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All You Have To Do Is Ask

By admin
Posted on 3 Sep, 2020
All You Have To Do Is Ask

The key to getting your own way is how you ask for things – but first you need to suss out who you’re dealing with.

Picture the scene. You’re minding your own business, unsuspectingly scrolling through your e-mails, when a message from a peripheral friend pops up in your inbox, saying she’s coming to town for a week and suggesting a stay in your spare room. Do you: A) fire back a friendly reply, telling her that won’t be possible but that you’d love to meet for lunch‘? Or B) move swiftly from shock to guilt, anger and finally (resentful) acceptance – before typing back to say of course she can come and stay, all the while gnashing your teeth and complaining to your boyfriend that she has been a little madam with a sense of entitlement ever since high school?

Out of the question

Three years ago, blogger Andrea Donderi posted an answer to a query from a man in a similar predicament. infuriated by the presumption of an old friend of his wife’s, he had requested some watertight excuses to put her off. Donderi’s reply – that the situation sprang from an essential clash between ‘ask’ and ‘guess’ cultures – went on to capture online imagination and gain something approaching cult status.

Donderi’s proposition, eagerly seized upon by pop psychologists everywhere, is that we’re all raised to be either ‘askers’ or ‘guessers’. Askers, such as the friend who needs a place to stay, have no compunction about making requests because for them, being told ‘no’ is no big deal. Similarly, they have no problem saying no – if they don’t fret over rejection, they think, then why should you? If you chose option A in the earlier scenario, you’re probably an asker, someone who can both dish out and receive refusals with equanimity. If, on the other hand, the thought of asking for a favor upfront brings you out in hives, odds are you’re a guesser. According to Donderi, guessers prefer to ‘put out delicate feelers’ and believe that ‘if you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly – you’ll get an offer.

Predictably, guessers also hate to say no – as t.hey would be wounded by a refusal, they imagine everyone else will be similarly stung. The irony is that they’ll be left agonising over the exchange long after the thick-skinned asker has forgotten all about it.

Guess genes?

As with most things, the camp you fall into is contingent on both learnt and inherited characteristics. While it’s true that askers tend to be confident, extroverted types whereas guessers are usually introverts who play it safe, your style largely depends on how your family communicates. Wider cultural standards also play a part Japan is a nation of guessers, whereas Russians tend to be askers. When US author Malcohn Gladwell distinguishes between ‘transmitter-orientated speech’ (where the onus is upon the speaker to make himself or herself clear – an approach favored by the West) and ‘receiver-orientated speech’ (where it’s up to the listener to tease out the meaning – the approach favored in Asia) in his bestselling book Outliers (Little Brown and Company), he’s talking about asking and guessing by another name. But cultural legacies aren’t set in stone. Johannesburg psychologist Adele Romanis points out that even if you’re brought up one way, you don’t have to be like that forever. People can, and do, shift. And just as people can change over time, they can also shift from being askers to guessers and back again within the space of a day.

‘It’s a spectrum, not a dichotomy’ says Oliver Burkeman, author of Help How To Become Slightly Happier, And Get A Bit More Done (Canongate Books) ‘We’re all a mixtm’e of the two – and perhaps we’re all a different mixture depending on whether we’re at work, at home or with friends. Helen, 27, a journalist in Cape Town, says she regularly shifts her communication style depending on the situation. ‘In my personal life I’m a guesser. I would never ask a friend if I could come and stay for a week. But professionally I’ve had to become an asker because it’s the nature of my work: sending unsolicited e-mails, picking up the phone. I’ve somehow managed to split the person I am at work and the person I am at home.’ Helen’s story reflects US writer and journalist Julian Sanchez’s take on the asker/guesser debate. He reckons guessing culture has evolved as a neat way of negotiating those tricky ‘intermediate’ relationships we enjoy with casual friends mid colleagues. ‘The polite indirection of “guess culture” is often a way of preserving a deliberate ambiguity in social relationships where there’s an intermediate level of intimacy Relationships at the poles, with either close friends or strangers, tend to be governed by more direct asks,’ he says.

Asking for trouble

S0 which approach is correct? There’s nothing inherently wrong with either, says Burkeman, as long as there‘s a mutual understanding.
It’s this mutual understanding that continues to elude most of us.
When ask/guess cultures meet head-on, the result is often misunderstandings and bruised feelings. And instead of seeing these exchanges as simple cases of miscommunication, we’re more likely to label each other.

Askers are seen by guessers as arrogant, presumptuous and rude, says Burkeman. Guessers are seen by askers as unable to come to the point – frustratingly indirect. It’s a pity we’re so quick to dish out tags, says Pretoria industrial psychologist Petro Horn, because askers and guessers can teach each other valuable lessons.

Askers can learn to consider the impact of their demands on others, and guessers can learn to expect more. An asker’s chutzpah can be invaluable. (With South African women currently eaming 33,5% less than their male counterparts, according to a global gender-gap study by the World Economic Forum in 2009, women certainly need to get better at asking for pay rises and promotions.) Horn points out that women are particularly prone to playing the guesser in relationships, expecting their man to know what t.hey need without them verbalising it. But a guessefs sensitive intuition can come in handy in certain social situations. Romanis thinks we should try to strike a balance, moving fluidly between the two poles depending on the situation.

Just say NO

Guessers often feel overwhelmed by trying to meet the demands of various askers in their life: the boss who wants a project turned in early, the friend who expects you to fly to Aruba for her wedding. If you’re constantly heading out for drinks with distant friends when you’d rather watch Gossip Girl, you need to learn to say no Social psychologist Susan Newman, author of The Book Of NO (McGraw- Hill Companies), says, ‘Women have been raised to be carers, to be helpful. For most women, that makes it harder to say no. But getting off the “yes” treadmill is empowering – it frees up time so you can relax. You stop feeling like a doormat.’

How do you reach this no-nonsense state of grace? According to the experts, less is more. Making excuses just opens the door to negotiations, whereas a simple statement – ‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible’ or ‘That doesn’t work for me’ – closes the conversation for good. Just keep practicing, and these statements will become part of your everyday lexicon. And while they might sound terse or cold- hearted to a yes woman, take comfort in the fact that askers won’t read them as a personal rejection. ‘Understand that once you say no, the asker isn’t thinking about you any longer,’ says Newman. ‘She’s moved on to find someone else to do what she wants, someone who’ll say yes.’ And if you’re an overconfident asker? Horn recommends honing your emotional intelligence. ‘Learn to be sensitive to a guesser. A guesser will typically give subtle hints and expect the other party to pick up on these,’ she Says.

Talking your language

While everyone can benefit from learning to say no, it’s important for askers and guessers to appreciate their different-but-equal skills. Burkeman says we should know ourselves first, then turn our attention to those around us. Realize where you are on the asker! guesser spectrum, and where your family members, friends and colleagues are.’ Then adjust your response accordingly. Your boos is an asker? Tell her you’ll need a deadline extension. Your friend is a guesser? Don‘t just tum up on her doorstep with suitcase.

Remembering the rule of foreign holidays might help: if you try to speak your hosts’ language, they’ll always appreciate the effort – even i.f you’re not completely fluent.

 

 

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7 responses to “All You Have To Do Is Ask”

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