I found this essay in The Guardian fascinating, as it touches on an issue I see play out almost every day — between people who ask for what they want (and know they might not get it) and those who “guess”, hoping for what they want and resenting the hell out of those with the chutzpah to actually ask:
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.
I moved in 1989 from a Guess culture — Canada — to an Ask — the U.S. Even after all these years, I still feel the push-pull of these two opposing views of how life/love/business should go. In smaller nations more attentive to social harmony, in which direct confrontation makes everyone stare at their shoes and really wish you would stoprightnow — like Canada or Ireland — American directness is so brash as to be totally off-putting, declasse, in-your-face.
I had a terrible time — often still do — in American job interviews and other high-pressure situations where it’s do or die. If you don’t say it, and say it now, you’ve blown it. In the culture in which I was raised and educated, in which some of my dearest friends still live and work, having the temerity to ask marks you as pushy and entitled.
I’ve really seen this in the different way I now behave with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals within a for-profit system, compared to the deference even my feisty Dad (a former film director, for heaven’s sake, hardly shy in expressing his wishes) pays to his in Canada, where you get what they give you when they feel like giving it to you. I recently saw a surgeon whose scalpel is practically hanging over my arthritic hip like the sword of Damocles. I told him, “Put this in your notes!” and bent his ear about what my life is currently like with this condition. I didn’t meekly agree to skedding surgery. He asked for what he wanted and I asked for what I wanted.
As long as you’re using the same style, you’re OK. Certainly in a place like New York, hanging back and shuffling your toe in the dust ain’t gonna cut it.
But you can see how global diplomacy is a bloody minefield as a result.
Which are you? Does it work?
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- Askers vs Guessers (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)