Asker or Guesser?


First, you should read this short article in the Guardian. The writer claims it will change your life but really it’s just an interesting tidbit.

For them who won’t click, a quick summary: Some people ask for things with the expectation that they may hear “No,” which they’re perfectly fine with (“Askers”) . Some people try to figure out if they will get a “Yes” answer before they ask, so they won’t make the other person turn them down (“Guessers”).

In our culture, there’s a strong push to turn people into Askers. If you want something, you ask for it. If you don’t want to give someone something, you say no. Simple, right? Even I, a lifelong guesser, have been known to tell people that “If no one has told you ‘no’ you haven’t asked for enough.” We don’t seem to have a lot of respect for the Careful! I don’t want to put you in an awkward position! feeling.

And of course these things work in a spectrum. It’s easy to say “No,” to phone solicitors or sidewalk activists. On the other hand, most guys won’t ask a woman for a date unless they have a reasonable expectation that they’ll say “Yes.” (Right now, women reading this are skimming through their memories thinking about the losers and creeps they’ve turned down–“That guy thought he had a chance? Him??”)

So it’s a continuum, and we priviledge people from Ask Culture even as we realize we all have a different sense of when asking goes too far. And that’s why I wanted to talk about this one time I was snubbed.

Telling the story briefly, at a crowded event I ran into another writer that I have something in common with. I said to her: “Hi, you’re another writer [thing we have in common].”

Her response was to glance at me, exclaim “Oh!” and turn her back.

Snub! It was a busy situation and I moved on to something else, but a little while later I had a chance to think about it, and I decided what she did was completely right and awesome.

It happened again later, when a mutual acquaintance introduced us. She looked uncomfortable. I said “Nice to have met you,” in a way that obviously meant “Goodbye,” and she returned the sentiment and moved on. Easy!

I’m being deliberately vague here for a reason: I don’t want people to think badly of this author, though some people undoubtedly will. Personally, I’m glad that she was willing to act on her instinct. She decided, for whatever reason (she’s a young woman being approached by a 300-lb middle-aged man with a shaved head–I wonder what that reason could be?) that she had a bad feeling about me and she acted on it.

How much better would this culture be if women felt free to turn their backs on men who gave them a bad feeling? If they didn’t feel bound by cultural expectations of “nice” and “good manners” and could just walk away?

Okay, maybe she didn’t turn away because she felt threatened. Maybe I smelled bad (I’d just showered that week!) or maybe I had mustard on my shirt. I know I did a booger-check right before the event. But the why doesn’t really matter. She said “No” to meeting me (figuratively-speaking) and that’s Asker culture, and I wish we had more of it.

As a side note, I sometimes read blog posts by writers, agents, or editors from wannabe professional writers asking for favors–a referral, a crit, whatever, and those wannabes act out when they’re refused. Is that Asker Culture in action? I don’t think so, since being an Asker means accepting that you might be turned down.

I think of them as Clueless Guesser Culture. They believe every social norm means they’re going to get a “Yes,” but are shocked and angry when they don’t.

I should send a link of that article to Lee Goldberg.