How to become as Asker?
May 18, 2010 5:20 PM   Subscribe

How can I change from being a Guesser to an Asker?

I'm writing this anonymously because my profile is known to my friends and I can't wait long enough for my new profile to mature so I can ask this question...

I am a chronic Guesser. From a career point of view, my strategy has been to quietly work hard and hope that someone notices. Up til this point, it has worked well enough, but I've plateaued career-wise, and as a freelancer, I can't even bring myself to venture out to find new work because I've regressed so entirely into Guess-land. Furthermore, I've been trying to switch careers, and my regular employer, who has been great with noticing my work, has no idea. He has the ability to help me change jobs (same industry, different work) and may well help me out, but the idea that he might say no has paralysed me. How can I learn to be ok with failure?

The career thing is only really one example of Guessing getting me down. This Guesser approach to life in general, coupled with some depression issues, is extremely inhibitive to me getting stuff done. And I've found myself getting more sensitive and offended by little things because I think people should "know better." I think I would ruminate and fixate less if I could acquire some Asker skills. Are there any techniques you might suggest?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
"the idea that he might say no has paralysed me" ... "coupled with some depression issues" ... "I think I would ruminate and fixate less if I could acquire some Asker skills."

You might have this backwards -- treating the anxiety/depression first might then enable you to be more confident about asking directly for what you want.

I'm normally an Asker, but whenever I've gone through a bout of depression I've turned into the worst anxiously paralyzed, self-torturing Guesser ever. Celexa and Adderall restored my natural chutzpah.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:33 PM on May 18, 2010

For those who don't know what the poster is referencing, there's an article here and there was also a brilliant comment by a Mefi member that elucidates this very well.

I think it is understanding the difference between guess and ask which makes this whole idea very worthwhile to ponder. If we can understand both our motivations and that of others when we seek them out, then we can better manage our expectations and reactions. However, you may never be an asker and that is okay. But getting to the heart of what an asker is motivated by and what their rewards are is important. But, don't belittle the guesser. Guess behavior is not a bad life skill and can make you more friends than enemies.

A common trope is: fake it till you make it. This totally applies in your scenario and it applies to ask vs guess as well. Another thing to do: imagine yourself in your bosses shoes, if you were your boss, how would you feel about an employee asking for your help and guidance. I would think that you would feel really good about it. The dream employee for a boss is someone who does great work, is loyal to the company and lasts a long time. If helping you change career paths keeps you in his or her company then that's what they want. It's only a very bad boss who can't recognize that change and growth are important for their employees.

But, you're right, your boss is not going to wake up someday and go, "I wonder if Anon really wants to train the elephants? I mean, they are so good at doing the costumes and lighting but I just feel like their true calling might be with elephant training... I should ask them!" Not gonna happen. So, give your boss the benefit of the doubt and talk to them. You're not even really asking for something yet, you're looking for information and a new path -- allow your boss the ability to mentor you. Most people like that.
posted by amanda at 5:34 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well since you asked . . . then I suppose you're on your way already!

I think the phrase to keep in mind is, it never hurts to ask.

"The 7 habits of highly effective people" has a horrible cliche sounding title, but it's got some real ace advice on negotiating successfully and methods for becoming comfortable and confident with yourself as a precursor to become comfortable benefiting from the talents of others, probably worth a check out.

Note your question has 8 favorites before anyone took a stab at an answer. Your goal is a significant challenge! Keep that in ming also to avoid "fear of failure" feelings.
posted by oblio_one at 5:35 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Know what you want from people.

Be polite.

Accept no for an answer.
posted by Max Power at 6:01 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Read A Moral Order of a Suburb by M. P. Baumgartner. Summary:
M.P. Baumgartner reveals that the apparent serenity of the suburb is caused by the avoidance of open conflict. She contends that although nonviolence, nonconfrontation, and tolerance produce a superficial social harmony, these behaviors arise from disintegrative tendencies in modern culture--transience, fragmentation, weak family and communal ties, isolation, and indifference--conditions customarily viewed as sources of disorder, antagonism, and violence.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:23 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is probably gonna sound really pessimistic, but lower your expectations.

Life is not a bowl of cherries. Sometimes it's the pits. Anything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong. Being sure enough of yourself, liking you for you in a vacuum of you, will be a good step towards accepting whatever not-you comes your way. What I mean to say is, some people out there will not like you. Some people will say 'no' to you with no hesitation, for no discernible reason.

Fine. Life goes on, maybe sucking for a while then totally sweet. That's the way love is.
did i pepper all that with enough platitudes?

You like you though, and when done right (you'll know when it is) that is more than enough to get you through all and coming pits, noes, Fates, and wrongs. Being sure of that one thing—that even if you fail, even if someone fucks you right in the eye, even when things are at their worse, you're sure you like you—that will shield you against all of the above and more and give you the confidence to be open to the world and curious about it.

That's what it comes down to, really, is wondering how things work. How people work. What they're thinking and omg why?! Plenty can be inferred if you are adept enough, but it's still really guesswork, not to mention totally internal. If you ask, at least there's dialog established (even if, sigh, it's all a pack of lies) and you've communicated something honest.

But really? It's hard to transition. amanda is right to say that being a Guesser is okay. It all loops back around if you follow Ask or Guess down far enough along any line of logical reasoning anyway, and nobody is only one and never the other. What's important is that you figure out how to like who you are, Asker or Guesser, and go on into the world from there.
posted by carsonb at 6:36 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask For It is explicitly targeted at women, but (in case you're a guy) I consider the dynamics of the cases discussed, and the skill sets advocated, to be gender-neutral. There's a section at the end that lays out ways to practice getting comfortable with asking. The practical section moves gradually from "Ask for little things that you know the person will have no trouble or objection to fulfilling" to "Ask for big things that you're unlikely to get, just for the hell of it."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:44 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I tend to think of this as being passive or being active. Once upon a time, I worked hard, paid my dues, and waited for good things to happen to me. And they did, slowly.

Over time, I remained patient, but I got interested and involved, because I got confident, due to my successes over the years (and I was good at ignoring the inevitable setbacks.) So I started asking for things I wanted, gently at first, and then with more strength -- but always with a relaxed confidence.

And so, better things started happening, faster. And looking back, I cannot possibly point to one event, or one job, or one year, in which I went from passive to active (or guesser to asker) -- it is a gradual process you'll learn over a lifetime.

So, start. Now. Think of something you want, figure out how you can get it or who can get it for you, then see what can be done. And if you fail -- you will often fail -- don't sweat it, just try something else. It starts with one, and one is enough to encourage you to get two.

Sometimes I think about people in Hollywood, who become rich and famous, and I think "why them?" I have decided (for now) that it boils down to this: some people are talented, some people are persistent, some people are both, and some people are neither. The talented and persistent will succeed eventually, the talentless and non-persistent will likely accomplish nothing, the persistent may succeed through sheer effort alone, and the talented may be successful only through coincidence. If you truly believe you're talented, then you know you have to be persistent to succeed, and if you turn out not to be talented, you still may make it through sheer effort. So get out there and start.
posted by davejay at 7:00 PM on May 18, 2010 [10 favorites]

Oh, one more thing: a failure despite your best effort does not reflect poorly on you, but a failure because of your lack of effort most certainly does.
posted by davejay at 7:01 PM on May 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Know that many, if not most, people appreciate openness. Know that even though you may not get what you want, the very fact that you asked may make someone more likely to consider you the next time the opportunity comes around. Know that people are often surprisingly generous, and it honestly doesn't hurt to ask. Finally, to avoid being paralyzed with fear, know that while rejections may cause a lot of embarrassment for you, the person you ask will most likely have forgotten about your request by the time tomorrow rolls around.

That said, you asked for specific techniques, so I'd suggest starting out with little requests at first, things that won't matter much whether you get them or not. Try asking for a better table at a restaurant. Ask for a friend's recipe for a dish you like. When you're in someone else's car, ask for the air to be turned down. Hopefully, rejections won't cause as much strife as you feared, and a string of successes may give you enough confidence in Ask culture to approach bigger things, such as your career.
posted by estlin at 7:39 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

And I've found myself getting more sensitive and offended by little things because I think people should "know better." I think I would ruminate and fixate less if I could acquire some Asker skills.

I think you are spot-on here. A big part of being an "asker" is not making a big deal of other people's faux-pas, and similarly forgiving yourself for your own.

I am often over-sensitive about things. It helps to consider thoughtless things I've done - and not to feel bad about them, but to consider them drops in a karma jar. For instance: once I accidentally broke a friend's camera. Instead of being angry, she brushed it off graciously. Now I figure that's a ton of karma I owe people who break my stuff.

It also helps to remember times you've done things that could look bad from another's point of view. Say you didn't see a car and accidentally cut it off. Remember that, so when someone cuts you off you can say "Oh, remember when I did that? That person probably feels awful! I guess we all make mistakes."

I have to work to maintain this attitude, it's not something that comes naturally. But it helps me be more mellow/forgiving towards not only others, but towards myself.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:04 PM on May 18, 2010

And if you fail -- you will often fail -- don't sweat it, just try something else.

Oh yeah, thanks for mentioning failure. From an interview with the author of Ask For It:
Babcock: Well, but sometimes [failure is] good. Think about if you always went into a negotiation and the other person always said yes right away. What would that be telling you?

Vigeland: That you're not asking for enough.

Babcock: Exactly, so every once and a while, you really should fail at a negotiation just because that is an indication to you that you're pushing the boundaries a little bit, that you're not selling yourself short. So occasionally, you should see negotiations fail.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:20 PM on May 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

amanda: "For those who don't know what the poster is referencing, there's an article here and there was also a brilliant comment by a Mefi member that elucidates this very well. "

Tangential question: The Guardian article cites the MeFi comment as the source of the terms "asker" and "guesser". Is there anything written on it elsewhere, using different terminology? No offense meant to Ms. tangerine, but the concept rings so true that it doesn't seem like it could have originated on Askme.
posted by Gordafarin at 10:52 PM on May 18, 2010

As someone with major, lifelong Guesser tendencies, I feel your pain. What gets me to ask is some advice a relative once gave me. It might be the best piece of advice I've ever gotten:

"You get an automatic 'no' if you don't ask."

(Gratuitous emphasis because, seriously, that sentence has done amazing things for me.)

Really, if you think of it that way, it can be a lot easier to muster up the courage. Right now, your employer doesn't even have a chance to say "yes" to helping you out. If you ask, though, you just might get that help! When you ask, you give them the opportunity to help you. And the worst that can happen is a "no" - which is what you're getting by not asking anyway. It helps me a lot to realize that in plenty of situations, asking can only improve the situation; even if it fails at that, it won't make things worse.
posted by mandanza at 11:40 PM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is there anything written on it elsewhere, using different terminology?

Gordafarin, nowhere is it discussed as glibly as I've put it, but if you look at iamkimiam's contributions to that colossal thread from earlier this month, you'll find pointers to plenty of related academic material. In a nutshell, check out Wikipedia on pragmatics, politeness theory, speech act theories, Gricean maxims, conversation analysis. I'm just (gratefully) starting to dig through all of it now.
posted by tangerine at 12:39 AM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

You could start off by asking for things that are clearly beneficial to the askee as well. Then you can practice your asking skills in a less confrontational-feeling environment.

Recently for example, I chaired a panel session at a convention and asked some well respected community members to be on the panel. They were all very pleased to be asked, they really wanted to discuss the issues in question, and they liked sharing their expertise. In fact, all three of them thanked me several times!

If you can reframe your possible job changes as a benefit to your employer, then asking for them should be less intimidating.
posted by emilyw at 6:13 AM on May 19, 2010

the idea that he might say no has paralysed me. How can I learn to be ok with failure?

Maybe this advice is obvious, but maybe if you've always Guessed and never Asked, it's not. I'm mostly an Ask person, but I ask in a very polite, almost Guess-y way. You don't have to come right out and say, "Can I have X?" which can feel like you're being obnoxious and demanding. Instead you can say something like, "I was thinking that if I had X, it would benefit me in this way, and you in that way, so I wanted ask you if that's a possibility. If that doesn't work for you, OK, but I hope you'll consider it." That way you take away the fear of the person saying no. You have already given him "permission" to say no, so how could that make you a failure?
posted by DestinationUnknown at 6:49 AM on May 19, 2010

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