Followup to: Ask and Guess

Ask culture: "I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip. Is it cool if I crash at your place?" Response: “Yes“ or “no”.

Guess culture: "Hey, great news! I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip!" Response: Infer that they might be telling you this because they want something from you, conclude that they might want a place to stay, and offer your hospitality only if you want to. Otherwise, pretend you didn’t infer that.

The two basic rules of Ask Culture: 1) Ask when you want something. 2) Interpret things as requests and feel free to say "no".

The two basic rules of Guess Culture: 1) Ask for things if, and *only* if, you're confident the person will say "yes". 2) Interpret requests as expectations of "yes", and, when possible, avoid saying "no".

Both approaches come with costs and benefits. In the end, I feel pretty strongly that Ask is superior. 

But these are not the only two possibilities!

"I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip. I would like to stay at your place, since it would save me the cost of a hotel, plus I would enjoy seeing you and expect we’d have some fun. I'm looking for other options, though, and would rather stay elsewhere than inconvenience you." Response: “I think I need some space this weekend. But I’d love to get a beer or something while you’re in town!” or “You should totally stay with me. I’m looking forward to it.”

There is a third alternative, and I think it's probably what rationalist communities ought to strive for. I call it "Tell Culture".

The two basic rules of Tell Culture: 1) Tell the other person what's going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you'd both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.) 2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.

Suppose you’re in a conversation that you’re finding aversive, and you can’t figure out why. Your goal is to procure a rain check.

  • Guess: *You see this annoyed body language? Huh? Look at it! If you don’t stop talking soon I swear I’ll start tapping my foot.* (Or, possibly, tell a little lie to excuse yourself. “Oh, look at the time…”) 
  • Ask: “Can we talk about this another time?”
  • Tell: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

Here are more examples from my own life:

  • "I didn't sleep well last night and am feeling frazzled and irritable today. I apologize if I snap at you during this meeting. It isn’t personal." 
  • "I just realized this interaction will be far more productive if my brain has food. I think we should head toward the kitchen." 
  • "It would be awfully convenient networking for me to stick around for a bit after our meeting to talk with you and [the next person you're meeting with]. But on a scale of one to ten, it's only about 3 useful to me. If you'd rate the loss of utility for you as two or higher, then I have a strong preference for not sticking around." 

The burden of honesty is even greater in Tell culture than in Ask culture. To a Guess culture person, I imagine much of the above sounds passive aggressive or manipulative, much worse than the rude bluntness of mere Ask. It’s because Guess people aren’t expecting relentless truth-telling, which is exactly what’s necessary here.

If you’re occasionally dishonest and tell people you want things you don't actually care about--like their comfort or convenience--they’ll learn not to trust you, and the inherent freedom of the system will be lost. They’ll learn that you only pretend to care about them to take advantage of their reciprocity instincts, when in fact you’ll count them as having defected if they respond by stating a preference for protecting their own interests.

Tell culture is cooperation with open source codes.

This kind of trust does not develop overnight. Here is the most useful Tell tactic I know of for developing that trust with a native Ask or Guess. It’s saved me sooooo much time and trouble, and I wish I’d thought of it earlier.

"I'm not asking because I expect you to say ‘yes’. I'm asking because I'm having trouble imagining the inside of your head, and I want to understand better. You are completely free to say ‘no’, or to tell me what you’re thinking right now, and I promise it will be fine." It is amazing how often people quickly stop looking shifty and say 'no' after this, or better yet begin to discuss further details.

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"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

I read this suggested line and felt a little worried. I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you. That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction. Maybe so, and you want to bring it up with me later. Or maybe you decide you overreacted to a comment I made, which you now believe you misinterpreted. Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass, and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Interesting, I have the exact opposite gut reaction. It could be rephrased in slight variations, e.g. "until we've figured that out", or, as shokwave below suggested, with a request for assistance, but in general, if someone said that to me, I would, ceteris paribus, infer that they are a self-aware and peaceful/cooperative person and that they are not holding anything in particular against me.

Whereas when someone leaves a conversation with an excuse that may or may not be genuine, it leaves me totally stressed-out because I have no idea what's going on and now I have the burden of figuring everything out on my own, about another person who is obviously intent on not sending many informative signals. Great.

Yes, my version of this always goes, "I'm finding this conversation aversive and I don't know why. Hold on while I figure it out." In other words, it doesn't delay a conversation until later, but it does mean that I close my eyes for 60 seconds and think.

I'm finding this conversation and I don't know why.

You accidentally a word, I think?

If you speak the words fast enough and with enough conviction, your audience's brain will fill in the gap with whatever pleases them while you retain full plausible deniability. Win!

Ah, how very guess culture of you!
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
"But Sir, I just need your order."

I also find that line a bit strange. In nearly all cases where I would expect that someone says: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why" I think I would take it as a topic change to why the conversation might bring up negative emotions in the person.

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

?! Depends. If you don't understand that person intimately or aren't experienced at helping less self-aware (aka neurotypical) people process emotional trauma, it's probably a very good time to leave him alone. Politely.
You don't need to understand another person to help them. Even if you do understand another person well enough to know what triggered them, telling them can be invasive and therefore needs some amount of implicit of explicit permission. Being there and being a stable anchor is often better than trying to interfere with their state. That means if you are mentally flexible about changing your state opening up on your side and allowing the emotions to rise in you to a level that similar to the other person but more calm. If you are not flexible and can meditate, that usually a good state to go to. For me the only reason to leave is if I'm myself not in a stable emotional place. But I can certainly understand if other people generally don't see themselves in a position to help.
Interesting. My default move would be to sit quietly in their presence and pay attention, rather than leave. Why would leaving be better?
Because if you don't know them intimately, you're likely to make them feel uncomfortable by intruding on their trauma.
Is the likelihood of that greater than the likelihood of making them feel uncomfortable by abandoning them in their (recalled) trauma? (I realize that "abandoning" is a very connotationally loaded term; I choose it here to counterbalance "intruding." I'm happy to switch to less loaded terms if you prefer.)
It's likely to be worse than leaving them politely. Whether it's worse than just getting up and leaving depends on the person and situation.
Fair enough. I'm not at all sure that's true -- certainly when I'm experiencing recalled trauma I would far prefer that people sit quietly with me than that they politely leave, but of course one data point isn't especially useful in this case -- but certainly if it is true the rest follows. Do you have any data to support that?
No data, just introspection and personal observation. Maybe it's a variation in people's preferences.
Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable. Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

To the latter, your interlocutor says (or likely, thinks to themselves):

"Uh, actually, I was rather enjoying that conversation. I thought it had value. But I guess I was wrong; it seems you do not find me interesting, or think that I am annoying. That hurts."

Working as intended?

Actually when a person is hurt they might not be in a state of mind to phrase it like that. I know that I tend to focus on the feeling of being hurt first, and it is incredibly difficult to not react indirectly with defensiveness which would be directed at something other than "I guess you don't find me interesting", because that shows vulnerability. A person (like unreflected me) might instinctively attack in a different area to "retaliate" to what they felt was a surprise attack on their self-worth. I am working on this, but I doubt most people with this problem are. Which should be kept in mind, I think: I agree with ChristianKI that open communication is preferable here, but in a situation where you create emotions in the other person they might find it impossible to stay rational even if their system 2 wants to. Solution? I actually do like the idea of ending useless conversations very much. I would rephrase it less bluntly which reduces the confrontation. What bothers me about this one is definite statements, e.g. "We should stop". It implies you expect the other person to have the same opinion as you, which isn't in the spirit of Tell Culture. Suggestion: "I got the feeling that this conversation is not really helping me right now. What is your impression on this? If you agree with me, perhaps we could switch topics?" (or offer to shift the conversation into a specific direction that you would enjoy) Generally I would match the carefulness to my impression of how much the other person enjoys the conversation.
Alternately, they say: "Uh, actually, I was enjoying that conversation. In particular, I was interested in the part where [stuff]. Maybe we could focus on talking about that part?" And then maybe you compromise on a conversational topic, rather than interpreting the rejection of the conversation as a rejection of you. Or in the ideal case, "Oh, I wasn't actually enjoying it either, I was just talking about it because I thought you still wanted to. Great, let's change the subject."
Yes. Getting good social feedback is valuable. If the person says that you can reassure them that you generally like them as a person but that going down that particular argument to decide who's right just doesn't interest you. There are arguments about who's right that are unproductive and stopping them and explaining your reasoning to the other person can be valuable for a person with low social skills even if it hurts them a bit. I rather prefer getting honest social feedback and not getting looked down upon to not knowing what I'm doing wrong and getting looked down upon. But it does depend on the culture in which things are said. There are situations where one can be open and other's where it's more difficult. There might also be cases where the other person think the conversation has value and says: "Actually you making that argument is the first time I heard it, so even if you already made in ten times in the past, I'm really interested in understanding that argument better." That's very useful information and hearing it might make the conversation a lot more fun for both participants. The sentiment could be worded nicer, but it does achieve it's ends.
The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.
There are plenty of unproductive discussions in rational circles where you can reasonably assume that the other person is arguing to win a debate and not because he finds a discussion interesting. I think those discussion are situation where shokwave might say those words. In those cases they are spoken with the interest of the other person in mind. Of course you can be wrong about that in your reading of the situation. If you pay attention to the other person you should notice when they have a meaningful emotional reactions to the words that you are saying. In those cases you can readjust the emotional impact by telling them something nice about them and starting a new thread of discussion in the process. While I personally wouldn't be as blunt I have meet plenty of people who have no problem being that blunt while also doing enough to signal that they like the person they are interacting with to avoid harming them strongly. Additionally I would personally prefer that if I'm walking around with body odor that someone would tell me, even if he would tell me in a way that produces a bit of temporary emotionally displeasure. I would predict that a significant amount of people who are part of the rationalist community share that preference. I like getting honest feedback from other people. If someone puts me in a state of deep emotional turmoil I think they are responsible to stay there and do what they can to fix it if they aren't requested to leave. But to the extend that I do have control over myself I won't look down on them for providing honest feedback.
It's possible that it is too blunt. My instinct (calibrated on around half a hundred nights of conversation with Australian LessWrongers in person) says that it's not, though.
It seems that preferences must vary on this one. This one seems much more potentially problematical because it pulls the other into your (already aversive) emotional world. It can work if there is already a huge amount of rapport and intimacy but the other more independent request seems safer. I really do like whatever variants of the theme "Agree to d̶i̶s̶a̶g̶r̶e̶e̶ STFU" that can be made to work.
If I'm having some kind of internal experience that may color my interpretation of what my interlocutor is trying to tell me, I feel like I owe it to them and whatever we're discussing to stop the conversation as soon as I realize something is wrong, since if e.g., it turns out I'm sleepy, taking a nap wouldn't (I think) be sufficient to fully counteract the negative opinion of the topic I formed when I was crabby. Could you give an example of a graceful exit? For me, interrupting a conversation without saying why I'm actually doing it feels dishonest/rude, especially if we're discussing something that's important enough for me to care that I treat it fairly.
[I do not endorse that particular conversation move. Nor do I particularly discourage it, between Tell culture users.] I observe that this objection to the exit strategy the problem is that 'Tell culture' is not being used by the receiving party. The receiving party is interpreting the information through the filter of some variety of non-Tell culture and essentially reading a different message than the one sent. This is a real problem but it is a real problem relating to speaking a language different to the audience, not a problem that applies to the communication via the language itself. Speaking 'Tell Culture' phrases to someone who is not both familiar with the communication style and happy to use it should not be expected to work well. The complimentary risk here is that your opposing policy can become (or inherently is) an excuse to abdicate responsibility for ones own thoughts and behaviour onto someone else. Neither are particularly healthy habits. Note that the speakers words explicitly claim responsibility and even go so far as to propose that even if the other person can figure the stuff out the speaker still has to figure it out for herself before the condition is met. It also contains no more (in fact, almost certainly much less) information than is contained in the uncontrollable communication via facial expressions, voice tone and body language while ending the conversation. The difference is there isn't level of social 'role play' where people pretend that information has not been communicated and where if that information is formally acknowledged to be communicated it is the equivalent to shouting or using all-caps. Or if looking at from the perspective of assigning responsibility to the active party that's a non-negligible burden that, someone walked up and forcibly took as there own because it wasn't kept hidden. The speaker actually set up boundaries around the aversion-experience-analysis territory that imply that would be somewhat presumpt
That can easily be exploited, however. If people know this is your reaction, then they have an easy button to push to exclude you from any conversation where they don't want your voice heard. EDIT: I will retract this statement if someone explains what's wrong with it.
One of the issues with the comment is that it presumes that the people with whom you are interacting socially aren't trustworthy. To the extend that we want improve culture, we usually want to create environments where people trust each other by default. Secondly it assumes that people don't learn. If I have a button that causes me serious discomfort that makes me want to escape a conversation and I understand the button, then I work on the issue and the next time it comes up it might not cause me to leave. There are also topics which are just boring. It's probably not hard to find topics that predicatively bore me and that you could bring up to make me want to leave a conservation. Let's say I'm talking with Alice and Carol. Alice really wants to talk about some women issue with Alice with no guy around. She could bring up the topic of how the supermodel XY did something and how nobody should do that. If I find that topic boring and leave the conversation, nothing bad happened. I can spend my time elsewhere. Alice seems to be getting utility from discussing the topic with Carol, so overall utility might be gained by finding a way to request gracefully that I leave the conversation. If I value staying in that conversation and really want to stay to talk with Alice and Carol I wouldn't leave the conversation.
That makes very, very good sense. I need to process; I'll be back later after I've finished updating.
That makes a lot of sense indeed. I find that disengaging from a three-way conversation is very different from ending a conversation between two people. I think I perceive such indirections and excuses quite more in the former case, because there they serve the purpose of not disrupting the conversation for the rest of the participants.

Yeah, absolutely.

Having been raised in a Guess culture and subsequently indoctrinated into a strong Ask culture, I have in the decades since evolved a strong personal version of what you're calling a Tell methodology here (what I personally think of as a high-context Ask culture).

I first noticed it explicitly in my twenties, upon hearing myself say to a departing guest "I invite you to think about how many times, in your culture, someone has to invite you to take leftovers home before you're allowed to accept, and then behave as though I'd invited you that many times." Which caused the entire room to burst into good-natured mockery, but many of them took leftovers.

My experience since has been mixed. It works well within communities where self-awareness is prized, and frequently elicits hostility elsewhere. Ask-culture people tend to appreciate it, Guess-culture people are frequently irritated or offended by my insistence on making explicit what is properly left obscured. (This makes sense to me... I, too, am irritated when people do publicly what I've been conditioned to treat as private.)

I first noticed it explicitly in my twenties, upon hearing myself say to a departing guest "I invite you to think about how many times, in your culture, someone has to invite you to take leftovers home before you're allowed to accept, and then behave as though I'd invited you that many times." Which caused the entire room to burst into good-natured mockery, but many of them took leftovers.

This being what wit (which is a synonym for "intelligence" for good reason) is for.

Tragedy of the commons, the shared resource being mutual trust. The first one to defect reaps the rewards of his faux signals being taken at face value ("I don't mind at all sticking around", wow, such pleasantness, many social laurels, wow), degrading the network of trust a "tell culture" relies upon.

It's like saying "wouldn't we as a society benefit overall if hidden negative externalities were internalized", yea well, first one to secretly pollute the river gets some bonus shares next quarter (wow, such money, many boni, wow)! Same with a trust culture ending in a race to the bottom.

I'm not suggesting all of society is ready for this. I'm suggesting we work toward it among highly rational peers and allies. This is how, and much of why, my close social circles work. Now that I'm used to it, I'd have it no other way.

among highly rational peers

Tricky (like most anything).

I wouldn't say "among rational peers" so much as "among EA-oriented peers". For our specific community, there is significant overlap in the Venn diagram depicting those two qualities, but those two are very much distinct qualities nonetheless.

A community of HPMOR!Quirrell variations would have your very post in main, with plenty of upvotes, all the while secretly whetting their blades. Perfectly rational.

The more established the trust culture, the more vulnerable it would be to a traitor, a cunning red-pill bastard who plays the trust-network like a fiddle to the tune of his/her egotistical agenda.

Trust -- the quintessential element of your so-called "tell culture" -- and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin.

When the social circle is small enough as to resemble an expanded family unit, a clan, it may work. A strong sense of ties that bind to keep the commitment to honesty honest would tend to keep a "tell culture"' social circle's cardinality well below Dunbar's number.

That's true in general. In network security circles, a trusted party is one with the explicit ability to compromise you, and that's really the operational meaning of the term in any context.
I really don't think so. A community of Briennes, which is not a community of HPMOR!Quirrells but shares some relevant features, would recognize the overwhelming benefit of coordination. Any given individual would be much stronger if she had the knowledge of all the other individuals, or if she could count on them as external memory. And because she would be stronger that way, she knows that they would be stronger if she also remains trustworthy. Her being trustworthy allows her to derive greater benefit from the rest of the community. Other people are useful, you see. With Tell culture in place, you can do things like feed your model of the world into someone else's truth-checker and get back a more info-rich version. You only defect if the expected utility of doing so outweighs the expected utility of the entire community to your future plans. I'd love to hear what culture Eliezer thinks an entire community of Quirrells would create.

If they all started off in a symmetrical position, they'd use Unbreakable Vows to keep from killing each other and then proceed to further affairs, not necessarily cooperatively.

Wouldn't this require one Quirrell to agree to sacrifice a part of his power before any other Quirrell does? (Assuming that all of the vow rituals taking place at the same time would require each Quirrell to take part in more than one ritual simultaneously, which doesn't seem possible.) It seems to me that a Quirrell wouldn't agree to this.
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
You don't have to sacrifice your own power for that, the bonder sacrifices power. And the Unbreakable Vow could be worded to only come into force once all Vows were taken.
But, in this case, the bonder is another Quirrell picked from this all-Quirrel community, right? Of course, if we allow the ritual to depend on the completion of other rituals, then the problem is moot. It strikes me that this conversation really hinges on just how evil HPMOR's Quirrell turns out to be, which is problematic since you know a few chapters more plot than I do... (Also, since I find myself having a conversation with you, might I say that I very much like HPMOR, and that I would like it even more if you were to amend chapter 19 so that Quirrell didn't perpetuate one or two myths about martial arts, a subject on which I focus a certain amount of my own nerdly attentions? I posted a review under "James", but the short version is that (1) martial arts aren't particularly Asian, and (2) "I'm a sixth dan" means no more than "I once got a B- in a class whose subject I won't divulge except to say that it was 'Math'.")
The great-grandparent comment did make me consider unbreakable vows as a theory of what happened on Halloween. E.g. to prevent one of his Horcruxes from later killing him, Voldemort made an unbreakable vow not to magically interact with his alter egos (this causing Harry's sense of Doom around Quirrell). Doesn't seem necessary, though.
But it would pay the price Tell comes with. And the Briennes wouldn't need it because they know all their rules and could easily use the more efficient Guess.
"You only defect if the expected utility of doing so outweighs the expected utility of the entire community to your future plans." These aren't the two options available, though: you'd take into account the risk of other people defecting and thus reducing the expected utility of the entire community by an appreciable amount. Your argument only works if you can trust everyone else not to defect, too - in a homogenous community of Briennes, for instance. In a heterogenous community, whatever spooky coordination your clones would use won't work, and cooperation is a much less desirable option.
Signaling pleasantness is sometimes near to signalling low status. In some situations it will give you benefits in others it might not. One the web you find plenty of material that recommends that you will get more social success by being more confident. One way to be confident is to go the ask road instead of the guess road. I have read a lot of self help and didn't come across one that substantially focuses on acting in a guess culture way.
Quite so. Which is why constraining yourself to honesty precludes you from always choosing the personally beneficial path.
Is the Prisoners' Dilemma really the right metaphor here? I don't really get what the defector gains. Sure, I like them better for being so accommodating, but meanwhile they're paying the costs of giving me what I want, and if they try to invoke some kind of quid pro quo than all the positive feelings go out the window when I find out they were misleading me.
Think of it as having an additional tool in your shed, a really important one: it confers unto you an additional degree of freedom: You can manipulate someone else's state of mind by signalling various faux states of mind of your own (no longer are social signals a tell-culture mandated 1-to-1 mapping, but you can choose whatever input leads to the desired reaction). Social signals and the benefits they confer are sufficiently vague that often you won't find out they were misleading you. Or you may find out ("The last years that person X worked for me I always thought she looked up to and admired me, turns out she always just pretended so she could keep the job!"), but the defector already reaped the (transient in time) rewards. Nothing is forever, the traitor can milk you like a gullible cow (or a gullicalf, living in California) then leave, harm done.

Ya know, after thousands of years of trying it out in all kinds of environments, it seems as though almost every culture on Earth settles on "Guess", with maybe a touch of "Ask" in the more overbearing ones. A common modification to "Guess" is "Offer", where the mere mention of a possible opportunity to help out is treated as creating almost a positive obligation to notice the need and make a spontaneous offer.

From where I sit, that's pretty strong evidence that "Guess" or maybe "Offer" is more suited to collective human nature. There's a pretty heavy burden of proof on any "rationalist" who wants to change it.

It's also not so obvious that you can effectively change conventions like these by just starting in and asking others to change. If you tried your "developing trust" tactic with me, I'd probably play along to avoid conflict on one occasion, and avoid YOU after that.

It's evidence that Guess is the Nash equilibrium that human cultures find. Consider that the Nash equilibrium in the Prisoner's Dilemma (and in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma with known fixed length) is both defect. It's a common theme in game theory that the Nash equilibrium is not always the best place to be.

Ya know, after thousands of years [...] every culture on Earth settles on "Guess",

As far as my knowledge of cultures goes I'd guess that this is indeed the optimum for "settled" cultures where there are lots of rules and customes everybody knows from early on (precisely the conditions I gave in my earlier comment).

But that just means that it is applicable to 'normal' situations. Not under stress. Not for fast societal change. And maybe not for rationalists dealing with each other.

Ya know, after thousands of years of trying it out in all kinds of environments, it seems as though almost every culture on Earth settles on "Guess", with maybe a touch of "Ask" in the more overbearing ones.

That's a strong claim. Is it really true? I'll grant that it certainly seems like the overall culture would be at least leaning towards Guess almost everywhere. But I don't think that the original Metafilter post and various other posts that were inspired by it would have been so broadly linked and discussed if there weren't also strong enough strains of Ask culture that lots and lots of people intuitively recognized the existence of both. I seem to recall seeing people talking about how they grew up in an Ask or Guess family and how that led to conflicts when they ran into people raised differently, etc. That makes it sound like the two cultures are very much co-existing.


I don't have sociological statistics on that, and will have to retract "almost every culture" as a statement of fact.

My general impression is that the US and Western Europe are about as "Ask" as it gets, and in a lot of other cultures you're pretty unlikely to find any "Ask families" at all. I do know that "Offer" exists.

My impression is that Russia (and I would assume that much of Eastern Europe would be similar) is Askier than Western Europe. I may be wrong here, though, and my experiences could be a consequence of individual variation. One might note in this context is that some of this might be reflected in conventionalized linguistic politeness strategies. For example, Russian constructions used for polite requests are very Asky, and would be incredibly rude if translated literally into English or German. Of course, this is only very weak evidence that present-day Russia has more of an Ask culture than the West.
2Said Achmiz
Could you give some examples? (I speak Russian and English.)
I was specifically thinking of "будь(те) добр(а/ы)" + Imperative is a very "Asky" way of phrasing a request, which is pretty direct and intrusive in English. If you add "я тебя очень прошу", the translation becomes plainly absurd. And as far as I know - I might be miscalibrated, so correct me if I'm wrong - simple Imperative + "пожалуйста" is also more polite than the English translation would be. I must admit that can do something similar to the "будь добр" construction in my variety of German, but it's slightly less polite than the Russian counterpart, I think. In general, (my variety of) German loves indirection, like English, which Russian doesn't really have. Cf. also the simple "ты не закроешь окно?", whose translations are very rude. (I'm told that "ты не будешь закрыть окно?" works like "won't you close the window?", but my experience with Russian is to scarce to know that first-hand.)
1Said Achmiz
Hmm. I would render this into English as "would you be so kind as to ...", which doesn't seem rude. This has no analogue in English that I know of; you're right, a literal translation would sound rather absurd (something like "I'm asking you, please"... no, that's not quite right, but yes, I agree. "Please do X"... seems reasonably polite, for a direct request. I'm not sure I see the difference. Hm? Example please? Actually, this is more direct and less polite than what seems to be the direct English translation: "won't you close the window?" Admittedly, if instead you render this as "will you not close the window?", it becomes less polite. Perhaps the contraction makes it a "standard polite asking phrase", rendering it less direct? I'm not sure. This is ungrammatical. I'm not sure what you were going for with this one, but it's not a thing people say. I guess the question is, how do you normally ask people to do things in English? What are some examples of things you might ask people to do, or ask people for; and what are rude or polite ways of phrasing those things? We might compare them with their Russian versions, then.
But that is not remotely a literal translation, which is my point. Yeah, that was a performance error. It should, of course, have read "ты не будешь закрывать окно". Default strategies for making requests in English, which are very indirect: "Would you mind doing X?" and "Could you (please) do X?" I feel that "please" + imperative is extremely blunt to the point that I would never use it. I suppose "do X, will you?" is a possibility in English, but only in very informal contexts. For "won't you do X", see below. Wait, what? In my experience, "won't you close the window" is a politer version of "you're supposed to close the window, so do it already".
2Said Achmiz
["будь(те) добр(а/ы)" -> "would you be so kind as to ..."] Uh, what? I struggle to imagine how you would get a more literal rendering without breaking English syntactical rules. Hm, perhaps removing the "would you" — "Be so kind as to ..." — would make it absolutely literal. Is that really a large change in effect, though? That makes grammatical sense, but it's somewhat weird to phrase a request like this. Like, "hey, will you be doing X?" — that seems like a question. It could be a request... but only in Guess culture. I've almost never heard someone say this and just mean it as a request on its own; sometimes that sort of construction is followed by a request... Huh?? We seem to be running into some serious differences in experience here... In Russian, you could say (and people often do): "Не мог бы ты закрыть окно?" — which by direct translation becomes "Could you close the window?" — but the Russian phrase is quite polite-sounding, whereas the English phrase is less so. Of course, we've been using the informal "you" ("ты") in these phrases, but using the formal/polite "you" ("вы") makes any of these phrases even more polite: "Не могли бы вы закрыть окно?" Plus, in conversation, I've usually experienced such a phrase following a sort of "warning of request", like so: "У меня к вам такая просьба... " (interlocutor says "Да?" or "Я вас слушаю?") "Не могли бы вы закрыть окно?" Which, rendered in English, looks like this: "I have the following request for you [formal/polite]..." ("Yes?" or "I'm listening?") "Could you [formal/polite] close the window?" I don't know... that seems "Asky" to the extent that you are asking someone for something, rather than making them guess, but I don't see it as any more direct, per se, than the English equivalents.
How about "Be kind/nice, do X"? It's grammatical - of course, it's a weird thing to say, but the entire point was that the literal translations are weird and/or pushy. "would you be so kind as to" is indirect in virtue of being a question and not containing an imperative; of course, it's the correct translation, but it's really a very different construction. Good to know. I once read that it has something of "you were supposed to do it, so are you gonna do it or what?" about it, but as I said, I have no personal experience with it. Yes, I agree. I would guess that the counterpart of "could you hold that for a minute?" would perhaps be "подержи, пожалуйста, на минутку" - but "hold that for a minute, please" strikes me as really very rude in English. Well, for one thing, I feel it's weird to say "I have a request for you" in English. You'd normally say "could I ask you for something/a favor". In that, the Russian formulation is already more direct. Of course, as I said, all that is not exactly strong evidence in favor of Russia actually having more of an ask culture, only very mildly suggestive. You can behave in an Ask or Guess culture way in either language, it's just that the conventionalized politeness strategies of English make a lot of use of indirection (questions, and usually moralized, virtually never imperatives), whereas in Russian, when saying something that is equivalent in politeness to a certain English construction, you mention the request somewhat more directly (although, as you point out, there is the more indirect "могли бы вы" strategy). By the way, do you live in Russian or another Russian-speaking country? Because I've seen a study that showed that heritage speakers of Russian (i.e. speakers who live in a different linguistic community but learned the language from a parent) adopt more English-like politeness strategies. The reference is here.
1Said Achmiz
Ah, yes, I see your point. I think I agree with what you're saying sufficiently that anything further would be nitpicking. I do think it would be interesting to study this in more detail, although (not having any formal training in linguistics) I am unsure how linguists approach quantifying e.g. politeness, etc. I live in the United States, having been born in Russia and learned Russian in the usual way. (Interesting citation, though.)
Oh, I just saw that I linked the abstract when I wanted to link to the actual slides! Which also give you a picture of how this kind of thing is studied by people who do that. Here they are.
0Said Achmiz
Hmm, I seem to be having trouble opening the .ppt file... are you able to view it? I get an error from PowerPoint.
Opened fine for me in LibreOffice (4.1.3) just now.

If I'm understanding your comment correctly, I strongly disagree with this way of framing such suggestions. It seems anathema to the rationalist enterprise. Many rationalist simplifications of or modifications to (social) interaction, or other not-strictly-rationalist approaches that are regardless endorsed by us, are hit by your argument. E.g. requesting tabooing words, requesting predictions of differing anticipated experiences, Crocker's rules, confessing noticing confusion, etc. etc. on through the Sequences et al.

A core of the rationalist ideal is to take approaches that promote the discovery, recognition, and sharing of truth except where there are situational reasons to hold off on doing so in those specific cases. For example, I agree with warnings that have been raised in the comments on this post about trying Telling without a cooperating or rationalist receiver. But that's in the same way that asking a Muggle to taboo their words can be a not-so-great idea.

I suspect that high-profile Bay Area (and possibly New York?) rationalists would bear this out. As a specific example, as far as I can tell, Alicorn seems to be the rationalist master of Telling and generally avoiding ... (read more)


So, as long as we're Telling, I'm going to talk about my own internal state. I think at least some aspects of my reactions may be shared by other people, including people whom readers of this thread may be interested in influencing or interacting with. Anybody who's not interested in this should definitely stop reading. I promise I won't be offended. :-)

Although I still think I had a point, if I look back at why I really wrote my response, I think that point was mostly "cover" for a less acceptable motivation. I think I really wrote it mostly out of irritation with the way the word "rationalist" was used in the original posting. And I find myself feeling the same way in response to some of your reply.

My first reaction is to see it as an ugly form of appropriation to take the word "rationalist" to mean "person identified with the Less Wrong community or associated communities, especially if said member uses jargon A, B, and C, and subscribes to only-tangentially-rational norms X, Y, and Z". Especially when it's coupled with signals of group superiority like "don't try this with Muggles" (used to be "mundanes"). It provokes ... (read more)

Thanks for elaborating on your motivations and experience. I would be somewhat surprised if there is really appropriation of 'rationalist' taking place; I think moreso the motivation is simply convenience, and I don't think I've ever been confused as to whether someone was referring to x-rationalists or some other group with the word. I at least would not use the term 'rationalist' in this way to a broader audience for the reason you mentioned, but your comment makes me think that avoiding ambiguity and not appropriating is not enough and perhaps even using it among ourselves is to be avoided, e.g. for the benefit of those 'looking in from the outside' who might be preemptively alienated. I do think that 'Muggle' makes a useful distinction (something like a distinction for those receptive to LW-school ideas and techniques?) in quickly conveying the referrent's mindset. I do remember that the first time I saw Eliezer use the term in that way, I was not entirely convinced it was a 'savoury' word to use, and your reaction is enough evidence for me to put a moratorium on it in my own usage at least until I have a chance to think about it more, because it does indeed seem like it might foster a counterproductive resentful or oppositional mindset. I anticipated and agree that Crocker's rules are by far the most risky of the things I mentioned. I agree that there are possibly-significant (I'd have to think about it more) differences between Telling and some of the Sequences examples I gave. Perhaps more accurate would've been for me to say that your original argument could have been applied to the LW-rationality approach generally, or to the bias-correcting approach based on the heuristics and biases literature. I certainly have a friend who dislikes Eliezer's take on heuristics and biases and seems to have sort of become a bias denialist, although that's obfuscated by the possibility they just got thrown by Eliezer hitting them where it hurts (the English Literature).

This may be getting into private-message territory. I haven't paid enough attention to the norms to be sure. But it's easy to not read these...

your comment makes me think that avoiding ambiguity and not appropriating is not enough and perhaps even using it among ourselves is to be avoided, e.g. for the benefit of those 'looking in from the outside' who might be preemptively alienated.

I am, perhaps, "looking in from the outside". I have a lot of history and context with the ideas here, and with the canonical texts, and even with a few of the people, but I'm an extreme "non-joiner". In fact, I tend toward suspicion and distaste for the whole idea of investing my identity in a community, especially one with a label and a relatively clear boundary. I have only a partial model of where that attitude comes from, but I do know that I seem to retain an "outsider" reaction for a lot longer than other people might.

I may be hypersensitive. But I think it's more likely that I'm a not-horrible model of how a completely naive outsider might react to some of these things, even though I can express it in a Less-Wrongish vocabulary.

And of course these posts are ind... (read more)

I am really very pleasantly surprised with how this comment tree turned out and these are useful warnings. The level of internal insight was higher than I would have expected even if our first two comments hadn't been vaguely confrontational. Thank you!


I'm coming to this party rather late, but I'd like to acknowledge that I appreciated this exchange more than just by upvoting it. Seeing in depth explanations of other people's emotions seems like the only way to counter Typical Mind Fallacy, but is also really hard to come by. So thanks for a very levelheaded discussion.

I recognise your concern acutely - I've had the same "one of those people who has poor social skills and yet wants me to behave more like them" - and I think stressing the "whenever you suspect you'd both benefit from them knowing" part of rule one much more seems like it would help a lot in that direction.
I am terribly flattered and completely unable to connect your screen name to a human to determine what evidence you are using!
I'm not someone you know of; that's just based off what I've gleaned from yours and others' comments.
I think there are plenty of subcultures that use methods like that to operate under different norms. Getting a local Lesswrong group to switch to a different norm seems pretty doable.

This is a horrible thing to do to a Guesser. When you Ask out of turn, you're forcing them to either comply or be rude, and they resent you. When you Tell, you're imposing intimacy on them - making yourself vulnerable and demanding they do the same, and underlining exactly how a refusal would hurt you. That causes terrible guilt.

This is a horrible thing to do to a Guesser. (I agree denotatively, but...)

It took me almost six months from meeting a particular Guess person to realise this: the times I offended them clustered according to whether I was a soldier in their war, not by my actual actions.[0]

Lots of things, maybe most things you can do in a conversation are horrible things to do to a Guesser. I'm well above average for social skills plus a few points above LW average IQ and even I find it hard to navigate conversations with a Guesser (I swear I have better social skills than that previous arrogant statement implies). The way I have found to not constantly insult and offend them is to take a lot of time to learn their particular 'dialect' of Guess.

I didn't grow up in a Guess culture, so at my first exposure to it I was already a mind that could think for itself - and my thought was "Guess culture is manipulative." It stacks up complicated laws, some of which are enforced ridiculously strictly[1] and others that are loosely enforced, if at all[2], so a skilled Guesser has both a minefield of rules, and an arsenal of selectively enforced rules, to use in conversation.

This is scary. If I... (read more)

0: I could use ableist slurs (insane; crazy) freely to deride people, institutions, papers etc that argued for no gendered pay gap, for biological difference between race, etc. But it was a serious transgression to use the same slurs to describe people, institutions, or papers that argued for parapsychology, telepathy, etc.

"You're free to insult the things that I don't have much respect for, but not the things that I do respect" sounds like the standard policy of most humans, Guesser or not.

The offence centered on the ableism of the slurs in particular; "You're free to use an insult I can't stand on things I don't respect, but I won't stand for use of it on things I do respect" doesn't sound like a standard policy; otherwise you'd feel comfortable using profanity in front of your parents, but only when talking about a group they don't respect.
What's your policy for interacting with Patrick? Do you get along? I have some of the same problems you describe about walking on eggshells around Guessers.

There's not really a better way to interact with Guessers, though. You either Guess yourself and spend a lot of effort in low-bandwidth discussion with lots of misunderstanding and weirdness, or you be mean to them in order to communicate and get your needs met.

I grew up in a strong Guess culture, and really one of the best things you can do for your mental health is to get out of that kind of place. It's a way to passive-aggressively get concessions from those around you while making yourself miserable. Guessing is a terrible, terrible way to "win".

The one I love and hope to spend my life with is a Guesser. This is how I learnt the previous comment. So I have quite a stake in learning Guess dialects. It helps not to mind weirdness, and to develop systems to catch misunderstandings. I'd be grateful for any advice.

My usual approach for dealing with culture-clashes in ongoing relationships is to work on the issues primarily in low-stakes contexts at first.

Beyond that, it helps to get some explicit agreement, first, that this culture-clash exists and what properties it has, and second, about what you collectively want to do about it.

If they are willing to meet you halfway, for example, they can practice explicitly verbalizing requests and expectations, and commit explicitly to not treating your silence as a refusal of a request even if it seems like one to them, and commit explicitly to not treating your explicit requests as demands even if they feel that way. You can make that easier by asking them whether they have a preference and if so what it is, framing questions open-endedly (e.g. "what would you like to do for dinner?" rather than "wanna do chinese?"), and vocalizing any uncertainty you may have ("wait... this feels weird. did I just miss an implicitly expressed preference?")

If you are willing to meet them halfway, for example, you can study their pattern of cues and learn to recognize their implicit requests and responses. They can make that easier by ... (read more)

This. Asking people to abandon their culture and adopt yours is likely to provoke hostility just on pattern matching. Meeting halfway is much more likely to succeed; even if you completely fail at guessing, it'll show that you actually need an ask paradigm and aren't being unfair in demanding it.

I have unusually low social anxiety, so I don't experience Askers this way, but it is my impression that most Guessers would experience it in roughly that way, and yeah — that's kind of a mean thing to do to someone.

5Said Achmiz
Yeah, this is pretty terrible. I (being on the autism spectrum) am definitely in favor of Ask culture over Guess culture — and I still find the quoted practice... somewhat repellent.
I'm on the autism spectrum (PDD-NOS), and Tell culture sounds like a good idea to me. [pollid:807]
If you hit the "show help" button to the bottom right, there's a link to polls help.
Thanks, edited.
Karma sink.
If you're on the autism spectrum and think Tell culture is a bad idea, upvote this comment.
If you're on the autism spectrum and think Tell culture is a good idea, upvote this comment.

I use the tell culture with close friends, the ask culture with acquaintances and guess culture with everyone else, including family. Not on purpose - perhaps this isn't the best way of interacting with people.

I tried the tell culture when trying to get out of aversive conversations with my parents to disastrous effect. I do think that it is unfair, and a common failure mode, to use the guess culture and then get angry if the other person doesn't read you correctly.

Definitely. But there is another unfair failure mode, perhaps not quite as common: to endorse to the use of the guess culture and then fail to deliver by failing to guess anything right. This has been driving me nuts in my interactions with some people. And yes, I'm pretty sure for a number of reasons that they aren't merely pretending to be oblivious, but actually fail to notice the hints. It is also a mistake that I have made myself.
Can you give me a concrete example of how your use of tell culture had disastrous effects? I'm having trouble imagining it.
I think it is unfair to get angry at another person (or equivalently, to label him/her "rude") for asking or saying anything when he/she doesn't have good reason to know that the speech is unwelcome. However, I don't like the notion of these protocols as "cultures" because I don't think anybody follows, or should follow, any one of them consistently all or nearly all the time. Instead, I believe reality is and should be, that the meaning of a statement which can be parsed as a request depends on how reasonable it would be if the asker (1) expects compliance (perhaps to the point of getting upset if it doesn't happen), (2) intends it merely as a request ("asker culture"), and/or (3) would only dare ask if he is fairly sure the hearer will not take offense. Obviously, as a request goes up the spectrum from something trivial ("Excuse me" as I push through a crowd to get out of a bus) to something the hearer is likely to find quite burdensome, both speakers and hearers tend to move up from interpretation (1) to (2) to (3). Familiarity with the other person also modifies this calculation, but that change can go in either direction depending on what you know about that person and about how he views you. But where I part ways from the article writer is where he talks about "ask culture" as being superior to "guess culture". About the only place I see anything resembling "guess culture" is where a request (or a statement being parsed as a request, maybe erroneously) is about a subject the hearer has issues about{1}, for instance, when trying to get laid. And as I see it, the mere fact that a typical woman hearing such a request interprets it as a demand (and/or "an example of the guess culture") does not mean that the asker should be blamed for anything of the kind. {1} I have phrased this to step on as few toes as possible, and thus am avoiding conclusions about what such "issues" may imply about anyone's rationality. And for the same reason I should probably stop here

The problem here is that, as far as I can tell, a "Tell" culture would immediately become a "Lie Ineptly" culture.

Most of the time, in my experience anyway, when you don't want to help someone it's usually for a reason you couldn't say without nuking or at least damaging the relationship. Even worse, the level of detail / emotion in the "Tell" is much higher than the straightforward "Ask" which makes the usual evasions seem hollow and requires more elaborate excuses. And most people suck at spontaneous deception, since usually the only ones of us who get any practice tend to get weeded out of normal society pretty quickly as is.

"Telling" sounds great if your goal is to quickly burn up your social capital for favors, which can be a smart move if you're not planning on seeing someone again anyway. But you can't really build a useful relationship that way; blunt honesty and bad lies aren't going to get you trust / comfort and without that you're fighting uphill for every little thing.

I'm not sure. If someone Tells you some things that end with a request, that doesn't mean you need to be as detailed with your response. Like with the example given in the OP, "It would be awfully convenient networking for me to stick around for a bit after our meeting to talk with you and [the next person you're meeting with]. But on a scale of one to ten, it's only about 3 useful to me. If you'd rate the loss of utility for you as two or higher, then I have a strong preference for not sticking around." Perfectly valid response: "Yeah, it's over 2. Thanks for preferring not to inconvenience me!"
Upvoted for making me experience hindsight bias. I feel surprised that nobody seems to have brought up this kind of problem until now.

Front page worthy.

^_^ I'll move it to Main then.

Relevant video:

Steven Pinker argues that things like guess culture exist so that while she knows I was "asking" to crash at her place, she doesn't know that I know that she knows that I was asking to crash at her place.

Yes, that's a good video! You can find more detail in Pinker's article. Abstract:

When people speak, they often insinuate their intent indirectly rather than stating it as a bald proposition. Examples include sexual come-ons, veiled threats, polite requests, and concealed bribes. We propose a three-part theory of indirect speech, based on the idea that human communication involves a mixture of cooperation and conflict. First, indirect requests allow for plausible deniability, in which a cooperative listener can accept the request, but an uncooperative one cannot react adversarially to it. This intuition is supported by a game-theoretic model that predicts the costs and benefits to a speaker of direct and indirect requests. Second, language has two functions: to convey information and to negotiate the type of relationship holding between speaker and hearer (in particular, dominance, communality, or reciprocity). The emotional costs of a mismatch in the assumed relationship type can create a need for plausible deniability and, thereby, select for indirectness even when there are no tangible costs. Third, people perceive language as a digital medium, which allows a sentence to genera

... (read more)

Who asks and who guesses has a lot to do with social roles.

If I'm out dancing Salsa it's usually men doing a lot more asking and on the other hand woman often being more indirect about wanting to dance. That doesn't mean that woman never ask a man to dance but usually it's the role of the man to ask.

It took me quite a while to get to the point where rejection in those situations doesn't trigger much in me anymore most of the time and there are still situations where it does. Some cases where I don't feel any pain then when I meet the girl another day and we dance I'm more held back and the intimacy between us is less even if the girl would want a bit more.

It quite easy to say: "You are completely free to say ‘no’". On the other hand it's hard to not feel rejected. When someone I consider unconfident says: "You are completely free to say ‘no’", I might translate that into that they might hurt emotionally from getting a "no" but won't actively hold it against me. Even if the don't want to hold it against me, they might still put up emotional shields that prevent further rejection from hurting.

I think the framework of Nonviolent-Communication works quite well. You are open with what you are feeling and don't judge. If the emotions are out in the open it's a lot easier to deal with them.

People's feelings do sometimes get hurt when you say "no". And people's feelings get hurt when you're honest with them sometimes. My thesis is that it's easier, as a community, to recover from hurt feelings than from ignorance and deceptions.

My thesis is that it's easier, as a community, to recover from hurt feelings than from ignorance and deceptions.

If you pretend that someone's "No" won't hurt you is often deception.

Take a sentence from your examples: "I just realized this interaction will be far more productive if my brain has food. I think we should head toward the kitchen."

This is not open communication. It hides the main motivation of the feeling of hunger and instead tries to find a intellectual justification for a proposal. The nonviolent communication (NVC) way would be to say: "I'm hungry, how about we head towards the kitchen?"

That sentence has the emotion motivating it in it. It also contains no should.

There no need to invented a new "tell culture" framework when frameworks like nonviolent communication are out there.

A lot of the "This kind of trust does not develop overnight." comes from the fact that you are not open. If I'm completely open with emotions and don't put a intellectual front and intellectual justifications before them I can sometimes go quite deep in 10 minutes.

If I have a deep conversation with you that might leave you hurt I care about what you feel more than I care whether you tell me "You are completely free to say ‘no’, or to tell me what you’re thinking right now, and I promise it will be fine."

I agree with both of you. I would phrase this as something like: "My hunger is making it hard for me to focus; I'd prefer to go to the kitchen for some food before we continue." The part about it making it hard for you to focus is important, because otherwise maybe the other person thinks it's more optimal for you to eat later. I also eschew using should-based language.

I agree with both of you. I would phrase this as something like: "My hunger is making it hard for me to focus; I'd prefer to go to the kitchen for some food before we continue."

In that sentence you disassociate your hunger. You aren't focusing on feeling your hunger but you are treating it as an external object.

That makes it harder for the person you are talking with you to empathize with you and go with you to the kitchen because that would make you feel better.

If you are my friend and I'm talking with you I want to make you feel better. That's often enough to agree with a proposal like going to the kitchen.

You are still turning what could be an exchange about your desire and the other person having a option to make you feel better into a straight cold utility calculation.

If I'm on a Lesswrong meetup and someone appear to communicate as if he's a Straw Vulcan, I don't mind. In most cases you however don't want to signal being a Straw Vulcan. Your sentence doesn't send that signal as strong as the original one, but to me it still goes in that direction.

Being open about your emotional needs and expecting that your friend cares about them enough to want to make you es... (read more)


It seems to me that Tell culture is unstable: if there is no social cost for stating strong preferences, people will be incentivized to overstate their preferences, and it will de facto reduce to Ask culture. If stating strong preferences is costly, people will be incentivized to undrestate their preferences, and you'll end up with Guess culture.

Worse, everyone's going to have a different set point for stated preference strength even if they don't intentionally overstate or understate their preferences. We can get away with using verbiage like "rate X on a 1 to 5 scale" for collecting statistics, because set point variations will average out over a large enough data set -- but that doesn't fly for interpersonal interactions.
For example, xkcd
This is false. This reduction only occurs if you also assume that the agents are also compelled to do some degree of sloppy utilitarian aggregation. Stating strong preferences doesn't compel people to give you more stuff. It tells people that to whatever extent they wish to give you stuff, which kind of stuff you would prefer to have. Consider Bob: * Bob values being given a chocolate cake 9. * Bob values a foot massage 2. * Bob values being given a beer 1. Bob could lie and say: * I value being given a chocolate cake OVER 9000!. * I value a foot massage OVER 9000!. * I value being given a beer OVER 9000!. Consider Alice: * Alice giving a chocolate cake costs 4. * Alice giving a foot massage to Bob costs 3. * Alice giving a beer costs 2. * Alice wishes to spend 5 on Bob (either in trade or out of altruism) and to do so in the most effective way. Since Bob has overstated Alice concludes that giving a foot massage and a beer will give Bob OVER 18,000! value while giving Bob a chocolate cake will give Bob a mere OVER 9,000! value. If Bob had stated his preferences accurately then Alice would have given him the cake and he would have got his 9 value. He lied, so he got a mere 3 value. That was silly of him. It isn't Tell Culture that makes Bob's communication devolve to Ask culture. Bob being bad at decision theory makes him devolve to Ask Culture. Alice should go hang out with Jack, who is less of an ineffectively-demanding-jackass.
But people do make a sort-of utilitarian calculation about what to give to whom. If your friend Xerxes says he values chocolate cake at OVER 9000!!! and your friend Ygnacio says he values it at 1, you care about both of them roughly equally, and you assume that they're stating their preferences honestly, you should give the cake to Xerxes. But then there's an incentive to exaggerate one's preferences.
No, they really don't. Most significantly because most people don't behave as consequentialists of any kind. Also, and this time fortunately, our egalitarian instincts are sufficient to suppress that kind of folly. No, you shouldn't. Even if we ignore the type error of comparing Xerxes_value and Ygnacio_value and your decision 'should' take into account other information including things like who you gave the strawberry tarts to ten minutes ago and assorted other social transactions. I have not met a single human who gives all his favours to the same person because they are the most enthusiastic (and would consider the resultant behaviour to be repugnant and a behavioural red flag). Yes, as the grandparent observed, when the people being spoken to are both gullible and utilitarian and the speakers are neither ethical nor utilitarian 'Tell' does devolve into 'Ask'. However if the listener is either not-gullible or not a crude total utilitarian then exaggerating your preferences amounts to crippling your own ability to receive value via either trade or gifts towards the limit of being only able to communicate booleans. (ie. It's purely destructive self-sabotage.)
Most people don't consistently behave as consequentialists, but they do make consequentialist decisions some of the time, particularly in cases like this one. Consider a less extreme example. Suppose your friend Xerxes is obsessed with Beethoven - he listens to every known composition and tries to learn it, and derives great enjoyment from doing so. Your friend Ygnacio also likes classical music in general but has no specific fondness for Beethoven. While digging in your belongings, you discover a sheet of antique sheet music personally written by Beethoven. Coincidentally, Xerxes's and Ygnacio's birthdays are coming up, and this would make a good gift for either of them - but as there's only one sheet of music, only one of them can receive it. Certainly, Ygnacio would appreciate it, but Xerxes would like it much more. In such a situation, most people would give the sheet music to Xerxes, because he would enjoy it more. As for the utility monster, that's a nonsequitur in this context, because we're not talking about true (agent-neutral) utilitarianism, only about utility maximization, which is not the same thing. We're not comparing XerxesValue and YgnacioValue, we're comparing HowMuchYouCareAboutXerxes x XerxesValue and HowMuchYouCareAboutYgnacio x YgnacioValue, which does not produce a type error. If you gave the strawberry tarts to someone ten minutes ago, it is reasonable to assume that because of diminishing marginal utility, they won't value sweets as highly as they did before. But if you have reason to believe that they don't experience diminishing marginal utility, or that their diminished derived utility would still be greater than the utility derived by an alternative person, then you should give it to the person who would derive greater utility (assuming you value them equally). It's true that people don't always give all favors to the most enthusiastic person, but that is justified because it's reasonable to assume that enthusiasm isn't always a reliab
How do you think caring about having more allies than one affects this situation?
If that's a term in your utility function, then you should consider it. Here, I'm assuming there aren't any other effects.
This assumes that the amount of resource that Alice wants to spend on Bob is fixed. This is generally not the case. As blacktrance noted, usually there is competition. Even when there is no competition, Alice may be induced to spend more on Bob if he hides or misrepresents his true preferences: If Bob overstated, Alice might think she is making him a great favour, and hence she is building lots of social capital, when in fact she isn't. There are also scenarios where it is useful to understate one's preferences: in a typical bargaining, for instance, the buyer often has an incentive to understate their preference for the good being traded (or overstate their preference for money), while the seller has an incentive to do the opposite. In general, agents often have an incentive to reveal their preferences as little as possible, in order to exploit the information asymmetry.
I think that's only the case in competitive games, not cooperative ones. (ISTM the optimal amount of information to reveal would be zero in the zero-sum-game limit and everything you know (neglecting the cost of communication itself etc.) in the identical-payoff-matrices limit.)
A problem I continue to run into in real life is, "how do you keep people from wire-heading their preferences whenever they find themselves in a positive-sum game, so that they can play a zero-sum version instead?"
What does "wire-head a preference" mean?
Rewrite your utility function. Examples: Original preference - "I just want a car to get to work." Environmental change: "Here, everyone gets a car for free." Adjusted preference - "Okay, then what I REALLY want is a faster car than anyone else has." ... Original preference - "I just want to be able to eat." Environmental change: "Here, there's enough food to go around forever." Adjusted preference - "Okay, then what I REALLY want is for me to eat while those guys have to watch, starving." ... Original preference - "I just want to feel safe." Environmental change: "Here, you're in a space where everyone is your ally and no one can hurt you." Adjusted preference - "Okay, then what I REALLY want is for us to all gang up on the people who made us feel unsafe, and make THEM feel persecuted for a change."
You mean "What I REALLY want is to eat better than everybody else", surely. Gourmet food or organic or hand-prepared etc. etc. Unless this is intended to imply the current famines etc. are the product of a conspiracy and not civilizational inadequacy, in which case yes, that would of course be evidence that my model of human nature is wrong an yours is the correct one, if it's true.
The way you formulate this opposes the idea that the "adjusted" preference was actually the preference all along, and the originally stated preference was simply an incorrect description of the system's actual preferences. Is that deliberate, or just an incidental artifact of your phrasing?
It's an artifact of my phrasing. In my experience, people do truly want good things, until those things become universally available - at which point they switch goals to something zero-sum. When they do so, they often phrase it themselves as if they really wanted the zero-sum thing all along, but that's often a part of trying to distance themselves from their lower-status past. Of course, I'm describing something that I only have personal and anecdotal evidence for; I'd REALLY like to be pointed towards either a legitimate, peer-reviewed description of a cognitive bias that would explain what I'm observing. (And I'd be at least equally happy if it turned out to be my cognitive bias that's causing me to perceive people in this way.)
What would you expect to experience differently if, instead, people truly want zero-sum things, but they claim to want good things until the universal availability of good things makes that claim untenable?
I'll need some time to think on this. This might just be my tendency to find the most charitable interpretation, even if other interpretations might be more parsimonious.
What do you mean by "trully want"? See the phenomenon Eliezer describes here.
I intend the phrase to refer to whatever ialdabaoth meant by it when I quoted them.
So it was deliberate, and not an artifact of your phrasing. Did you perhaps misread the grandparent?
Interestingly, ISTM that is itself a Prisoner's Dilemma: the agent that doesn't reveal it's (true) preferences has a much, much better chance of manipulating an agent that does.
If you know that the game is zero-sum then you usually already know all the other player preferences.
Can you clarify how overstating preferences reduces to Ask culture?
Because you tend to always ask overstating your preferences, and the other party understands that you are probably overstating, hence preference claims lose informative value, and at some point they can just be dropped.
You seem to be claiming that in an Ask culture, if I say "I want X" I expect others to understand that I don't actually want X, but rather want some other thing Y for which X is an overstatement, where Y doesn't get stated explicitly. Have I understood you correctly?
No. In Tell culture you say something equivalent to "I want X with strength 9 out of 10". The problem is that if everybody always says "9 out of 10" the stated preference becomes meaningless and the message becomes "I want X".
Ah! I now understand what you're saying. Sure, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying.
Tell culture with a preference weight cost certainly does devolve. It doesn't devolve into guess culture (as described in the post), but into something different and arguably (but not strictly) worse. Guess culture works passably well when the asker/guesser is able to reliably model the response of the listener. This 'stating preferences is costly' system doesn't handle that situation correctly.
Well, then... have a moderate social cost for stating strong preferences? I mean, it seems like you're saying that it's hard to get that balanced close enough that people can approximate optimal strategy as 'just tell the truth'. And you haven't at all argued that the change in this cost over time would be away from balance rather than towards, which is what unstable means.
there doesn't seem to be any obvious negative feedback to keep the balance stable.
First off, you said it was unstable, which means there would have to be positive feedback to make it UN-stable. Secondly, it seems to me that there is a source of negative feedback in that if people want to be able to express stronger preferences themselves, they might tolerate stronger preferences expressed from others. Edited to Add Clarification: We are attempting to calibrate the social cost of expressing strong preferences. The strength of preferences expressed will vary in normal encounters due to actual variance of preferences, variance in peoples' habits of how to express those preferences, and variance in details of delivery. If you would like to be freer to express your preferences more strongly, you can dial back the social costs you personally impose on others for expressing strong preferences. If they shift up their expressed preferences in response, then either you may as well or they are being hypocritical. Conversely, if you think others are expressing preferences rather too strongly, first back off the strength of your own expressed preferences towards the desired level and then begin imposing more social costs on strong expressions of preferences. Either do this gradually so people hardly notice, or out in the open, negotiated. Both options seem fairly intuitive and natural to me, though of course either one will itself impose social costs. Social skills help a lot in mitigating these costs.
You don't need a positive feedback to have instability. Which means that there is an incentive to overstate preferences.
Yes you do. Like, rigid pendulum at the top of its swing, F = +kx. That's positive feedback. I suppose you can get around this requirement with discrete timesteps or other hackery, but classically speaking positive feedback <-> instability. ... differentially so, from a starting point of understated preferences, so that's a correcting change.
an unbiased random walk sufficies.
Okay, so that's the definition of 'unstable' you were using. You've now taken care of the nitpick and left the main thrust of the argument unaddressed. (edited for spelling)
Can you rephrase the the main thrust of the argument?
All right. To keep it from ending up at the leaf of this back-and-forth, I'll edit-to-add it earlier on.

I typically act in accord with Guess culture because that's what the vast majority of Americans do, and what they expect from others, and I don't want to randomly shock people and stress them out, because that's just not very nice.

I might have adopted a different strategy if my brain's software had ended up being relatively poor at reading body language / tone of voice / etc., though.

I use Tell a lot and also think it superior if applied mutually but I also find that it has the following disadvantages:

  • It has the highest cost on the Teller - you just have to tell more than in the other cases.

  • The teller has the risk of telling things that can be used against him (think not of blackmail but rather small passed opportunities due to gossip etc.).

  • Tell and Ask can also run into trouble: Tell: Ask: "Come to the point. What do you want? So I can say yes or no."

I think we have to identify in which environment each of those methods work best and use the appropriate strategy. That would be rational. Some thoughts:

  • Tell is expensive (on both parties, but more on the teller) but allows quick establishment of rapport. It is suitable if initial trust has been established or can be assumed (e.g. in a date or in a rationalists meetup).

  • Ask is cheap and efficient but puts a burden on longer relationships (any kind). Use it in highly dynamic situations or if you are under time or ressource constraints aka stress. Do not use it for longer time spans.

  • Guess is extremely cheap on the receiver end but expensive on the teller. It is inefficient in situations where Ask wins but it is efficient where rules and norms are many and well-known as it minimizes conflict and overall cost. Use it for long term cooperation.

Of course it is probably hard to master all of these together.

EDIT: typos

(It's cheap, not cheep) Tell and Ask seem to be more compatible than Ask and Guess. I have no intuition for how compatible Tell and Guess are. I think Ask is cheaper for the teller than Guess is (in Guess, you have to formulate a plausible sentence that contains a subtle request, unless you want to force the receiver). I really like the idea of Tell on a date; I think it's already somewhat present in the rationalist meetup I attend.
My wife and I run into your third point pretty frequently. I Tell too many details (but how am I supposed to know which ones are already assumed?) and she Asks me to get to the point. I agree that Ask tends to be cheap and time-efficient. Except when it leads to mistakes, often because something false was assumed about what the other person's needs or situation were.

Crucial Conversations promotes what you're calling Tell Culture, and is a useful primer for learning more techniques of how to do this, and various pitfalls that you can run into if you don't use this.

Differently, so does Feeling Good Together. Or at least it promotes an interesting special case of it, and one that the author claims works well with a diversity of people from varied cultures.

I'm, 'gratified' I guess, to see other comments here about autism. As I read through the post, I immediately began having the impression that "rationalist community" was being used like a euphemism for "community with high rate of autism". I know it isn't, literally, but there are aspects of rationalism and this type of explicit communication that I have always thought of as 'gifts' that people on the autism spectrum bring to humanity.

I'm mostly solitary, but even I've used these patterns before. It seems to correspond roughly to who has the power in a given conversation.


Walter: I want to buy a pizza. It should have bread and cheese and pepperoni on it. Bring it to Address, and I'll give the delivery minion its cost, plus a tip if it is within time X.

Pizza Human: Alright.


Walter: Am I in your way, would you like to use this exercise machine?

Gym Human: No, I'm waiting for a friend.


Walter: Despite it being only 3 o'clock, many people have gone home for the day on this, the day we set aside to celebrate Martin Luthor King.

Boss Human: You may leave early.

Tell Pizza Humans' piece of paper: We offer boring pizzas (with just cheese and pepperoni) for $9. We offer other pizza with decent toppings X, Y and Z for $14. We have a family deal that comes with two pizzas and a free coke and garlic bread and home delivery for $20. If you don't get your pizzas within 45 minutes your order is free. Walter: I'll order the family deal with pizzas 3 and 7. Address is .... The interaction can be described either way just as comfortably. Of all the common forms of interaction this kind of exchange has among the least (relevant) power inequality. A market that is more or less efficient. In fact, a slight variation on your model may emphasise the importance not just of who has the power but to what degree there isa difference at all.
Your "ask" example is actually "guess" or "offer," in which you guess that Gym Human wants something so you make then an offer. "Ask" would be more like "Can I use that exercise machine you are using?" "Yes, I will go use that other type of exercise machine now and make this one available to you."
Kalium is right that your Ask example isn't really an example of Ask culture. But I'm also not seeing the supposed correlation with power - Walter seem to be lower status in both the Ask and the Guess example. Is the idea that Ask would be the paradigm used among equals?

I just came across an example of Guess Culture being troublesome.

I'm visiting my grandparents in a few weeks (my dad lives near them). My aunt is visiting too. We're both flying in from different cities. My aunt sent out an email to me, my dad and my grandparents with her flight info. I then went to do the same.

I saw that my aunt's email came from her work email address. I had an old personal email on file for her, but it had been a while since I used it, and I wasn't sure if she still uses it, so I used her work email.

She then responde... (read more)

For the record, I mostly regret posting this.

Interesting, why?

This seems a close relative to a culture clash I've experienced, which I'll call Pull vs. Push. It is well exemplified by how the culture handles passing food at the table. Note that the obvious ease of the task pretty much eliminates the guess/ask/tell distinction: "I'm out of rice", "Could you please pass the rice", and "I am out of rice and would like more" are all functionally identical.

I grew up in a Pull household, where, when you're out of something on your plate and want more of it, you ask for it. But my girlfriend's ... (read more)

I'm curious: how would you anticipate someone from your girlfriend's household/culture reacting to your language-choices in this comment?
If you're asking about what would happen if they saw that I wrote this post or overheard me saying this or something, I don't think anything would upset anyone except maybe 'needy' and the final parenthesis. That said, if I were going to talk to them, I'd leave out any judgment of either way being better, even conditionally. The tone would also just be less LWy, and it'd be a lot shorter, because I'm . If, say, anyone ever complained to me about my not passing things (which I suspect they never would, even if they were upset), here's an example of what I might say: "Sorry! I'm not used to noticing things like this because in my house growing up, you always asked out loud."
(nods) I had more the latter scenario in mind, but both interest me. Thanks for clarifying.
I'd add that I would not expect such an explanation to get me off scot-free, but rather to secure me some patience while I make an effort to adapt. Your comment above about meeting halfway is right on.

A lot of the comments are ignoring the fact that this game has multiple equilibria. Saying "humans evolved into X, so therefore there must be a logic to X" makes as much sense as saying "Americans drive on the right side of the road, so therefore there must be a logic to using the right side of the road."

Also, when traveling outside the monastery, our first priority should be to figure out how the other people drive.

If there are multiple equilibria, you should expect to see all of them in different cultures. The apparent tendency for general Guessiness is then left unexplained.
I think I'd expect to find Guess cultures in places and contexts which: * are homogeneous (so that inferential distance doesn't hamper guessing) * are rigid (implying stable roles and clear boundaries and expectations) * are hierarchical (anticipating needs places cognitive load on the guesser and offloads it from the guessee) * value apparent harmony (explicit refusal implies a conflict of needs) * value apparent confidence (asking implies uncertainty) That should suggest reasons why we find Guessiness in a lot of contexts that're notable for it. Dating, for example, isn't especially homogeneous and doesn't always break down along hierarchical lines, but harmony and confidence are very important within it. Conversely, I think I'd expect to find Ask cultures in contexts which: * are fluid or diverse * value apparent egalitarianism * value apparent ambition (explicit requests signal initiative) * involve very high downside risk (so you can't get away with the occasional cache miss) Haven't thought much about Tell cultures yet.
Tell cultures happen when something (say, autism or a cultural disconnect) jams the implicit communication channel. Everyone involved has to agree to ignore appearance and implication, which is only a stable equilibrium as long as appearance and implication are mostly garbage data.
I'm not sure that's true. From the original LW post on ask vs. guess: I've also heard that Russia is more ask-based, and the U.S. is somewhere in the middle with stereotypical differences between urban and rural environments.

This seems like a really good idea, except that defecting is easy and appealing, Guess people will (as you pointed out) lose their shit, and worst of all, people just seem to get weirded out by the making explicit of things like actually understanding other people, or honestly talking about the full set of preferences - especially socially awkward ones. That said, I'd like to be able to do this with people.

I think there are a few people who act inconsistently: They want to be asked so they can say "no". But they also want to be guessed so they don't need to say "yes" because of the guilt it brings.

Have you encountered such and how does one deal with them?

I have tried Tell but it prompts the reply: "Ask or don't ask but don't babble."

Here's a new strategy.

Use guess culture as a default. Use guess tricks to figure out whether other communicator speaks Ask. Use Ask tricks to figure out whether communicator speaks Tell.

Autism turns this into Hard Mode, Boss Level.

Guess culture has, I think, been the standard way for humans to hume for many thousands of years. My inclination is to imagine that, therefore, it's probably optimal, at least for typical people.

Am I missing something? Is there some factor that is pushing rules of social etiquette in a bad direction throughout human history?

In my experience, Guess culture (which I think is more fair to describe as "Hint culture") works really well when most people around me were raised in the same culture. We all know each other's expectations because we grew up together, and we all know how to communicate messages to one another implicitly, in ways that allow for a request to be turned down without the need for explicit rejection and all the emotional consequences of that, and we make use of that shared context in our daily interactions to reduce social friction.

Of course, it makes life difficult for outsiders who interact with us, and haven't grown up with that context, and therefore don't know how to communicate messages implicitly in our culture, and don't know how to interpret the implicit messages we send them. Outsiders are either mute or boorish (or perhaps both).

Conversely, Guess/Hint culture works really poorly in culturally heterogenous environments, when basically everyone is an outsider.

I observe that culturally heterogenous environments are a lot more common in the world than they were, say, 200 years ago; advances in transportation and communication tech probably account for that.

So that's one factor that seems relevant. (Of course, one could apply your argument again to claim that cultural heterogeneity is a new development and therefore suspect, and it's probably optimal for us to live in small isolated tribes.)

Good point. But I wonder whether, when two Guess culture variants collide in a heterogeneous society, it's better to (a) switch to Ask culture, or (b) adopt the dominant culture's Guess dialect. I would suspect the latter, because I think most people feel more at home in an alien status hierarchy than they do in an alien status hierarchy pretending it isn't one (a somewhat uncharitable gloss of Ask culture).
Honestly, I think it's a weirdly constructed question. It seems more than a little like asking, when two linguistic communities collide in a linguistically heterogenous society, whether it's better to (a) develop a creole for communication purposes, or (b) adopt the dominant culture's language. Sure, b will lead to easier communication if we can do it. But if we can all speak the same language, what exactly did I mean when I called this a collision of linguistic communities in the first place? I have had the experience of trying to operate within an alien Guess/Hint culture. It's frustrating. I am aware of what's going on at a high level -- there are cues being sent and expected that I'm unaware of and can't recognize, and nobody is willing to explain what the cues are, and might well not even know. But knowing that doesn't help. Sure, it would have helped if I just switched to their dialect. But of course I couldn't do that, since I didn't know their dialect. Given that, it would have helped me if we could all have switched to Ask norms instead. It would have made me less of a boorish outsider, and made it easier for me to communicate. But of course, there's no particular reason why they should have wanted to help me in this way. FWIW, I agree that Ask culture has this property. Then again, I would claim Guess and Hint culture have this property as well, and I think it's orthogonal to the aspects of Ask/Guess/Hint culture I've been discussing.
Hint culture acts as a secret handshake that will reliably detect outsiders (they can't possibly learn the rules without identifying themselves as outsiders for a period of years). It will also help identify people who have less interest in helping others (because it costs more to recognize requests plus fulfill them and costs less to ignore requests). I don't think these are especially important reasons, but I mention them because I don't think anyone else has. These aspects would obviously have been more useful and less costly when mankind was more tribal, and less so with increasing globalization.

Fun fact: Linguists talk about this in the context of the Gricean maxims,

Maxim of Quality[edit] Do not say what you believe to be false. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Maxim of Quantity[edit] Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange). Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Maxim of Relation[edit] Be relevant. With respect to this maxim, Grice writes, "Though the maxim itself is terse, its formulation... (read more)

Tell culture seems pretty close to ask culture. I think guess culture is superior to both of them, even though guessing can go too far sometimes, obviously. (I should tell (!) you though that I am a guesser by inclination/personality so I might be doing motivated cognition).

In my view, the defences of both ask and tell culture are based on a defect picture of human cognition. You more or less always imply things by asking them or telling them things. The reason for this is that there are so many things you could ask and so many things you could tell so tha... (read more)

Huh. I would have put these associations the other way around, in that "guess" is what you do when dealing with people whose reactions you can't anticipate, who have emotional issues with saying no, or who have the power to harm you if they do get offended. Whereas "ask" is used in situations where you can trust the other people to police their own boundaries, and who also trust you not to take offense even if they do decline. At least "guess = low trust, ask/tell = high trust" is the pattern that I generally follow when dealing with people: strangers mostly get the "guess" treatment, friends may be "upgraded" to "ask" if it seems sufficiently certain that they won't mind it.

Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen argued in a classic study that (US) Southern politeness is a reaction to high levels of aggression:

"(The authors also theorize that Southern politeness could be a response to Southern aggression—if Southerners are more likely to take offense than other regional cultures, it follows they would be less likely to give offense, for safety’s sake.)"

That seems to be very much in line with your line of thinking. According to this line of reasoning, "honour" cultures in which people are likely to take offence easily, should generally be more polite.

They made two kinds of experiments that seems to support this line of thinking. In the first, they compared how Southern and Northern young males reacted if you bumped in to them in a conspicuous fashio. Unsurprisingly, the Southerners got more angry. In the second experiment, the experimenters' collaborators nearly bumped into Southern and Northern young males - in which case the Southerners would be more likely to go out of way to avoid bumping. This makes sense - you should be more careful to a... (read more)

Good point. So do we actually have anything resembling actual data about the Askiness/Guessiness of various culture that is unlikely to be the result of mere individual variation? Then we could compare it to measures of trust as they are used in the literature on cooperation in the ultimatum game and such.
Linguistic politeness is a whole sub-field of pragmatics (and sociolinguistics). gives a fairly good overview of one approach to it. There is lots of stuff out there on it in linguistics.
Interesting! I wonder what it tells us that both Finnish and Swedish have been losing the construct of using the plural you (Finnish "Te", Swedish "Ni") as a formal/respectful form of the singular you. A consequence of both countries becoming higher-trust, or something else?
The obvious next step is the formation of a traditionalist chivalric order whose purpose is to preserve the older form of the language in which "Ni" (for the Swedes) is still used as a mark of respect. They would of course be known as the Knights who say Ni.
I have read a different origin story for the Knights Who Say "Ni!" than the one in Wikipedia. Apparently, one of the Python team came across an old textbook for learning Swedish in a hotel he was staying at, which described the use of the plural "ni" as a polite singular, similarly to the practice of several other European languages. But Swedish added an extra, strange twist. You could never actually use "ni", because if you were speaking to someone to whom "ni" would be polite, it would not be polite enough. The proper way to address them would be in the third person, as in "would the vicar care for another cup of tea?" And an old woman of whom you knew nothing might be respectfully addressed as "mør" ("mother"). Things have come to a pretty pass when knights can roam the countryside saying "ni!" to defenceless old women. Perhaps one of the Swedes here can say whether this is true?
Hehe. :) I never heard about it. Here is something I found when googling: "The Knights who say Ni are rumoured to be connected to the mock subtitles in the opening credits which advertise Sweden. In the Swedish language, "Ni" is second person plural (the equivalence of the English plural "you") and used to be the proper form for adressing people outisde your circle of family and friends. This was however abandoned during the late 1960-ies/early 1970-ies in the so-called "du-reform" ("du" being the second person singular form). According to the rumor, the joke with the knights saying "Ni" and people's negative reaction to it is a mockery of how the "ni" form was rejected by almost all Swedes, and thus no longer acceptable. Over the years the Pythons have gone back and forth between denying that the rumour is true, and confirming that it is indeed true." Here is another source.
Egalitarianism, I'd say (which probably is correlated with trust). In Sweden the switch from the plural ("ni") to the singular ("du") form of you was done quite deliberately, as described in this article: "The beginning of the du-reformen is associated with Bror Rexed, the then head of the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), who in his welcome speech to the staff in 1967 announced that he would address everyone as du, increasing the effects of the reform and bringing it to a more frequent use. The actual reform had started earlier, including the amended language in the major newspaper Dagens Nyheter. It was seen as a reform in a democratic and egalitarian direction. First, authorities and influential circles tried rehabilitating the Ni in a so-called ni-reform, but most people could not bring themselves to feel civil using that. Then, almost overnight and dubbed the "du reform", the system broke down and du (noted as informal above) became the accepted way of addressing any one person except royalty."
This pattern seems a little off, I wonder if you intended to convey the implicit caveat that you touched on in the preceding paragraph or if your actual pattern is a bit different to what your analysis would suggest. Strangers who for whatever reason you need to avoid offending (anticipate future interactions or believe they could harm you now) need the guessing. Strangers like, say, salespeople or various forms of gatekeepers like doctors are far better treated with Ask (especially if a Guess gambit isn't giving desired results). Or do you give dispensing-NPCs "guess" treatment too?
Right, my comment was mostly referring to people in the "anticipate future interactions or believe they could harm you now" category. Interactions with "dispensing-NPCs" went into such a different mental category in my head that the need to explicitly exclude them didn't occur to me.
I have frequently noticed that when geeks advocate untrammelled honesty in communication, they mean sending it; the same geeks reliably hit the roof when they receive it. Relevant post: Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People
There is a Seinfeld episode that sort of comments on this - George tells a woman "the truth" (on her request), but he isn't too pleased when Elaine does the same (on his request):
[First paragraph removed because I didn't read the parent properly...] I suppose guess culture would be very nice if it really worked smoothly, but on an individual level, I've only seen it fail and cause a lot of pain to most people involved except the most callous individuals.
My instinct is to agree with this. I spent decades learning the intricacies of North-European politeness and I think I've finally more or less got it. Now that I've learned it, I might be motivated to think that there is some actual point to all this dancing around! I like Stefan's idea of connecting guess/ask with wait/interrupt. We might also want to bring the guilt/shame axis into this. It sounds like ask/interrupt/shame should make for a more honest and efficient society. The guess/wait/guilt stuff sounds pretty frakked up when it is described. But in practice it seems to be correlated with the best places to live in. Maybe this is one of those Chesterton's fence things: Or for a more recent version, xkcd on drama.
Guessing is costly, and occurs more in cultures which are prosperous rather than desperate. There's more than one way that sort of causal relationship can go.
+1 for the hugeness-of-the-hypothesis/question/word-space argument.

+1 for this pattern when it works. Be aware that there is no single policy that's universally applicable. Even with the same person, there can be different situations where a declined offer is going to sting regardless of how it's phrased. Compassion demands that you do so with the minimum of pain. Rationality (usually) demands that you do so with the maximum potential for future interactions. These are mostly in agreement: communicate using whatever conventions make the other person most comfortable.

For some, you can gently lead them down the path ... (read more)

I wrote a blog post a few months ago exploring the relationship between trust and Crocker's Rules. An excerpt:
Yes. It's also frustrating if we're not actually interested in building mutually trusting relationships and just want to reap the communication benefits of them somehow.
links work with wiki markup, see help button below comment.
You mean "Markdown syntax"...

If you’re occasionally dishonest and tell people you want things you don't actually care about--like their comfort or convenience--they’ll learn not to trust you, and the inherent freedom of the system will be lost.

Maybe I'm only thinking of trivial examples, but I haven't noticed this. If I have guests over at my house, of course I care about their convenience, as I want the social capital that comes with throwing a good party. I want my co-workers slaving at the same project as me to be comfortable as it will make them more productive. There are tons ... (read more)

I've found 'telling' to be invaluable in most intimate relationships, particularly because of whatever it is that results in 'many minds', e.g. expressing all of the conflicting feelings one has to better explain why one can't ask some particular thing.

The big problem with habitually "telling" is that you just about need to already be in an intimate relationship with the person you Tell before you do it more than once or twice. Otherwise you will be dismissed as either a bore or a wimp.
It varies. I do a lot of it within a community that appreciates me as a kind of quirky guy who talks a lot about his own internal mental state, for example.

Perhaps Guess culture has its origins in the expectation of empathetic engagement? The shirt ironing example suggests as much. Words are sufficient to express ideas, but they don't always efficiently relay all encoded information. To accomplish this - to fill in the missing bits - empathy can be a powerful facilitator. Perhaps the Guess cultures we find toxic are those in which this expectation of empathetic engagement has mutated into an expectation to anticipate and manage others' emotions.

Thinking a bit more about this, in an unhealthy Guess culture, empathy starts to become problematic when fewer and fewer bits are provided until empathy is expected to essentially replace a string of zeros. Eventually, the expectation is not just that you’re supposed to anticipate what another person is thinking and feeling, but you’re required to act on it. You have a responsibility for it, until finally you bear the responsibility for how they think and feel. This evolution occurs when the distinction between people as discrete agents is blurred. Those suffering from borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder are particularly inclined to erase those distinctions.

My family has a guess-culture ("you must not love me enough if you don't notice that I'm too busy to for what you request!") I'm guessy about things by instinct.. but don't like being guessy about receiving requests - it feels manipulative to place the burden of my feeling offended on the person asking. From the perspective of receiving requests, I've started trying hard to play by Crocker's Rules (to the usual mixed success).

In making requests - I prefer to be telly and have tried to incorporate that into my life. But what I notice is that other... (read more)

I find it interesting to observe that my youngest who is moderately autistic operates exclusively in 'Tell' mode. Either he models everyone else as autistic, or he doesn't model other people at all, it is hard to tell from the outside, but in either case 'Guess' and 'Ask' modes are essentially unavailable to him.

I feel ask and tell culture are fairly similar in comparison to guess culture. Tell culture seems to me to be just ask culture a bit more explaining, which seems like a move in the right direction, balanced by time and energy constraints. Guess culture just seems rather silly.

Guess culture acknowledges that there is a social cost to outright denying a request. A good example from Yvain's comment:
Oh, obviously there are causal reasons for why guess culture develops. If there wasn't, it wouldn't occur. I agree that having a social cost to denying a request can lead to this phenomenon, as your example clearly shows. I don't think that stops it from being silly.

Strongly agree! I sort of half-heartedly try to implement this...

To a Guess culture person, I imagine much of the above sounds passive aggressive or manipulative, much worse than the rude bluntness of mere Ask.

...and this is the reaction I often feel like I'm getting, although it's hard to tell; when I try the explicit explanation of what I'm doing, people sometimes seem to get confused.

I think that there is one more culture: Ignore culture. It has only two types or replies: "Wonderful" and no reply. The same is this reading posts in the internet. One could either comment or ignore them, and most times people choose to ignore. But as a result it breaks communication in small pieces. So it is worst but most popular form of culture.

Tell culture works only for equal rational and mutually interested friends, unfortunately.

I don't see this is worst. If most people reading your comment responded to it, like I'm doing now, you would have too many replies. That would be unhelpful. So it works better if most people ignore it.
It become bad when it is translated into actual communication: I ask a person if I can stay in his place, there is no reply, and I have to guess that it is "no". EDITED: And it is bad because I have to spent more time and emotion in getting this answer.
I see it as a pretty standard polite answer: you're asking for a favour, the lack of an affirmative "yes" surely means "no" and the absence of a clear rejection de-escalates and allows you to save some face. Not Tell Culture, certainly, but the usual garden-variety Guess Culture.
The problem for asker is uncertainty in this case. Did they read my letter? Do they ignore only this request or decided to ban me forever because of my impolite request? Do they think that my status is so low that they even don't bother reply anything? But for the receiver of the request there are several benefits: no emotional energy is invested in making communication, and he could always change his mind, and said that he didn't see my letter.
In Guess Culture if you didn't receive an answer, the answer is "no". You check that the communications are still working by asking about some unrelated minor thing.

I definitely want to thank you for putting all of this in clear words and introducing these abstractions.

However out of my personal experience I find the advocacy of Tell-mode to be a terrible practical advice. Especially for people who haven't yet figured out some sort of a model on these and how to interact productively with people in their environment. I suppose a lot of my younger self social hardships came from using sort of Tell/Ask way too often and utterly failing at Guess.

There are areas where people seem to use Guess almost universally. The whole... (read more)

I really do not understand how "ruthless truth telling" is supposed to work. Lots of behavior is motivated by reasons that cannot be said aloud with hurting people. What if my reasons are things like "I think X person is pretty dull and I am not interested in what they have to say." There are alot of unpleasant feelings in most people's heads (including mine). I would strongl prefer these unpleasant feelings not be spoken aloud.

Yes, that's definitely a problem. But then I'd say you're trying to use it on the wrong group of people. Many people here (I hope) would very much prefer it if you told them "hey you're dull" to you making up excuses every time you come across them and they try to talk to you, whether it be to reflect on why you think they're dull, or to stop wasting both of your time by trying to interact with you if you aren't even interested.

I'm not sure how this differs from positive and negative politeness.

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Certainly being explicit and honest among other explicit and honest people seems like cooperating in PD. I once wrote a post that I consider an extreme version of what you call the Tell culture. Surprisingly, even on this forum there were very few takers.