuts until we finally established that if something made her cranky she had to actually tell me about it.

We had a very amusing conversation a few weeks ago when she bitched about a recent ex doing the exact same thing that she used to do to me. So I think people can get better at switching between Ask and Guess based on context.

I'm mostly an Asker, but I spend a ton of time analyzing nonverbal cues - my mother is both a Guesser extraordinare and a shrink, and she trained me well - I just usually let them inform my Asking rather than relying on them for communication. I guess I'd say Ask is my native language but I understand Guess reasonably well.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:05 PM on May 11, 2010


although, wait a minute. For all the Guess folks out there -- is it that you don't want to ask because if you get a negative answer, that implies that you've committed some sort of face-losing faux pas by even asking? That when someone says "no," they will automatically think less of you?

No, I think you have it exactly backwards. The whole point is to avoid putting the other person in a position where they have to say no to you. Not because you're afraid they'll think less of you, but because it may make them uncomfortable to say no. It sure as hell makes me uncomfortable. To the point, as I said, that I'll generally say yes and then get bitter.
posted by Justinian at 3:28 PM on May 11, 2010


In other words, it's not about saving face for yourself; it's about making sure the other person isn't put in an awkward position.
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on May 11, 2010


I have a close friend who's from a Guess family. They go through huge contortions based on what they THINK the other family members prefer. Sometimes he finds out (but only through the grapevine- never directly) that family members, thinking all of his contortions indicated the deep desires on HIS part, had bent over backward to try to accommodate him. The other family members either didn't prefer it afterall or were indifferent.

All that work for something no one wanted but everyone was too polite to ask.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:45 PM on May 11, 2010


small_ruminant: Pater cites this by name upthread as the Abilene Paradox.
posted by idiopath at 3:54 PM on May 11, 2010


So he did. I missed it- thanks. Now I know a fancy word to tease my friend and his family with.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:24 PM on May 11, 2010


Sculpin, > we are in complete agreement on this: The message for me isn't one part "words you said" and one part "how you seem". To me, those are two linked messages, and if they don't match, something is screwed up.

The difference is just in our reactions to this discord. You're viewing a mismatched verbal/nonverbal message as a sign of being untrustworthy. I'm viewing it as a strong signal that I need to tread carefully because the person I'm talking to is somehow acting outside their comfort zone.

But this: It may be that we would consider it rude -- even rude in the extreme -- to appear to pay attention to that channel.
I'm confused here. Askers and Guessers alike are saying they recieve signals from that channel, but Askers say I should ignore it? Everything about how I relate to people is based on the opposite school of thought. Guessers think it's a sign of great respect to put someone else's motives and comfort ahead of their own.

And of course, it all comes down to the continuum. I have to believe that Guessers who get passive agressive and huffy are just difficult individuals, and I'm sorry they inflict their wounded sighs on you. They're doing it wrong. But at the same time Askers who'll accept a 'yes' from someone with tears in their eyes really might need to think twice.
posted by alight at 5:32 PM on May 11, 2010


alight: to take my nonverbal cues as more important than my stated desires presumes that your ability to read my motivations is more trustworthy than the words I choose to use.

This may very well be true if we are both skilled in holding our composure and share a vocabulary of deliberate body language and its interpretation.

As someone relatively unskilled in presenting or interpreting these nonverbal messages, to notice that someone is interpreting my body language and ignoring my speech is infuriatingly frustrating, more likely to impede communication than to facilitate it, and feels downright demeaning.
posted by idiopath at 5:40 PM on May 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


* I should amend that the above experience is not my universal experience with persons who are guessier than I am, but is the worst case when we have the least shared cultural context.
posted by idiopath at 5:42 PM on May 11, 2010


And I now have my pop psychological theory for why us nerds tend to sit in an awkward posture, not make eye contact, and speak in an affected and unnatural tone - it is better to be clearly taken as not communicating anything useful than be putty in the hands of those who understand your body language better than you do.
posted by idiopath at 5:56 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


As someone relatively unskilled in presenting or interpreting these nonverbal messages, to notice that someone is interpreting my body language and ignoring my speech is infuriatingly frustrating, more likely to impede communication than to facilitate it, and feels downright demeaning.

Yes, infuriating. I think it's infuriating because, at least for me, my body language is not really something I'm dealing with in my conscious mind. The "real" me is the words coming out of my mouth. I've put a lot of effort into picking and choosing those words. When people react and respond to my body language, I feel like they are ignoring what I want and talking to the chimpanzee* sidekick that follows me around everywhere. It's like "Hey! Monkey's not in charge, pal." If I want you to know things about me, I will tell you them. Otherwise it should be tread carefully territory. The data may be out there and you have every right to collect it. But to acknowledge that you have collected is invasive.

Guessers think it's a sign of great respect to put someone else's motives and comfort ahead of their own.

Guessers sound kind of paternalistic in this light. I'm a grown-up. I can handle my own shit, and expect other people to be able to handle theirs. The idea that you can understand where someone is coming from based on arm position strikes me as vulgar. Also the assumption that I would want you to put my motives and comfort before yours is weird.

This is going to come off as douche-y but I'm honestly looking for a contradiction:
The more I read this thread the more childish and juvenile and special snowflake guessing looks. (I will fully admit that Crabby Appleton's responses are currently coloring this.) Adults talk to each other about their wants and needs. Ask vs. Guess does explain every AskMe I've ever seen where I wanted to shake the OP and yell did you ever say that "out loud?!"It seems like Guess is maladaptive generally, even if it's coming from a friendly place.

Maybe the happy meeting place is that Askers should take moment before blurting out a request, and guessers should worry less about saying no.

*[NOT-SPECIES-IST]
posted by edbles at 6:18 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Idiopath > I'm not suggesting that we choose to adopt elaborate mime and dance in lieu of speech. The people who ignore your speech and try to patronize you are indeed rude. I'm sorry to hear that has happened to you. The folks who do that are unskilled at being Guessers.

And edbles, I love the 'chimpanzee sidekick' metaphor. Well chosen words, indeed.

But listen, Special Snowflake Askers, you're not invisible. Unless you want to wear a bag over your head, you need to come to terms with the fact that your face and body are saying things and your brain should probably start listening in. I'm not implying that the Guesser segment of the population has a monopoly on the use of unspoken language, but I think it's a little absurd to ask my lizard brain not to react to the difference between a smile and a frown. Is it unacceptable to say "you look stressed," or "are you okay?" to someone whose words belie their face?
posted by alight at 6:51 PM on May 11, 2010


The "real" me is the words coming out of my mouth.

This is about the funniest thing I've ever read on MetaFilter. No, monkey boy, the real you is your unconscious. Your conscious mind is a kind of PR hack, making up innocuous–sounding BS cover stories for what's really going on in there.

Don't you "nerds" ever read any psychology? Oh, yeah, I forgot: it's a pseudo-science, right? I guess that's one way to justify your ignorance.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:15 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The more I read this, especially the last 30-40 posts or so, the more it seems like Guess culture is largely based on a precept that "no" is a terrible thing. Terrible to the requester, because it disappoints them. Terrible to the requestee, for forcing them to deal with the guilt of disappointing you.

I submit, it's not. At least not in most of the coworker asks for 20 bucks/"can I crash here tonight?" case studies we are using.

And you thought Nancy Reagan was talking about drugs.
posted by mreleganza at 7:23 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crabby Appleton: "Don't you "nerds" ever read any psychology?"

The issue is that we have little practice with it, having been for a large part preoccupied with things like books and computers and musical instruments that don't have body language and only respond to our body language in limited ways.

I know that psychology is real. I also know that I am inept at it for lack of practice, and wary from the experience of having had that lack of skill exploited in order to take advantage of me.
posted by idiopath at 7:37 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


idiopath, I'm pretty inept at it too. But we're in the minority and there's no way we'll ever persuade the majority to drop the way they naturally operate and adopt practices that are more comfortable for us, but feel strange and off-putting to them. It is possible to learn enough about this stuff to be less easily manipulated. And you can learn it from books (and personal observation and experimentation). I would urge you, as a matter of self-defense if nothing else, to look into it.

Here's a (relatively) simple example; I don't know whether it's something you already know, but there was a time when I didn't know it: eye contact. It doesn't make much logical sense, but it's important to many (probably most) people. If you begin to make eye contact with people in appropriate ways (which really just means don't stare too long or too deeply, but don't be afraid to look), it will make a difference in how people treat you. Don't take my word for it, try it.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:13 PM on May 11, 2010


Crabby Appleton: Don't you "nerds" ever read any psychology?

...what?

Dude, are you just here to be an ass, or do you have something substantive to contribute?

(By the way, in case you can't tell? Most questions are not rude simply because they're questions, but that, what I just asked you there? That was rude. FYI.)
posted by tzikeh at 8:14 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it really "the majority"? I haven't counted unique responses in the thread, but it seems pretty regional to me.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:27 PM on May 11, 2010


tzikeh: I'm here to be an ass to the asses. When you're ready to stop hee-hawing at me, Cordelia, and talk substance, I'll be here. (That "eponysterical" remark, by the way, was so original.)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:32 PM on May 11, 2010


There is definitely regional variation, and individual personality and skillset variation.

As a social liberal (that is a person who would like social standards to be changeable and puts an emphasis on on individual freedom), I like Ask as a general approach because I think it is more explicit and thus makes negotiations and novel desires less awkward. So when I finally decided to get off my ass and learn some social skills already I focused on Ask related skills - being able to articulate and negotiate desires explicitly in language rather than via expectations and presumptions. I am aware that some people here think this is a poor choice or is in fact not learning social skills at all but rather learning an elaborate justification for being rude, but I am just putting my reasoning out there.
posted by idiopath at 8:33 PM on May 11, 2010


*preferring to articulate and negotiate etc.

obviously I don't need to talk out every little interpersonal agreement, I just have a prejudice that anything less than 100% trivial is better talked about directly than hinted at.
posted by idiopath at 8:36 PM on May 11, 2010


tzikeh: I'm here to be an ass to the asses.

That's really...generous of you, Crabby, but could you...not?
posted by rtha at 8:36 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


edbles: "It seems like Guess is maladaptive generally, even if it's coming from a friendly place. [...] This is going to come off as douche-y but I'm honestly looking for a contradiction[...]"


I wonder if it's fair to say that everyone I know and like is maladapted in some way. I mean, edbles, couldn't you use the same phrase to describe the dissociation you're noting between your conscious mind and your body language?

Because isn't it fair to say that clearly sometimes people are reluctant to talk about their discomfort, but that -- among friends, at least -- it's often a good thing to pick up on those signals and address them anyway? (This sounds analogous to what you've noticed about many AskMe posters needing to be told to say what they've written out loud. For some of them, writing the AskMe question is likely the first time they're putting their previously-vague feelings of unease into precise words, I'd think.)

I don't want to oversell this point. ("Monkey boy above was more than a little harsh.") The counter-example to the previous paragraph is when you notice someone isn't owning up to their discomfort, but decide the right thing to do is to ignore that so they can save face or move on with their day.

In any case, I'm starting to suspect that most people move between Ask and Guess as the need arises. As someone who's more drawn to the Guess descriptions, I had been previously thinking of this facility as itself part of Guess culture, but I can see how you might call that Nuanced Ask, especially if you're going to parody Guessers as completely unable to make an outright request.
posted by nobody at 8:40 PM on May 11, 2010


Well, rtha, I could not, but my generosity knows no bounds, apparently.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:43 PM on May 11, 2010


On the other hand rtha, since you asked nicely, and since it gets me out of this tedious discussion, I'll accede to your request. idiopath, good luck. Asses, continue to bray...
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:49 PM on May 11, 2010


To those people who find guess culture paternalistic, special snowflakey and pointless or harmful - it's just a social norm, that's all there is to it. Social norms are a socially (within a group) adopted way of showing respect. When you flout those norms because they don'y make sense to you, you are not communicating directness - you are communicating "I am ok with being discourteous to you. I do not respect you." Not what you meant to say, but what a guesser might hear. Yes, maybe social norms make no sense - it makes no sense to place the guest of honour to your right, these days, either. But what you are communicating respect within the norms people around me operate in us more important for me than getting a direct answer the fastest way.
It becomes problematic when different norms collide, like in this thread.
posted by Omnomnom at 10:20 PM on May 11, 2010


I submit, it's not.

Since comfort, the meaning of words, and the implications of such are all societal constructs, you don't really get to submit whether it is or it is not; If someone feels that forcing someone to refuse a request is a bad thing, then it is. Because how one feels about it makes it so.
posted by Justinian at 10:21 PM on May 11, 2010


Argh, I meant to say communicating respect is more important to me than...
posted by Omnomnom at 10:22 PM on May 11, 2010


Justinian: "the meaning of words, and the implications of such are all societal constructs, you don't really get to submit whether it is or it is not"

So you don't think normative deliberation is possible? Not all social constructs are born equal, and we have the power to choose between them or even invent them.
posted by idiopath at 10:29 PM on May 11, 2010


Idiopath, that's what's happening right now, isn't it? But it won't go over without GRAR.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:10 PM on May 11, 2010


My objection was that he appeared to be citing the status quo as if that were evidence that there was no alternative to the status quo.

Of course arguments can get a bit heated. But it is up to our own skill as arguers to make sure it focuses on an idea that we can better understand rather than being dictated by our bruised egos.
posted by idiopath at 11:22 PM on May 11, 2010


Piggybacking on what Omnomnom said, a lot of social norms and niceties are in place so that we can reduce the threat that is implicitly caused when we are either impinging on someone's space/rights/autonomy ("It's chilly in here, don't you think?" rather than "If you don't mind, could you please shut the window" versus "Get up and shut the window") or expressing disapproval or desires that are not aligned with those of the person we're communicating with ("Would you like some gum?" versus "Your breath stinks"; or "Bless your heart" rather than "I disagree and think you are an asshole").

I think it's also important to make a distinction between how one perceives requests (as an asker or a guesser) versus how one might make requests (as an asker or a guesser). If you look at behavior closely, you'll see that these two orientations are not always in alignment (what would alignment mean, anyway?) and are often not consistent anyway.

I guess my overall point is, there's a lot of exciting ways to go with the ask/guess model and I think it'll be pretty interesting to see it develop with respect to perceiving, making and navigating requests. Not to mention other things like compliments, apologies, criticism, irony, sarcasm and the like, if tangerine so desires to elaborate upon those aspects. It's a readily understandable framework for looking at interaction and I think that this is something that she can put forth in a way that preserves the beautiful simplicity of her original idea.

The window example can easily be replaced with something like "Give me $20" or "Let me borrow your car" or "I want to crash at your house for a week." How we soften or go 'on-record' with these demands is mapped out in the first link above. A classic example is "Oh shoot, I forgot my wallet!" This is NOT bald on record, but rather an off-record strategy, since it allows one to say either "Hmmpf, that sucks" or "Here, I got it."
posted by iamkimiam at 11:49 PM on May 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


(I like parentheses.)
posted by iamkimiam at 11:59 PM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


iamkimiam - the links you include in your posts are occasionally over my head, but usually fascinating. Your comments have started off more than one hour-long google-filled tangent of reading about some aspect of language that I had never considered before. This has nothing to do with ask/guess culture - just a mini-callout about how much I appreciate your contributions (parentheses and all).
posted by Dojie at 4:32 AM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder if it's fair to say that everyone I know and like is maladapted in some way. I mean, edbles, couldn't you use the same phrase to describe the dissociation you're noting between your conscious mind and your body language?

I could have, if I were smarter. But I literally didn't see that parallel. Looking at other social norms is like one of those 3D optical illusions. You're all like, "I don't get this." Then you're all like "Whoa, it's a butterfly." and then you lose it and you're all like "I don't get this," again.

Since comfort, the meaning of words, and the implications of such are all societal constructs, you don't really get to submit whether it is or it is not; If someone feels that forcing someone to refuse a request is a bad thing, then it is. Because how one feels about it makes it so.

That makes perfect sense. Like that Radio Lab with the bus stop in Germany for Alzheimer's patients to sit at when they're all time disassociated. It's kind of just a good idea not to argue with someone's reality construct, because they do honestly believe that.
posted by edbles at 5:33 AM on May 12, 2010


idiopath: If you’re like me and keep meaning to work on the body language thing, this thread is something I keep forgetting to look at.
posted by edbles at 7:59 AM on May 12, 2010


An interesting dynamic here is that there are a lot of Askers flat out, well, asking for Guessers to just FORM A QUESTION already - to the point of hostility. Guessers, not wanting to be rude, are simply not responding or saying "Well, we're trying to be polite."

Honestly, however you get your point across and get your needs met - that's what works. Flat out asking doesn't work for me, though I'll do it when I need to. It's really not so much about avoiding "no" as it is figuring out when you don't *need* to ask in the first place (as in, "There's no point in asking because this request is going to be denied."). It's just trying to infer the answer ahead of time - not that no is evil and bad and wrong, but some people just honestly prefer to figure that out FIRST and ask later.

Also: try taking an Ask attitude to a predominately Guess Culture milieu and see how far you get. Trying to get everyone in Minnesota to just ask to borrow the tools and to simply say NO when they don't want you to will go about as well as teaching pigs to sing.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:30 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


grapefruitmoon: "An interesting dynamic here is that there are a lot of Askers flat out, well, asking for Guessers to just FORM A QUESTION already - to the point of hostility. Guessers, not wanting to be rude, are simply not responding or saying "Well, we're trying to be polite." "

Some askers have been rude in this thread. Some guessers have been rude in this thread. I don't know if the balance one way or the other is so important.

And do you really think that MeTa has a culture of subtlety where we avoid negative face threats? I mean as far as I can see, MeTa is kind of designed as "the place on Metafilter where negative face threats are OK".

Also positive face threats are pretty ingrained in Internet culture in general: it is normal to simply and unceremoniously contradict someone if you think they are wrong.
posted by idiopath at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2010


Since comfort, the meaning of words, and the implications of such are all societal constructs, you don't really get to submit whether it is or it is not; If someone feels that forcing someone to refuse a request is a bad thing, then it is. Because how one feels about it makes it so.

That makes perfect sense. Like that Radio Lab with the bus stop in Germany for Alzheimer's patients to sit at when they're all time disassociated. It's kind of just a good idea not to argue with someone's reality construct, because they do honestly believe that.

An interesting dynamic here is that there are a lot of Askers flat out, well, asking for Guessers to just FORM A QUESTION already - to the point of hostility.

These comments are helping me examine my own attitude in general on this issue and my last comment in particular (which the first paragraph to was directly addressing).

Most of the Asker comments are eliciting a reaction in me of huge empathy and concurrence, while I struggle to relate to the guessers. So I lazily trurned that into, "Wull, I'm RIGHT! Let me help these poor, lost Guess souls!"

While the debate is fascinating and our preferences seemed so ingrained it's almost like we have discovered a new gene (I'm using a bit of hyperbole and I agree it's a spectrum, but you get the idea), I'm more heartened by the comments exploring bridging the gap - if we are at one end of the spectrum, how can we interact with someone at the other that strikes the greatest balance between keeping both parties as comfortable and at ease as possible?
posted by mreleganza at 10:17 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


if we are at one end of the spectrum, how can we interact with someone at the other that strikes the greatest balance between keeping both parties as comfortable and at ease as possible?

Oh, that's easy:

1. Ask when you need something, but it's totally okay to feel out the situation and not ask if you don't think you should.

1a. Just don't get upset/angry/passive-agressive-y for not getting what you want/need if you haven't in any way articulated it.

1b. And it's really not okay to bear a grudge.


2. When asking for something, phrase the request in such a way that makes it easy for the askee to say no. This is as simple as adding something like "It's really no problem if you can't, but..."

2a. Just try to do that in a way that feels/is genuine.

2b. Whatever you do, do not go out of your way, while making the request, to come up with all sorts of reasons why certain potential objections/reasons-for-needing-to-say-no on the askee's part aren't in fact valid objections/reasons-they-might-need-to-say-no. [If I recall, the person seeking a place to stay for a few days did a bit of this in the original AskMe. To a Guesser, it really comes off as aggressively/passive-aggressively trying to get what you want no matter what, or trying to wheedle your way into getting what you want. Apologies for harping on this; please pretend this derailing parenthetical is not in fact here.]

2c. And don't get upset/angry/passive-agressive-y for not getting what you want/need even if you have perfectly articulated it. And it's really not okay to bear a grudge.


I think that's all it takes. Easy, right?
posted by nobody at 3:06 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know, I was thinking that nobody had the right answer to this question, and come to see, indeed, nobody does have a good answer for how to deal with it.
posted by idiopath at 3:15 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


2. When asking for something, phrase the request in such a way that makes it easy for the askee to say no. This is as simple as adding something like "It's really no problem if you can't, but..."

2b. . . . To a Guesser, it really comes off as aggressively/passive-aggressively trying to get what you want no matter what, or trying to wheedle your way into getting what you want.

Oh, my God, this past Christmas, different interpretations of the absence of (2.) resulted in a fight with my sibling, who I thought had been pushy (2b.). During the post-mortem of the fight, we figured out that if it were me (generally an Asker with my Guess family, due to frustration with the Abilene paradoxes my family enacted as I grew up) making the request, I'd have added explicitly, "Of course, if your flight's delayed, don't hang around the airport waiting, just go to your appointment."

But my sibling hadn't added any "easy out" of the kind when making the request (pressure, it felt like) that I shift my appointment to accommodate an hour's window for flight delays. Because "Of COURSE I wouldn't expect you to miss your appointment if we were two and a half hours late! Why didn't you just go! You should have known I'd have been ok with you going! I shouldn't have to tell you ahead of time that picking us up wasn't more important than you getting to your appointment on time!"

I had read tangerine's comment in the original thread, but it never occurred to me until now to apply Ask/Guess framework to the above. How interesting that I think of myself as primarily an Asker, but I reacted to sibling's first request (pick us up please?) from Ask ("Yes, but if you're late, I can't pick you up"), and to sibling's second request (can't you shift your appointment?) from Guess. This whole thread's been thought-provoking.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:11 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm discovering that I'm far more complicated than even I imagined. And one thing nice about Guess culture that doesn't seem to have been noted is that its far more contemplative and moves things along at a measured pace - kind of like a stately dance - than Ask culture which perhaps maybe too rapid fire and rushed.
posted by infini at 5:00 AM on May 13, 2010


It's meme-ifying! The guardian.uk article has been picked up and is making its way around the webs now. This iteration was linked by a facebook friend of mine and posted to her ~100 friends; now they're all self-defining as askers or guessers. (For the record I used to be a guesser and have evolved by sheer force of will into an asker. Life is much better/easier this way.)
posted by headnsouth at 6:58 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Picked up by Andrew Sullivan.
posted by lalex at 6:20 PM on May 13, 2010


That's some real fine commentating, there, Sully.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 PM on May 13, 2010


Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence mentions what we would call Guess Culture on p. 108:
In japan, Doi notes, a host would simply have sensed his hunger and given him something to eat without having to ask if he wanted it.

That sensing of another person's needs and feelings, and the unsolicited response to them, bespeaks the high value placed on the I-You mode in Japanese culture (and in East Asian cultures generally). The Japanese word amae refers to this sensibility, empathy that is taken for granted, and acted upon, without calling attention to itself. . . .

English has no word for amae, but it could certainly use one to refer to such a closely attuned relationship. Amae points to the empirical fact that we attune most readily with the people in our lives we know and love -- our immediate family and relatives, lovers or spouses, old friends. The closer we are, the more amae.
Goleman's source for this is Takeo Doi, The Anatomy of Dependence (New York: Kodansha International, 1973).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:26 PM on June 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Social Intelligence, rather.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:27 PM on June 3, 2010


So Kottke's linked to it now, although he completely fails to mention Metafilter as usual. Can anyone explain to me why he's got such a bee in his bonnet about linking or mentioning Metafilter? Sour Grapes?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:43 AM on June 5, 2010


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