Are you an asker or a guesser?

Austin Frakt forwards me the following intriguing article.  Here is one excerpt:

This terminology comes from a brilliant web posting by Andrea Donderi that's achieved minor cult status online. We are raised, the theory runs, in one of two cultures. In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything – a favour, a pay rise– fully realising the answer may be no. In Guess culture, by contrast, you avoid "putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes… A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept."

Neither's "wrong", but when an Asker meets a Guesser, unpleasantness results. An Asker won't think it's rude to request two weeks in your spare room, but a Guess culture person will hear it as presumptuous and resent the agony involved in saying no. Your boss, asking for a project to be finished early, may be an overdemanding boor – or just an Asker, who's assuming you might decline. If you're a Guesser, you'll hear it as an expectation. This is a spectrum, not a dichotomy, and it explains cross-cultural awkwardnesses, too: Brits and Americans get discombobulated doing business in Japan, because it's a Guess culture, yet experience Russians as rude, because they're diehard Askers.

As for myself, I am an asker when it comes to information, but a guesser when it comes to making demands.


I guess I mostly ask

Haven't you omitted the "demander" culture?

I'll bet this is also the reason for the Anglo stereotype of the "pushy" Jew.

to outsider:
I think a guesser will never propose someone if he/she isn't a 100% sure of having a YES as answer. However, an asker can use the "surprise" proposal to be accepted, because he/she knows/believes the answer can be NO.
If an asker propose a guesser, the answer will probably be YES, even if the guesser is unsure about the relationship. On the other hand, if a guesser propose an unsure asker, the answer will probably be NO

Are you an asker or a guesser?

How rude.

I think that part of that depends on the social context. That's like saying I'm an extrovert. Despite that, there are situations where I am very shy and almost tongue tied.

Guess, I am a guesser :))

How are guessers evolutionarily stable? Naively askers would just take over any guesser population right away.


This is the story of my divorce in two paragraphs. I'm a guesser and she's an asker. Hence, she never understood why I never demanded anything and just went along with what she wanted to do. Meanwhile, I always complained that she never listened to me.

How are guessers evolutionarily stable? Naively askers would just take over any guesser population right away.

Are you assuming that askers always get correct and complete answers when they ask? When askers ask a guesser, they might get a polite lie, where the truth would be obvious to any sufficiently aware guesser. A small number of askers in a guesser society will find themselves shunned and constantly confused. (And an asker salesman will always be surprised as to why he's not getting the sale, despite all the nice things those Southerners or Japanese are saying to him.)

I agree that lots of immigration and changes in population would seem to make asking more common.

Gosh, whatever happened to the subtleties of style available to us in our use of language? Consider different ways of asking:

(1) Could you take me to the airport tomorrow morning? I hate to leave my car there for two weeks and I would really appreciate it.

(2) I know it's early, and you don't owe it to me, but if you have no conflicting commitments, it would be a great favor if you could take me to the airport tomorrow morning.

(3) I realize it's not your job to do this, and I can certainly get a taxi, but if you're totally free tomorrow morning, I'd be very grateful for a ride to the airport.

Number 1 is a pretty aggressive request, making it somewhat difficult to turn down. Number 2 is much gentler, and leaves the door wide open for the other person to say "gee, I'd love to but I have an early commitment." Number 3 seems similar, but it is even gentler, because it already posits a backup plan to allow for the negative reply.

Maybe it's nineteenth-century of me, but I believe if folks would think a little more about how they say things, there would be less ruffled feathers and less angst.

I come from an assumption culture. The misunderstandings are hell, but there is very little chit chat.

Your boss, asking for a project to be finished early, may be an overdemanding boor – or just an Asker, who's assuming you might decline.

Are there really bosses who think that their employees feel free to decline their requests, however politely phrased?

And if so, are they right?

(Having asked the question, I will now proceed to guess: yes and no respectively.)

That whole boss thing drives me crazy. I can never figure out if they are playing the game where they say "ha! you should have refused and asserted your priorities" or the game "ha! I was probing to see if you were really committed."

Next time I'll just ask "what kind of f'ng game are you playing?"

Steve, if you merely mention that you're going to the airport and nothing further, why wouldn't I assume that you've already made suitable arrangements?

It's supremely egocentric and narcissistic of guessers to presume that everyone else is a guesser, and furthermore, that the rest of the world has nothing better to do than to detect and analyze your dropped hints with the assiduousness of a Kremlinologist. Worse, guessers often play petty little passive-aggressive games to "punish" others for failing to read their minds.

There is something almost sociopathic about imposing a disproportionate burden on others, requiring them to carefully parse your every banal small-talk pronouncement for disguised hidden meanings, regardless of whether they may be busy or distracted or temporarily preoccupied with other thoughts at that precise moment, rather than to muster the trivial effort on your part to utter a single carefully phrased polite request.

A wonderful set of justifications for being pushy.

anonymous who responded to Steve - It's equally egocentric and narcissistic for askers to assume that everyone else is an asker who will not be discomforted by their modus operandi and interpret honest questions as demands. I think you see the "guesser" mentality as much more calculating than it actually is, just as guessers will often find askers to be pushy or rude; I think you might have missed the point of the article.

It’s not a question of what’s correct; it’s a question of what works.

In a tight-knit society where everyone knows one another and understands the social conventions, guessing works well. If I say I’m going to the airport you already know what my car situation is and what it will cost; I already know what your financial situation is and have dropped the appropriate discreet hints about willingness to pay; and if you don’t offer, knowing everything that you do, then it could plausibly be boorish of me to ignore the fact that you didn’t offer and to go ahead and ask.

In a multi-cultural society where we deal with (relative) strangers, guess just doesn’t work. We don’t know eachother well enough. We have to ask. We can take into account that we might be asking a person who is culturally and temperamentally a guesser, and present our request accordingly, but we still have to ask. If we are guessers and we get asked, we need to find a way to get over it — or to move somewhere more homogeneous where this will be less of an issue.

Thank you for very informative post of yours. You have explained everything well. I appreciate that you shared this to us.

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