Askers versus guessers

27 June 2010

The Guardian on the two philoso­phies toward making re­quests of others (for a few nights’ ac­com­mo­da­tion with a friend, for a raise, etc.), and what happens when an “Asker” meets a “Guesser”:

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.

The quotes, and the idea for the di­chotomy itself, come from an answer, which is well worth reading in full. (And the orig­i­nal ques­tion too, for context.)