I realised that most of my interpersonal conflicts arise when I (an asker) ask a guesser questions that they find uncomfortable answering. To overcome this, I am thinking that when I meet a new person, I should quickly find out if s/he is an asker or guesser. If s/he is an asker, then I will be my normal self. But if s/he is a guesser, then I will avoid asking any question unless the question is general.

I'm looking for a way to figure out if someone is an 'asker' or 'guesser'

A little context on 'ask' and 'guess' culture: when you ask guesser a question, s/he will feel compelled to answer the question even if s/he does not want to, resulting in resentment towards the person who asks the question. However, if you ask an asker a question and s/he does not feel comfortable in answering it, s/he will simply say no.

More context on 'ask' and 'guess' culture: for the question asker, if s/he is a guesser, s/he will avoid asking questions or make a request unless when s/he is in dire need of help. Hence, if a guesser ask a question or make a request and get 'no' as a reply, s/he will be resentful. However, for an asker, s/he understands that it is normal to ask a question and get 'no' as a reply. So s/he will not be resentful in getting 'no' as a reply.

For more information on 'ask' vs 'guess' culture, see https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/askers-vs-guessers/340891/

  • guessing implies a lack of knowledge... Does this imply that those who know the answer to said questions are automatically askers?
    – user20
    Jun 15 '21 at 23:16
  • Further, is this on a per-subject basis? I imagine that the interrogative behavior of any individual depends highly on the subject at-hand.
    – user20
    Jun 15 '21 at 23:22
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    In brief, here is an explaination of ask vs guess culture. 'In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.' Jun 16 '21 at 2:51
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    'In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even 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.' Jun 16 '21 at 2:51
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    You're asking how to be a guesser of guessers? :)
    – Euchris
    Jun 17 '21 at 3:22

Observe whether they say "No"

An asker is very direct, and sometimes to the point of being too blunt, and has no problems with people telling them "No", but guessers are a lot more subtle, and have serious problems both receiving and giving "No"s.

That is the fundamental difference between an asker and a guesser. A guesser translates saying "no" into some type of personal failure/mistake.

You can tell someone is a guesser when they complain about having to say no, or they effectively never say no, despite severe consequences. Observing someone asking something very simple like "Do you want me to get you coffee?" If they never say "No, thank you." in a natural, non-defensive way, then it is likely they are a guesser. Guessers will do weird things to avoid saying No.

I'm naturally a guesser, and my wife isn't. She directly confronts me with a lot of the weird things I do. One is not wanting to use my day offs (fearing a No), to just basically doing things at a severe consequence to myself for no good reason (giving people rides home after a party, when it takes an extra 2 hours, while I have a university final exam next day at 8 am).

A guesser can overlap with a people-pleaser and, in more extreme situations, co-dependency. These two topics have a lot more formal research so you can look those up to understand them better.

You can also flip it around. If every question they ask is an obvious "Yes", sometimes to absurd and ridiculous things ("Can I go to the bathroom?" "Yes, uh, why do you need to ask me that?") then they also lean towards the guesser spectrum.

  • Thanks for this answer! Yes, "can I get X for you?" is a simple test that can tell a lot with minimal risk of awkwardness. I'll try to remember to apply it/pay attention to it when it occurs by chance.
    – yo9cyb
    Jul 7 '21 at 2:29

How about not labeling people to begin with?

You're trying to pre-empt how to treat a person based on an arbitrary label.

Firstly, those labels are not absolutes. There is no reason to expect that a person is one and only one of those labels. Secondly, pre-emptive judgment of such a label is nothing short of stereotyping a person based on some approximated marker.

Rather than try to pre-empt your interaction with this person, simply interact with them and be aware of their responses. If they're uncomfortable, you can observe this and steer away from similarly intrusive (to this person's view) questions.
If you ask something and they hesitate, address that they are free to accept/reject your request as they see fit, and make it clear that this was not a "politely phrased command" (e.g. "can you do X?" meaning "Please do X for me") as opposed to an actually open question.

Your question works on the presumption that the people you deal with are incapable of understanding that when meeting a person, you spend the initial stages trying to feel each other out, and that this might mean that there is a character mismatch between them and the other person. Or that encountering such a mismatch immediately and irreversibly offends them to a point where you can no longer interact with them.

People are not fragile little eggshells. And even if some of them are, it should be abundantly clear from the initial interaction with them. The only kind of people you'd need to pre-empt this behavior for are precisely the kind of people who would very clearly indicate discomfort or shyness from the start when they meet someone new.

It's better to learn about people during your interaction with them and learn to steer your behavior based on earlier interactions, than to unfairly label someone based on some pre-conceived stereotypical markers and not allowing for people to be different from how you think people work.

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    A wonderful post describing reactions to an ideal person. If only people actually were like that. Jun 18 '21 at 15:15
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    @DJClayworth: By a wide margin, pre-emptively judging people has caused more social friction (to say the least) than simply getting to know a person while interacting with them has.
    – Flater
    Jun 18 '21 at 15:49
  • Thanks for this answer! I upvoted this too since there is value in here as well for some people. For me though, like DJClayworth mentioned, I had lots of trouble interacting with people when not knowing their type (since I can't understand why they do that, so I keep forgetting and falling back to my natural assumption). Understanding why they do that (which the labeling does good enough) is the first step for me to make their behavior (with different type) resonates with me, so I can respond more naturally but still catering their style. The next step, of course, is like your answer.
    – justhalf
    Jun 19 '21 at 5:56
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    Not so sure this is about pre-emptively stereotyping but rather what the quickest way is to determine a good likelihood that asking questions is welcome or not. The labels might be misleading, but the intent to find out whether it's likely a person can say no to questions that are too intimate doesn't need to be based on stereotypes. OP is not asking for visible cues to make that decision. I.e. OP asks how to figure out whether intimate questions are welcome enough - potentially in the first steps of an interaction. So as an improvement suggestion: you might explain how that works. Jun 24 '21 at 3:13
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    ie. >And even if some of them are, it should be abundantly clear from the initial interaction with them< to OP this doesn't seem clear. (Even if OP is caught in this guesser/asker mindset, which indeed seems weird to me too, then helping them by redirecting with practical advice might be more convincing than simply stating it should be obvious to them ;)). Jun 24 '21 at 3:14

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