Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ask culture and Guess culture

I thought this was fascinating and wanted to share.

Someone (back in 2007) wrote to a website to ask advice. A friend of the writer's wife asked to stay at their apartment in NYC for a couple of days while she was in town on business. Writer and wife are appalled at friend's rudeness and wonder how to turn her down. After much comment, some saying, "This isn't rude, just tell her no," and others saying, "How rude! Some people never get the hint," one comment stood out:

This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even 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.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you're a Guess Culture person -- and you obviously are -- then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you're likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you're an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.

Obviously she's an Ask and you're a Guess. (I'm a Guess too. Let me tell you, it's great for, say, reading nuanced and subtle novels; not so great for, say, dating and getting raises.)

Thing is, Guess behaviors only work among a subset of other Guess people -- ones who share a fairly specific set of expectations and signalling techniques. The farther you get from your own family and friends and subculture, the more you'll have to embrace Ask behavior. Otherwise you'll spend your life in a cloud of mild outrage at (pace Moomin fans) the Cluelessness of Everyone.

It explains so much!

So which one are you? Are you from Ask Culture or Guess Culture? Or does it depend on who you're with?

h/t The Lead.


Lorin said...

I'm a Guesser, for sure - I hate confrontation, even such minor confrontation as asking for something - but I married an Asker so I've gradually become better about being direct.

qoe said...

The best advise I ever received from anyone was "If you don't ask, you don't get."

Which is to say that I am a reformed Guesser, or have outgrown Guessing. Guessers spend so much time being subtle and indirect--to what end?!--and then complain about it later (and I speak for my former self, when I write this). Sometimes, there is an esteem issue involved in Guessing, I think, which fuels the indirect communication mode--fear of rejection, perhaps.

Askers make opportunities for themselves and others, I have discovered. "No" responses come with the territory, and are okay--you move on. But, I have discovered that the Asker (me) sometimes opens the door for shy others to say YES to the world. And, having been a shy other at various times, myself, I enjoy that the tables can be turned.

Molly said...

A variant of this is the Tell culture or the Hint culture. I knew a guy who never ended a sentence. He'd just let it trail off, and wait for the listener to figure out what he wanted to say. This left the listener with all the risk of figuring things out, and possibly being wrong. He was a world-class Hint person.

Thanks to him, I developed my creed of "I am not responsible for what I haven't been told." It is not my job to guess, wonder, risk or otherwise do the work of communicating on behalf of someone else. If they don't say it to me directly, then I am not responsible for either responding or acting on what I think they might want. It's made life much, much easier.