Kaitlin Cunningham, Staff Writer
Humans are social creatures by nature, and being quarantined with the same few people for weeks at a time can create conflict between even the most understanding of people. Learning how to communicate effectively with others can be challenging, especially when it seems as though messages are getting misinterpreted all the time. However, there is an explanation for the difference in how people interpret communication – two schools of thought about how communication should be conducted: guess and ask.
A term that was originally penned in a Ask.MetaFilter post in response to a query about how to approach the subject of requesting to stay with a friend while in a different city. In the post, the person seeking advice wanted to know how to tell their friend that he did not want them to stay with him while said friend was on a work-related trip. The post spurred many responses but became popular due to one man’s response detailing the example as a misunderstanding between “Guess Culture and Ask Culture”.
Those who think in the lines of guess culture often rely heavily on a “same page” mentality that requires both people to be able to pick up on subtle hints and context clues. This type of high context communication hinges on the belief that asking for something directly might be seen as rude or hurtful. A typical example of someone using a guessing mentality would be a student mentioning to their parents when they finish with class at a specific time and expecting the parent to ask if they need a ride. Conversely, culture thrives on direct questions and responses. So instead of mentioning passively that they need a ride, a student who is predisposed to an ask mentality would seek an immediate response to their need through inquiry.
Conflict can arise when those using the two different methods of communication attempt to interact, without understanding the differences between the two styles. As such, those who employ guess culture approaches can come off as passive aggressive or incomprehensible to those who prefer asking. While askers might seem forward and invasive to those with a guessing mentality, due to their desire to get to the bottom of a matter.
This style of communication is not just restricted to individuals though. It is common in separate cultures and countries to adapt a “ask” mentality or a “guess” mentality. In Japan it is common to interact with guess mentality communication due to cultural expectations of social courtesy. However, if one visits the east coast in America, they are prone to encounter more people with an ask mentality. The cultural expectations within a country can change what style of communication you use due to societal expectations of communication.
The central difference between these two styles of communication is the willingness to say “no.” While askers find themselves ready and able to oppose others, Guessers believe that a person should never be placed in a position where they would have to verbalize a “no.” According to several therapists and psychologists, learning to say no and accept that answer and respect it, regardless of your communication style, is something that is a hallmark benchmark in healthy communication. So, while interacting with one another in close quarters can be stressful, understanding some of the ways that people communicate might help to alleviate the tensions that miscommunications can produce.