Six disadvantages of “guess” culture

This post that was linked on Captain Awkward has really taught me something new about life, that I will not forget soon. In short, the idea explained in those posts is that there are two kinds of people: “ask” and “guess” people.

An “ask” culture is a culture where people are allowed to ask for favours and say no to requests.

In a “guess” culture, both of this is seen as problematic. Instead, one drops hints and waits for an offer, or people guess each others wishes through empathy and observation. If someone asks for a favour, it is very rude to decline it, and so people can get very upset about being asked.

In my family, we follow a 100% “guess” culture. This comes with the following annyoing disadvantages:

  1. Conflicts mostly happen under the surface. An example: A member of my family wants something, drops a few very subtle hints, others misunderstand these hints or understand them right, and choose to ignore the wish. No word may have been uttered in these entire transaction. But it may well be that the person who had the wish is secretly fuming because the wish was denied, and the people having denied the wish are secretly fuming because they found the wish outrageous.
  2. We are all prone to being manipulated, because we are used to manipulation as the normal way of communication.  In my own family, the manipulation is mostly relatively well-meaning and simply a retarded way of communication. Outside in the wider world, manipulators are of course often not well-meaning, but we all have a tendency to fall into their traps, because we immediately feel at home with them.
  3. We are very bad at figuring out what we want. One consequence of not expressing your wishes openly is that you will also lose the ability to express wishes internally. I have noticed that I often censor my impulses when they are not even fully clear to me yet, and I take forever to make decisions, and I am always afraid that my decisions were wrong. Guess culture is a culture where the relationships and the community are valued higher than the individual. Therefore, wanting things is seen as inherently dangerous, as it might lead to conflict.
  4. We have social anxiety. When I spend time with my family, about 60 % of my brain power at any time is spent on trying to decipher the hints that the other family members might be dropping, and I am always anxious to miss something and thereby offend or hurt someone. It is very hard to switch that off when I am with people outside of my family, but at the same time, it is much harder to read unfamiliar people, and this can make me very nervous. Another problem is that I get very nervous if I have to tell people what I want from them, because I have learned early on that telling people what you want is aggressive and frowned-upon. In my case, I find it hard to go to a shop and ask for something complicated; my sister is afraid of making business phonecalls. I also find it very hard to say no.
  5. We often are run over by “ask” people. Of course, saying what you want clearly, saying no, and not being afraid of conflict and disagreement is a huge advantage in any career. People who have learned that already in their families will probably always be ahead of us. And so everyone in my family was not able to exploit their potential and has a job that lies below their ability.
  6. If someone in the family is not doing well, others might get upset at them. I tend to admit openly when I have a problem in my life.  Others in my family then get angry at me and see me as selfish for talking about it, because they feel so intertwined with each other that one’s person unhappiness is a real threat to the entire system. I haven’t figured this part out completely, and it is the most painful one for me. Maybe this is an aspect where I am not as an extreme “guess” person as the others. If someone talks about their problems, this does not bother me in the least. The rest of my family tends to see it as an act of aggression (maybe because they understand it as a request that they have to help me?).

I hope that I will continue to become more of an “ask” person. And if I ever have children,  I will try to make the environment more “ask” and less “guess”, to prepare them better for the real world. I am very grateful for the people that posted about this, since it has really helped me to understand myself and my family better.

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4 Responses to Six disadvantages of “guess” culture

  1. GMP says:

    zinemin, I can’t find your email, would you mind dropping me a line? Thx

  2. xykademiqz says:

    This guess/ask people or cultures you mention resemble greatly the concepts of high-context /low-context cultures.

    • zinemin says:

      Yes, it seems similar… interestingly my country is listed as low context, but my family isn’t. This has made me realize: In some ways I think I saw academia as a place where I could finally escape into a low context environment from my high context upbringing… But academia was much more high context than I thought. It is its own world with its rituals and rules and hierarchies, and in order to succeed you need to respect them, probably much more than I did…

  3. Uuugghh! You just summarized a lot of what is going on with my family. 2013 sucked for my family, lots of squabbles and arguments. My sister and mother didn’t even spend Christmas or Thanksgiving together and my mother and I got into a HUGE fight on Christmas.

    See I left home at the age of 16 (thats when I started college, which is young for the US). So there are many subtle norms that I never learned from my family. In your terms: I’m an ask person and my family are guess people. And it goes something like this: I ask for something, I’m ok if I’m turned down. My family pretends they don’t understand the request and turn me down. No problem. And then it happens again and again and again. Finally I speak up “Dude! I’ve requested something three times already what’s going on?!” (Often its something simple like I want to spend time with my sister) And instead of being honest why they turn me down they’re passive-agressive and say I had not made my request clear enough and they didn’t know it was important to me. And I’m like “I’m not sure how else to make myself clear. I made a clear request ‘Can you blah blah blah on XYZ date?’ and I asked three times. I even said ‘It would mean a lot to me if you did blah blah blah’ and ‘If that date doesn’t work for you please let me know when would'” And I still get this manipulative look of confusion and then get called aggressive. And by then I am aggressive because I’ve asked three times, followed up with an open question as to why they don’t want to do it so that I understand whats going on. And all I get are lies about how they “didn’t know”! It’s INFURIATING!

    Guess people are very quick to label someone aggressive. It’s very very very manipulative.

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