Are You an Asker Or a Guesser? :: How This Question Can Help You Communicate With Others

A bunch of stuff happened in 2007. Our country was creeping slowly towards that fun little “housing market crash,” “The Sopranos” took its famous final curtain bow on HBO, creating more questions than it answered. Personally, I found out that I was expecting my first child – and among all that, an “AskMetaFilter” (just WTH is that, anyway?) post was published, the ripple effects of which are still touching the internet (and our day to day lives) right now.

The original poster was positing an etiquette dilemma into the great, wide, electronic ether: One of his wife’s “distant friends” was planning a trip to their city (New York, where location is important, and hotels are costly) and asked them quite politely if she could stay with them for a portion of the time, both out of necessity and “so we can see each other!”

There are (not literally) one bajillion responses, mostly assuring the original poster that it is perfectly acceptable to say no, to which I agree wholeheartedly. Responders on the thread even provide ample creative suggestions for refusal (“Tell her you already have someone staying with you…” “My excuse would be that I’m fostering a ferret in the spare bedroom…”)

And of course, the consensus is that the classic “I’m sorry, I’m afraid that won’t be possible” is the way to go.

But many of these responders also express their shock and indignation over the friend asking the question in the first place. From “a teensy bit rude,” to “a little more clueless than overtly cloddish,” most of the advice givers agree that it should not have been asked.

That is, until writer Andrea Donderi busts in on the scene about 10 hours after the original post, and blows everyone’s minds: “This is” she writes, “a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.” If you are an ‘Asker,’ you have “the expectation that it’s ok to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize that you might get no for an answer.” She further explains that if you are a ‘Guesser,’ you “avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure that the answer will be yes.” Guessers could just as easily be named ‘Hinters,’ because they rely on subtle hints and gentle suggestions to get what they want. Askers are as direct as their title suggests they would be – they just come right out and say it, and are usually not going to be offended no matter what answer they get, or how straightforward it is.

When I first stumbled across this “cyber sea scroll”, I gasped. Like the Enneagram and 5 Love Languages, this is an excellent tool for learning about how the people in your life deal with events and people – including you. In the years since this original post (and the 2007 post is the first instance I can find on the internet regarding this precise concept) there have been many different takes on these 2 types of people. They all agree that identifying if the person you are trying to communicate with is a Guesser or an Asker will improve communication and understanding. One article even agrees that “it is possible for someone to float back and forth between the different types,” but acknowledging the tendency is still the first key. The old adage takes on a little twist here, y’all – the first step to solving a problem is realizing WHAT the problem is!

I (of course) did not have to go far to find an example. My husband is a Guesser, and I’m usually an Asker. One pre-Christmas season, I saw a picture or movie with a woman wearing a thin, cotton robe. Not a fuzzy bathrobe, or a big flannel number, just a plain wrapped covering with an inner tie and outer sash. I told him (so, so clearly) “I want THIS or nothing. It’s fine if you can’t find it before Christmas, I can wait, but THIS is all I want. Nothing else.”

Y’all see where this is going, right?

As I said my husband is a Guesser. That’s why, on Christmas morning, I opened up a package and removed a polyester, zip-up, collared mu-mu type thing that my Maw Maw used to favor. Other than the ability to be worn over a nightgown, it bore NO resemblance to the robe I had pointed out. I wasn’t angry, exactly, but confused. “I said I understood if you couldn’t find it before Christmas,” I said, completely puzzled. I was further at a loss as to why his feelings were hurt at my reaction. I told him exactly what I wanted and assured him that it was fine if he could not produce it immediately. I ASKED for what I wanted, but he GUESSED that this septuagenarian starter kit would be better than nothing. To me, it wasn’t.

At least one article on these two types of people is pretty brutal to Guessers – “This is actually pretty simple: Guessers are wrong, and Askers are right,” which is problematic and unfair. Not only does it not take cultural and gender differences into account, it completely bulldozes certain personality types or anxiety disorders. There are some people who very seriously are not capable of asking for what they want.

Though I find it possible to be an Asker when I NEED to be, I understand the plight of the Guesser, and do sometimes take a “Guesser” role when it’s not crucial. For example, when celebrating my birthday or informing relatives of an event for one of my children, I’m hesitant to make a request that can seem like a demand on a person’s time, especially if it’s a person who lives by etiquette rules and WILL feel obligated to attend if I ask. This usually results in the worst case scenario: me telling them at the last minute when they don’t have time to make arrangements anymore and they either think that I don’t want them there or that I don’t value their time, which is mortifying. But this is something that I simply did not realize about myself until I came across this little nugget of a 13 year old internet post.

I looked for a quiz to take to determine what type I am, primarily, and one doesn’t exist- yet. In deciding what I am, I considered how many times I have advised myself to just “put on my big girl panties” and Ask for something. Turns out, I wear big girl panties kind of a lot. I don’t relish being blunt, but I’m grateful to have the ability when it is called for. I don’t wish to seem presumptuous – but could you possibly give a moment or two and perhaps think about what type of person you or your loved ones are?

No, scratch that. Do it. I’m asking you to.

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Jeanne is a proud Westbanker and inordinately blessed wife, full time working parent, and middle child. She and her insanely handsome husband of 15 years have 2 daughters, aged 11 and 2. Her hobbies include cake decorating, reading, devouring movies, and slowly turning into her mother. When they are not patronizing local restaurants, she and her family enjoy driving around to take in the surroundings of their home, from Lafitte to Folsom, and all points in between. Jeanne has contributed her time and skills to a number of organizations, including WRBH Reading for the Blind, and the Jefferson Chorale. She celebrates the seasons in true New Orleans style - Easter champagne brunch, summertime snoball, Saints game day Abita, and Celebration in the Oaks with a flask. 

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