Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are you an Asker or a Guesser?

Here's something fun to consider, and given the heavy posts I've made recently, might offer some of my readers a little relief. Others will long for another "deeply" considered post, which brings to mind the old adage "You can't please everyone."

Anyway, are you an Asker or a Guesser?

I found this Good over at the webzine Good. A simple name, Good, isn't it? Maybe too simple. But I'm enjoying some of the articles anyway.

Back to the question above. Here's the selection, originally from a Guardian newspaper article:

This terminology comes from a brilliant web posting by Andrea Donderi that's achieved minor cult status online. We are raised, the theory runs, in one of two cultures. In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything—a favour, a pay rise—fully realising the answer may be no. In Guess culture, by contrast, you avoid "putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes … A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept."

Neither's "wrong", but when an Asker meets a Guesser, unpleasantness results. An Asker won't think it's rude to request two weeks in your spare room, but a Guess culture person will hear it as presumptuous and resent the agony involved in saying no. Your boss, asking for a project to be finished early, may be an overdemanding boor—or just an Asker, who's assuming you might decline. If you're a Guesser, you'll hear it as an expectation. This is a spectrum, not a dichotomy, and it explains cross-cultural awkwardnesses, too: Brits and Americans get discombobulated doing business in Japan, because it's a Guess culture, yet experience Russians as rude, because they're diehard Askers.

Now, I'm always wary of generalizations about entire nations. Nothing, in and of itself, "explains cross-cultural awkwardness."

But maybe we can just put that aside, and think about ourselves individually for a moment. I definitely lean towards the Guess end of the spectrum. In fact, sometimes I get frustrated that I can't just go out and ask more often.

What's interesting to me from a Buddhist perspective is that I can see attachments that can come up for both extremes of this pair. Askers probably struggle with entitlement, thinking they deserve more than they really do. Guessers, like myself, often struggle with rejection, and worries that we'll appear pushy, demanding, and unlikeable.

Yet, like any dichotomy, no one is something all of the time. In the classroom, as a teacher, I'm definitely more of an Asker. Which makes me wonder how much this has to do with power, and/or perceived power, within a given situation.

There have been many times when I've felt powerless in my life. In fact, my current work situation has brought up plenty of this feeling. And this has corresponded in a shift away from directness in general, mostly out of a fear that being direct might cost me my job.

On the other hand, as our Zen Center's board chair, I've grown comfortable enough to do the opposite. It's obvious that my sangha friends and colleagues on the board respect my work, and leadership, and so being an Asker isn't so risky.

Now, a person doesn't have to have the kind of defined power of being a Board Chair in order to be more on the Asking end of the spectrum. It's about perception as much as anything that determines our behavior. A person who has little defined power could easily be very forward with requests of others if they are tapped into an "internal" sense of power. One might move beyond the word power and speak of this as being aligned with one's buddhanature, to use Buddhist speak.

In any case, my own experience has been that when I'm trusting life as it is, I'm better able to respond to the situation at hand. And maybe that situation calls for being an Asker and maybe it calls for being a Guesser.

How about you?

1 comment:

zendotstudio said...

Interesting piece. I am more of a guesser although as I go on in practice I am learning to become an asker when it seems appropriate. I think although we will have inclinations toward one or the other way of being, for me the situation should be the determining factor. Putting out those intuitive feelers and considering the circumstance help me determine what is appropriate.

The Dharma helps me see if I'm being an asker or guesser out of fear or compassion and kindness. The examined motivation is the important part for me (and that's not to say I don't get it wrong and choose out of fear sometimes)