This is cross-posted from my blog.
There's been two articles I've seen recently on the difference between people who ask for what they want (ask culture) vs. people who drop subtle hints at what they want (guess culture). I'm not afraid to admit I fall in the latter group. Does this mean some emotional aspect of my social life is immature or not developed enough?
Some say I'm "easy going" or very "go with the flow" and I'd agree with both of those statements. But it's not because I have a big soft spot in my heart and I want to be selfless. Rather, it comes from a deep sense of insecurity of not wanting to inconvenience other people. Most of my approach with groups of people, especially groups of people I don't know well, is to ensure other people aren't inconvenienced.
The reason I do that is simple: I know I can handle being inconvenienced. If I really want to go somewhere on a vacation and am unable to make it by the end, sure it's a bit sad, but life's still great. I just keep on keepin' on. Others are different. Some people really value seeing certain areas when they're in a new city and would be crushed to not see that thing. Sadness comes first followed me resentment at the people/reasons why they weren't able to see that thing. It's just much easier if I inconvenience myself because I know I can handle it. Is that egotistical? Maybe. A bit stupid? Probably? But does it make sense? In my head, yes.
Part of managing other people's inconvenience's has instilled in me a habit of practicing "guess culture." Guess/Ask Culture is an interesting social phenomenon originally reported on by The Atlantic, but recently covered by Maybe Baby in an essay. A user named Andrea Donderi posted the following response to someone asking how to get out out of hosting someone at their house for a vacation:
The ideas are really amazing and surprisingly not very well known. I will say here and now that I am an addicted guesser. I rarely, if ever, put a direct ask into words except to my wife or my best friends. If I get a burger from a restaurant that has mustard on it even though I specifically asked for no mustard, I will not say a thing. I will scrape the mustard off with a knife and enjoy it the best that I can. But if the waiter catches me scrapping off the mustard and asks, "Would you like us to remake it?" I will respond with something along the lines of "If you don't mind." Not a hard yes. Not a direct answer. But yet another "subtle hint" hoping they catch on. I know that I do this. I'm not ashamed, but also not saying it's the right thing to do.
Obviously that isn't a very deep example and having my meal made wrong is not the worst thing that could happen to me. But those actions play out in other scenarios. If I want a raise, I'm much more likely to bring up the cost of living with my boss, how everything is getting so expensive, or how long I've been at the company for–just hoping they take the bait.
This is one of the least effective ways to communicate. It's so hard to get anything done this way! Perhaps this has caused part of the decline in work happiness. It's not because the bosses are awful, but that employees are unable to communicate what they need to effectively get their job done. This leads to resentment, contempt, and eventually, quitting.
Bookbear Express shared some helpful tips on how to leave guessing behind and become an asker:
Here are my general rules for asking:
If it’s very easy for the other person to say no (zero cost to them) and you’ll probably never see them again, ask whatever you want (politely)
If it’s something like asking someone to hang out, I think it’s okay to ask two times if the person is unresponsive/gives a neutral response. After that, cut your losses.
If you really, really want to press your case, I would say something like, “Letting you know that I really do want to meet up, and may follow up occasionally to see if you feel the same way. Is that okay?” Do not abuse this (for example, checking in once again after eight months is probably fine, and if they still seem uninterested just drop it).
Never get upset at someone for saying no. You don’t “deserve” an answer. The truth is, people who don’t know you don’t owe anything to you, and even people who know you really well are free to prioritize themselves (though you may want to rethink the relationship if they don’t seem to care about you, obviously).
when reading this I am reminded feelings and needs from Non-violent communication. Reading someones cues, are more of a 'soft' approach versus getting clearly formulated directions, requests or answers.
So in the same vein as you, I am reflecting here as well, and hope it might be useful in some ways.
I sometimes think of emotional/feminine expressions as similar to herbivores, and the more cognitive/masculine as similar to carnivores. The way I see it is as two different modes of being, thinking and operating, both with their own uses and with different feelings.
So lets take the example with the mustard. What do you want to feel, how do you want to be treated, and why do you want to treated that way? I am just adding some plausible answers here according to my idea:
So you probably want to feel warmth and an inner softening, you want to be treated by being seen, cared for and with softness, and you want to be treated that way because you will feel good, but probably also because it drasticly reduces stress-levels and is directly beneficial to your health and well-being. Moreover, and this is important, you are giving the other person a direct opportunity to be kind, caring and nice to you, which if they are open to it, will make them feel many of the same good feelings as you, and contribute to a societal web of treating others kindly. Win-Win.
Lets say you are an asker. You are very clear you want mustard, and you do not get it. So you tell them you wanted it without mustard, and ask if they can make it again. Again, What do you want to feel, how do you want to be treated and why do you want to be treated that way? Here are some plausible answers, in the same vein as before:
You want to feel understood and respected, you want to be treated with understanding, respect and attention, and again it is for your own well being, but it is also giving the other person a direct opportunity to smoothen and improve their role in the societal web that makes this interaction possible, and feel self-worth and self-direction. Win-Win.
So over to the hypothetical boss situation. The 'herbivore' and the 'carnivore' have different needs. They aren't interchangeable, even though you might have more of them at the same time. So what needs do you have when asking for a raise? Is it to feel warmth and inner softening - and/or to feel understood and respected?
Paradoxicly the guesser communication you are talking about probably is extremely efficient, and it might be at a very developed level - but it might also be very in-effective at meeting the needs you are trying to meet. You can want both understanding and care, but getting more care does not equal you getting understanding. Eating more crackers does not satiate thirst, neither can care replace understanding.
If you want warmth and care from your boss, and your strategy to do that is by hinting you want a raise, it might work, but isn't wanting a raise more assosiated with self-assertion and self-direction than with warmth and care? Then I would also guess that even though you want a lot of warmth and care generally, in this case understanding, respect and acknowledgement is what is most important to you - and even though hinting is a necessary and useful strategy, it might not be very useful for the latter.
I modern society as far as I have seen, there is a lot of focus on Asking - but without warmth and care, from guessing, life really loses colour, and getting angry is the usual response when someone totally misses the signs you are sending out.
If you are an asker, and you ask if they can redo it and they outright ignore you, even when you repeat yourself, anger is the usual response. It might not be the only one of course.
As a person born and bred to be masculine/carnivore ask-person, but was also reflective, understanding and sensitive, I believe I knew what being 'emotional' was. But actually learning about it is something wholly different. The 'feelings' I get in the carnivore world and the 'feelings' I get in the herbivore world are very, very different. Wanting both is new, and it is not easy. I am not writing this to say it is easy, I am writing this because I genuinely am starting to care for the herbivore side of life, it brings colour to my life in a way I didn't know I could have, and it is soft, stress-reducing and holds me. I do not want to unlearn it.
So when I read your text I do not agree with the idea that anyone should go from being a guesser to an asker or vica versia - but it might be useful to understand that they meet different needs, and the one is not better than the other, just different.
Hope I did tread carefully into this, even though I am afraid I made a little mess of things. I am not as developed or accepting of my guessing as you seems to be, and do not profess to be so either. Still I hope it could be useful, and I am glad you wrote this text here on LW nonetheless.