Adapting to Ask Culture
January 19, 2020 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Guess Culture members, how have you successfully adapted to relationships (romantic relationships in particular) with Ask Culture members? Askers, how do you help your Guesser friends and family feel at ease? I feel like there is a fair amount of discussion aimed at Askers needing to adapt to inscrutable, passive-aggressive Guessers. Coming from a very Guess family background, I am interested in how to successfully navigate the world of brash, noisily self-imposing Askers. (N.B. Very much not interested in an argument about which of these communication styles is better or worse.)
posted by 4rtemis to Human Relations (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I had one parent of each and have grown into an Asker because it's simpler for me. A few things have helped me.

- Telling myself that if I'm confused by an interaction that it's probably because the person is a Guesser and I'm clearly missing a cue and it's okay if I can't parse what that is unless it's something super important like a wedding in which case I will try to ask an Ask-leaning person who is involved. Being clear if I don't know something and mking it about me not the person giving (or not giving) the information.
- Telling myself "If the answer isn't an obvious YES, then it's NO" and, relatedly, trying not to ask questions where someone has to answer no. It is very hard for me to say "I need to figure out how I am getting to the airport" and wait for someone to maybe offer a ride, but it's better than asking someone to give me a ride and then be clear they felt sort of "forced" into taking me.
- Being a lot more clear about what I am putting on the table and not assuming people will parse my "offer" because I am bad at being a Guesser and don't speak Guess well. So, for example, if I need people to bring something specific to the potluck, it's better for me to say so and not just assume they will pick up what I am laying down for hints
- Relatedly, when I am in a situation where I need to make an Ask about something in a mixed group, I go through an etiquette pass of my writing a few times to layer on 1. options for people to respond in a non-positive way without losing face, 2. extra "thank you I know this is awkward" acknowledgment

But in romantic relationships? I am not as good. I have some inbred passivity which i have learned over time, does not serve me in relationships and I've tried to be as above-board about this with my partner as I can, both to find an interaction style which works for both of us, but also because, Guess or no Guess, making your partner be a somewhat mind-reader is not my goal in this partnership.
posted by jessamyn at 12:31 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

I’m pretty guess-inclined, and the big problem for guessers dealing with askers IME is that we don’t want to say no. If I was going to refuse a request, the asker should have known not to ask me.

So, if it’s all right for them to ask you to do things you don’t want to (and don’t have an obligation to) do, it’s got to be okay for you to say no. Brace yourself for that to be a normal, fine interaction. Maybe say no on something that you could manage but does seem a little unreasonable to you, just to be in practice on low stakes stuff.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:04 PM on January 19 [16 favorites]

The lines between Ask and Guess aren't always that clean. I come from a family that was sometimes guess, and sometimes ask, and knowing which situation was which was a Guess. Good times! My hubby and his family are basically the same way, except I get which is which wrong alot, so I have just decided to be an Asker for my mental health, and everyone else is just going to have to go along to get along.

So anyway, as an Asker, my advice is to ask yourself if your Asker is actually being brash, noisy, and self-imposing, or just trying to give you some information they think you need. To me that's what it's all about.
posted by bleep at 1:04 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

I married into a Guess family and I’m mostly an Ask. I’ve learned that:

Guess: a question is often a request for action; Ask: a question is often a request for more information.
Guess: when someone asks you for something, it’s really important to them for you to say yes; Ask: when someone asks you for something, it’s okay to decline.
Guess: if you’re asked to do something, you haven’t agreed if you’ve said nothing or ignored the request; Ask: if you’ve asked someone to do something, they’ve agreed to do it unless they explicitly said otherwise.

My mostly-Guess spouse says that Guess requests are expressed more softly across the spectrum. I’ve asked them how they’ve adapted to my Askness and their take was that they tried to understand that when I ask a question, it’s not necessarily a demand. Also, if we disagree on something, not feeling they’re being forced into my preference just because my desire is expressed in a stronger Ask way. They also feel they had to get used to the fact I express feelings in a stronger way but that doesn’t mean they’re stronger feelings, I’m just more expressive.

My family is way brasher than me however because we don’t see them very much, it doesn’t impact them to a great extent. When we were closer to home, they “put up with it”. Having said that, I stepped in a lot to explain to my family how their words/actions were being perceived. To them, it didn’t feel like that made a difference but I believe it stopped their brashness escalating even further.

The bigger picture is that my spouse and I have adapted our styles to meet closer to the middle and we discuss Ask vs Guess to understand each other better. For their family, with whom I’m closer, I’ve mostly adapted my Ask style to their Guess style. I accommodate as much as possible. It’s still confusing sometimes, like when my mother-in-law was asking for something and in my effort to understand, I reframed it as “so are you saying you would like me to do...” which totally embarrassed her because she didn’t want to come across as asking for something even though she was. I didn’t mind being asked, I just needed more clarity and failed to read her correctly.

My spouse advises to focus less on how people express things and be internally more clear on your wants. This helps them prepare for discussions when people want different things and show this in very different ways. Simply expressing your desire with greater intensity won’t be enough, you will also need a more involved conversation so be prepared for that. They warn that that’s more draining on them that Askers who are more used to that level of intensity.
posted by mkdirusername at 2:13 PM on January 19 [13 favorites]

I'm a Guess person from a Guess family, but various circumstances have led to me leading most of my life in Ask territory. Now I'm too soft-spoken for the one and too outspoken for the other. What can you do?

I can't say I do it well, but here are some tips I have:

If you anticipate difficult conversations, write down a quick script beforehand for what you need, what you must say out loud, and what you must say no to. If you are having this talk in person, destroy it; if not, you can have it with you on the phone. Even if you can't refer to it, writing it down helps.

If someone that you know to be an Ask person speaks brusquely to you and you don't understand why, don't try to pick over what you did wrong because it sounds as if they're mad. They probably aren't, and if they are, you'll be hearing about it soon enough.

There are some expressions, like "can I talk to you for a minute," that may fill you with dread because they signify some terrible problem in Guess culture, but have only literal meaning in Ask culture.

If you are a Guess person with an Ask partner and you have certain needs that are not being met, but you need them met without asking for them to be met, you are ... in a bind. Talk about them and be frank, especially about the last part.

Best of luck--
posted by Countess Elena at 5:39 PM on January 19 [10 favorites]

I am a Guess married to an Ask (actually he’s sort of a hybrid, but his way of functioning in our relationship is much more Ask than Guess.)

First thing, you have to become very comfortable saying no. This is a hard thing for most Guess people, we seriously hate it. When dealing with Ask people, you have to learn that “No” is a complete sentence. And it has to be a clear no. They often don’t pick up on hints, body language, hemming & hawing, or other indicators we Guess people often use to signal we don’t want to do something. Another Guess would notice you squirming and back off; an Ask will likely keep pressing because they didn’t hear a definite no.

You also have to be comfortable repeating your no a number of times, as some Ask people consider the first no to be an invitation to argue their case. Arguments and negotiation are often expected, and you need to make sure that you are not always the one to give in. Guess people often do give in because they can’t stand the conflict, but then they build up resentment over time.

If you hate being put on the spot, you should make sure you have a few stock answers for different types of requests to buy yourself time before saying yes or no. “Let me check with Shirley”, “I’ll have to look at my calendar”, etc.

Another thing to realize about Ask people is that while they often boldy advocate for what they want, they assume that you will do the same for yourself. If you don’t, it may not occur to them that you don’t want what they want, or that you have wants/needs that are going unmet. They may be genuinely surprised when your resentment eventually boils over at them. You have to be willing to make that direct request, and to put your foot down and stand your ground sometimes. Sometimes getting your way means they will be disappointed, mad or annoyed for a bit and you can’t let feeling guilty over that ruin your “win”. Just remember all the times they happily enjoyed getting their way! They will get over it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:56 PM on January 19 [14 favorites]

I'm an Ask-inclined person, and I try (not always successfully, but I try!) to do a few things I've found generally work well with people who haven't demonstrated Ask tendencies, or who don't know me well enough to have seen me be Ask-y and know it's just my communication style:

Avoid those ambiguous questions and statements that can be easily misinterpreted to have a deeper meaning than I intend. (On preview, exactly like the example Countess Elena gave of "Can I talk to you for a minute?") This one's hard for me because I can't always guess what a Guesser might be guessing, and in a couple cases trying to be overly-precise and reassuring made the other person more, not less anxious because I seemed to be making a big deal about it. But overall I've found it usually helps more than hurts.

Over-communicate when I think I might have stumbled into a situation where a Guesser might think I was implying something unintended. Recent example: I am researching how the support team at my company finds and shares the information they need to do their jobs. I recently observed a novel-to-me way of sharing information, so I reached out to the sharer directly and asked, "I just saw you do X. Why did you do it like that?" Then very quickly realized how that might have sounded, and followed up with "To be clear, I'm genuinely curious because of this research project! If that way works better for you, we may want to shift our current theory" And I got a warm and helpful response rather than a defensive one that might have hurt our working relationship.

Make sure I communicate the stakes of any question or request, which seems to help Guessers understand when it's not a demand. I turn into a Guesser when certain sensitive topics are involved and I assume I have to say "Yes of course" whenever someone asks, "Can I bring my dog to your party?" The times people have provided more context, whether it was "I can't leave the dog alone for that long, mind if I bring him?" or "I think you'd like my dog, can I bring him?" have gone so, so much better for all parties involved. So I try to do similar when it's me asking things.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:12 PM on January 19 [6 favorites]

So I'm a hard core Ask person who was married cross-culturally to a hard-core Guess person. It didn't work out, for a variety of reasons, but I would say the ask/guess tension undermined our ability to manage in stressful situations.

Obviously, I didn't find a silver bullet to make it work, but I will offer some observations, as useful.

One of the most painful and baffling things for me was someone I loved being angry at me because "I never did what he wanted". From my perspective whenever he asked me for something we would discuss it and try to find a solution for both of us. The problem of course was that I was missing all kinds of requests which were never said out loud, so he had the constant awful feeling that I was not meeting his (to him) obvious needs.

I'm of the view that Guess culture works best in a relationship when there is a shared cultural background. If you have people from different countries, different cultural traditions, different languages, different socio-economic environments, then it the ask/guess dynamic becomes VERY problematic because the Guess partner is often expecting the other partner to pick up on needs or cues which to them are literally invisible. The brashness, as you put it, is less a problem then the hurt feelings caused by unmet/unknown expectations.

So my advice to you:

When your Ask partner wants to discuss your request, it may not be that they are trying to negotiate. One of the things I have noticed with my more guess-oriented partners is they dislike the feeling that Ask people are trying to negotiate everything. But speaking as an Ask person, I am genuinely trying to understand what you want, not negotiate.

The more you can think in what you want (unmet need) and not how you want it (solution) when making requests, the easier it is for everyone. This works both ways across the Ask-Guess divide. So: "When I am the person who is always taking care of cooking, it makes me feel frustrated and unloved because I put a lot of care into cooking dinner and I do not feel it is appreciated or reciprocated." NOT "I demand you do the dishes three days a week."

Ask directness isn't a license to be a jerk. Guess culture isn't a license for passive-aggressive behaviour.

Please try to remember that what you think of as obvious and natural may be learned, so not as obvious as you think.
posted by frumiousb at 7:28 PM on January 19 [12 favorites]

Honestly for me it all got easier once I realized that ask people are asking because they expect to be told yes.

I know the original formulation is that ask people are super cool hearing yes no or maybe. But the reality is that that askers respond to anything besides yes quite poorly. Go into your interactions with askers remembering this and you'll never be caught off guard.
posted by great_radio at 8:53 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

As someone who is v asking, I disagree strongly great_radio, i will take any answer, as long as you fucking give me one.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:41 PM on January 19 [35 favorites]

Guess people often do give in because they can’t stand the conflict, but then they build up resentment over time.

This destroyed a significant relationship in my life, along with other issues. From my perspective we worked through a numbers of conflicts. From their perspective, I was negating their feelings and experiences. I cannot express the number of times I asked them about their feelings and checked in with them, but they (probably) felt like they had communicated their different feelings a bunch of others ways and were grudgingly telling me what they thought I wanted to hear out of a belief that if I was asking, I had only one acceptable answer in mind.

I am not saying this is right, I hadn’t come across the Ask/Guess post until it was too late...but for me, mostly an Asker, I eventually felt like I was in a no-win situation where I was held to account to a set of invisible rules and asking about them was treated like I was screaming my head off, when I was genuinely wanting to know. On the flip side I think they did feel that I had been violating all kinds of boundaries that were intensely obvious to them, which was horrible.

It blew up one day and the amount of vitriol towards me was...astonishing. As an Ask person I could never have contained that level of resentment without directly asking for things. I’m still not over it entirely 9 years later even though I think I understand it better. And there were legit issues in the relationship, it was just that I thought we were communicating about them at least to a degree to keep each other’s perspective in mind, where they, as it turned out, thought that my “are you okay?” was You Had Better Be Okay. We were long distance which didn’t help, if I had seen body language it might have been better...or not.

So I would say this resentment piece is really key. It doesn’t mean the Guess person has to change and the Ask person doesn’t, but don’t assume the Ask person knows you feel put-upon and is ignoring that,
posted by warriorqueen at 3:59 AM on January 20 [9 favorites]

Asker married to a Midwestern Guesser. My mother was a UK guesser. First thing to remember as a guesser, the cultural clues around this what you are expecting them to guess also vary and can add an even more muddling layer of confusion around everything, this can even vary by region you're from in the US.

Even us askers are used to navigating some guess culture (and visa versa), find out what you both already naturally communicate in the other style & build on that. What needs of yours can you comfortably communicate in the other style, use that common ground where possible or it will feel like every single conversation is hard work for both of you and that gets old fast.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room of your communication style differences. Laugh about them together, it really helps if you see the other persons communication style for what it is, as a personality & cultural trait not a personal attack or OMG stop bulldozing over me & oversharing or OMG you hate me because you never tell me anything.

Give the asker some leeway & let them ask if they don't get the clues and least they met you half way & realised they were supposed to guess. My husband & I have turned this into a joke where I get three guesses at what I'm "missing". This is my way of acknowledging that I have at least noticed there is something he wanted me to guess and he finds it easier to tell me outright as an answer to a question. The Asker needs to learn to not have to need all the answers & to give the guesser space if needed (as an asker this is hard & can cause massive fear & stress and has taken me a lot of work).

Keep communicating and working on it. We've been married 10 years, it can still pop up it's ugly head. Noticing there is a problem & constantly communicating helps, knowing the other person is trying to find a common ground too goes a long way to making you feel less attacked. There is no better or worse here, just different learned behaviours & cultural backgrounds as long as you both acknowledge that it helps a lot.
posted by wwax at 7:00 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

Growing up I was much more a Guesser, but as I've gotten older I've turned into an Asker because it's just so much more practical. I was sick of getting butthurt about things that were in my head (and that I was too scared of asking to clarify). I would also say I was really shy and quiet growing up, and as I became a braver person, it was easier for me to be an Asker, and it was after I learned how much more comfortable it was that I jumped in.

Husband is very much Guesser. It drives me absolutely up a wall sometimes that he literally wants me to read his mind without giving me any nonverbal clues, or with giving me vague verbal cues that can mean a multitude of wants depending on what he actually wants.

It also drives me crazy when he tells me I'm "bad" at social cues etc. No, I'm perfectly ***ing fine with social cues in most circumstances. And I am perfectly subtle and know when to back off in the average social circle. Being an Asker doesn't mean that we're dense. It just means that we literally cannot read someone's mind. If you want me to guess, well, get used to me guessing wrong and not bothering to try when I get yelled at for guessing wrong but you won't budge and tell me anything.

I also get accused of asking too many questions. But that's because husband won't give me any details, because he's a Guesser and doesn't have really important details because he didn't ask. For example, he made plans for us with a friend and guessed the wrong date. Then got that sorted out and guessed the wrong activity (it was a karaoke bar/restaurant, and friend booked a late dinner). So we were about to go out to dinner and husband mentioned that it might be a dinner with the friend, and was fully prepared to just not ask, and either show up full and not eat while everyone else was, or show up hungry and not eat because it was karaoke. This situation is absolutely absurd to me, when it takes ONE text to sort out the confusion. I just don't have time for confusion and running around in circles in my life.

Probably the other thing is that he expects me to do something if he asks, and I allow him the ability to say no. But because of that, if I say no he gets upset (and I'm talking like.... getting him a glass of water). Whereas I only get upset when he SAYS he'll do something and doesn't do it. It's like, he thinks a question is a command, whereas I think it's a request for information. So perhaps trying to rephrase questions internally from the other perspective would help. Like if I say something like "It's no big deal if you can't, just let me know if you can get me a glass of water when you get up", I'm much more likely to get an honest answer than if I say "can you get me a glass of water". He's also improving on saying "no" to me without getting upset (he thinks saying "no" to me will upset me, so he ends up feeling cornered and freaking out, and then I DO get upset but only because he's YELLING at me) - after explaining multiple times that it's not being told "no" that upsets me but getting yelled at for asking a question that upsets me, or getting a snarky mean response to a simple question that upsets me, he's I think started to understand that fact.

Anyhow. Hopefully that word vomit helps a little.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:54 AM on January 20 [5 favorites]

One of the factors contributing to the breakdown of my long-term relationship was this type of mismatch. I think of myself as primarily a guess person, but it's contextual -- in increasing order of stakes and social closeness, my approach is "ask" (ask me for a lift instead of overthinking it), "guess" (don't invite yourself to things), and then "ask" again (when we are in a relationship, tell me what you need from me). He was (in what is obviously my highly biased opinion) "guess incorrectly" (let's be the last people to leave this party), "ask" (inviting ourselves is totally fine) and then back to "guess" (I shouldn't have to tell you what I need; you should just know).

The last bit is what did for our relationship in the end; the first two seriously messed up my ability to have a normal social life. I often felt excruciatingly awkward in shared social situations as a result of his behaviour -- but he just assumed that he was right and I was wrong, because he was good at being a people person and I was not, and for a long time, as a socially awkward introvert, I just uncritically believed this. Hindsight, etc..

I guess that my topic-relevant point is that the division may not necessarily be that clean, it may be context-dependent, and the devil can very much be in the details.
posted by confluency at 2:09 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]

I'm a Guesser who has become more Ask in the past few years, so I'm a hybrid. I hedge the difference by checking in with everyone and making sure that they are communicating what they want and they don't really have to do anything if it's just an ask, or I make it clear that I would really appreciate if they can do this. I've stopped assuming that I'm being interpreted correctly from the get-go because everyone is so different and I talk with a lot of people. It's sometimes stressful and anxiety inducing, but it's far easier for me to be proactive than to say anything and then assume they are telling me what they want, but it's also better than me not asking for what I want and dying on the inside because they didn't pick it up.
posted by yueliang at 11:07 AM on January 22

I know that this Ask/Guess culture thing has struck a genuine chord for most people on MeFi and on this thread, but I've personally thought it was a red herring of a way to divide people up. In my experience, people are categorized as Askers and Guessers based purely on the disagreement du jour. If the other person if offended at your directness and your insistence on getting answers to questions, you'll be accused of steamrolling over them, i.e. ASK. If the other person feels you're unfairly accusing them of insensitivity, then you're accused of wanting them to read your mind, i.e. GUESS.

I would strongly recommend that you become both familiar and comfortable with YOURSELF. Figure out what YOU want and need. If there is a miscommunication or a disagreement, check in with YOURSELF as to what YOUR expectations were and whether the other person has a point. Communicate YOUR honest feelings and thoughts. Don't betray YOUR inner truth in order to please someone else, and extend the same courtesy to others - they don't have to betray their own needs to go along with your either.

That's all you can do. That's all any of us can do. But in my experience, it is powerful. I've come to believe that having clarity about your own self - your desires, your needs, your boundaries, your make-dos - is The One True Answer.

For further reading, I will strongly recommend Harriet Lerner's books, especially The Dance of Anger.
posted by MiraK at 7:02 AM on January 27

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