rowyn: (content)
[personal profile] rowyn
I had a long online conversation with some friends about "Ask" and "Guess" cultures (link is to a random article on the subject for those who aren't familiar with the concept). I'm going to use "Hint" here, because one person pointed out that (a) "Guess" is a misnomer because most people who grow up with people who do this are not guessing, they know and (b) "Guess" makes it sound objectively worse, and this is not an objective subject.* I don't know if "Hint" is a lot better, but I'll run with it for now.

* In the clash of another cultural concept: I prefer to refer to people by name when I'm talking about things they said. But I'm not doing that here because I don't know if the individuals involved want to be quoted by name or not. I also don't have convenient Twitter or LJ handles to refer to, which makes credit more complicated.

There are some things I've thought about this concept since I first heard of it. Like most dichotomies, it oversimplifies. Most people may lean one way or the other, but they are not going to be pure "Ask" or pure "Hint" about all things. Also, people vary in what they are Ask vs Hint about. You might be Ask-culture when it comes to visiting friends: "Would you like me to come over so we can play games?" but Hint-culture about birthday gifts: "I love Scharffenberger chocolate!" Or you might be the reverse: "It's always so much fun when we play games at your place!" and "Here's my Amazon wishlist!" You might feel it's unreasonable to ask directly for someone to email but normal to ask them to call, or the exact opposite, or that both are appropriate, or that neither are. People's inner rules about "this is too much to ask so I can only hint about wanting it" vary a lot.

My family is probably more "Ask" than "Hint": we are good with words and somewhat oblivious in general. But there are lots of things that I won't ask for. For example, when I realized that I needed a car, one of my friends pointed out that shipping a privately-bought used car halfway across the country was cheaper than the premium for buying a used car from a dealership. My parents have two cars and they basically don't use the second one: my mother almost never leaves the house without my father. It occurred to me that I could ask to buy their second car, which is a nice car in excellent condition because it's rarely driven. But I didn't, in part because asking for their car -- even asking to BUY their car at full market value -- felt like an unreasonable request. I told them I was planning to get a car and if they had offered to sell theirs, I'd've taken it. But they didn't, and I didn't ask, and that's fine.

One of the reasons that I am aware of how much I am not "Ask" culture is that I know someone who is. This is the person who inspired Wisteria, my character who is congenitally unable to take hints. And once I start thinking about all the areas where I expect hints or try to interpret them, I realize how much I rely upon them. For example, I was working with someone on a project where I hadn't heard from them recently, so I checked to make sure I'd responded to their last request and I had. But I hadn't gotten a reply, so I wanted to make sure now that they'd seen my email. We were still well-within the agreed-upon time frame so it wasn't a problem yes, but if spam filter or something had claimed my email, it would become one. I reached out on a different channel and said: "Oh hey, just wanted to make sure you got my email from [X Date]. No worries if you're busy and haven't gotten to the next step in the project yet, just making sure my email got through. :)" I included the second sentence specifically because I would react to the first sentence as "I expected to hear from you by now and I am deeply disappointed that you haven't finished the next step yet, what is your problem?" So even though the first sentence is at most a Hint, I still want to make sure that it has the right Hint-culture connotation of "I really do just want to make sure you got the email and are not waiting on me. I am not resentful or rebuking either your work or communication rate."

"Ask" and "Hint" cultures both encourage different failure modes. The failure mode of "Hint" is "passive-aggressive". Properly-done, Hint culture is designed to save face by giving both parties a graceful way out of a request. If you are eating chocolate, and I say "I love chocolate", and you say "Isn't it great?" and finish your chocolate without offering me any, then I can think "well, I didn't ask so you probably didn't realize I wanted some" and you can think "she didn't ask me for my chocolate so it's okay that I didn't share." If I simmer with resentment that you didn't offer to share your food when I Hint that I want to try it, or if you simmer with resentment that I Hinted that I want you to share, then we are Doing Hint Wrong.

The failure mode of "Ask" is "abrasive". This is the person who is "just being honest". The person who responds to "should I wear my blue dress or the red dress?" with "Those are both ugly". "Ask" culture is not a license to say anything because it's just words, and it's not a license to keep making the same request after being refused because "it doesn't hurt to ask." There is a point in Further Arrangements where Wisteria asks Justin to explain his reasoning, and Justin's reply amounts to "...because I'm an idiot." Wisteria doesn't accept this response: "My inability to follow your reasoning is my failure, not yours." This is an important facet of Wisteria for me: she can't properly participate in or understand Hint culture, and it frustrates her a lot -- but she doesn't believe Hint culture is innately inferior. It works for other people. It just doesn't work for her.

I have a lot of sympathy for people across the spectrum. I tend to assume the best about people, so if someone makes a request that I find too blunt, I think "they probably don't realize how it sounded and are not being pushy." If someone misses my hints, I assume they didn't notice them, because I know how often I miss hints. If I notice something that look like a hint to me, but I don't want to accede to the implicit request because I think it's unreasonable, I assume the hint was unintentional. Yo, guys, I am so bad at humaning. I'm gonna assume this is just as hard for the rest of you.

Date: 2017-08-12 07:33 pm (UTC)
danceswithlife: (Default)
From: [personal profile] danceswithlife
This post made me realize how much at age 60 that I've come to doing this automatically. If I were to carefully think back it came with a lot of failures, and not knowing how to do it, and constant fear that doing it wrong would alienate people I wanted to stay in relationship with. But that's the past, and I'm pretty glad it's over :-)

I would say, with people I don't know well, that I probably default to hint, leaving ask for the next step. But once I have a sense of them, I go with diplomatic versions of the one I think will work best, and adjust as necessary.

But there is possible a third piece to this, "tell" instead of ask or hint. I've reached a point where I am not easily offended, nor do I respond to criticism badly anymore, so my preference from others is to just tell me. It's more bothersome for me to figure out what a hint or ask are trying to tell me, than to deal with my reactions to possibly offensive or critical words. Because so many people are taught to hint instead of tell, I often leave encounters then realize what the hint was trying to tell me.

It means I also need to carefully identify those that would prefer me to tell rather than ask or hint.

Just my reaction to your post :-) Thanks for bringing it up.

Date: 2017-08-12 10:17 pm (UTC)
terrana: (Default)
From: [personal profile] terrana
For the reference of those reading, I am not the person who inspired Wisteria. I am, however, very similar. I am incapable of interacting with or even noticing this "hint" layer of communication. I only have people's word that it even exists. Unlike Wisteria, however, I take it personally when people repeatedly assume that I should be able to interact in this way.

Date: 2017-08-13 03:03 am (UTC)
archangelbeth: An anthropomorphic feline face, with feathered wing ears, and glasses, in shades of gray. (Default)
From: [personal profile] archangelbeth
If you need to ref me, feel free! ArchangelBeth or just Beth is fine. Or A.B. I think I was once (one of the?) a proponent of "Hint" as an alternative to "guess." Because "Guess" does tend to have rules. Sort of like the rules of Faerie, from my opinion...

(Like "You Must Offer Hospitality To People Who Just Drop By, but They Must Refuse X Times," and if you accept their refusal then you really needed to do other things, but you have to offer X times, and hopefully you don't actually get caught Underhill inconveniently...)

I'm aware of at least some of the Guess/Hint rules, but more in the abstract. I'm more on the Ask side of the spectrum.

Date: 2017-08-13 05:36 am (UTC)
terrycloth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] terrycloth
I'm too shy to ask, most of the time, and I tend to get paranoid and start interpreting hints that aren't there while missing the ones that were supposed to be actually hinting.

Clearly, we need a secret cheat mode we can bring up, like in the diplomacy systems of most games, that can predict the answers to questions before we ask them. Preferably with the tooltip that breaks down the plusses and minuses so we can see why we're still getting a red X.

Date: 2017-08-13 07:23 pm (UTC)
tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] tagryn
I liked this post, and thought it was very reasonable. I also think "hint" might be a more useful label than "guess," so thanks for that.

I was raised in a Hint household, but have tried to find more of a balance between the two as I've grown older. Ask requires a certain assertiveness that may take time to develop if its not how one was raised, and on the flip side Hint requires a certain radar for subtlety that also may only come with experience and conscious looking if its not something one was exposed to a lot as a kid.

All of which I guess comes down to, social interaction is complicated.

Date: 2017-08-13 09:02 pm (UTC)
3rdragon: (Default)
From: [personal profile] 3rdragon
Huh. I hadn't heard of this cultural dichotomy at all, but it's an interesting idea, and I see what you're talking about. I probably fall into 'ask,' at least in many instances -- though I hear you about the car. I can ask for a Makita drill for Christmas, but I would feel weird asking for a car, unless I knew that someone was actively trying to get rid of it. (Or unless I was asking my grandpa, who would pick three cars out of the junkyard and Frankenstein it for me, but even that would feel like a Big Deal.)

When it comes to hanging out, I am very much ask, largely because most of the people I want to hang out with are sufficiently busy and sufficiently disorganized that if I don't make things happen, by word or deed, they generally won't happen. I decided a while ago that life is too short to spend time analyzing response time on emails and text messages, and that I am not going to feel guilty or anxious about things that someone didn't come straight out and tell me. I may act on hints if I catch them, but after several years of watching different communication styles, I'm in favor of the patterns where people tell each other things.

. . . which may sound kind of judgemental, and I'm not trying to be -- it's more a matter of drawing lines in the sand about what I will and will not consider to require action/engagement/feeling on my part. Feel free to live your life however works for you -- but please don't be upset if I miss cues and don't play according to those rules.

(Relatedly, I'd nearly gotten to a point where I managed to squelch the little flicker of panic when one of my bosses pulls me into a room with a door to talk about something, or where I don't generally expect news from management to be bad -- and then we laid off a whole bunch of people, which is great for that low-level paranoia.)

Date: 2017-09-20 03:53 am (UTC)
alltoseek: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alltoseek
I tend to assume the best about people

This is me too and I'm constantly surprised by how much it is so not other people. Like so many other people rush to negative judgement constantly.

if someone makes a request that I find too blunt, I think they are my kid and teenagers are just goddamned self-centered and thoughtless and so was I ;-P

If someone misses my hints, I assume that I'm being too self-centered and should just STFU already.

If I notice something that look like a hint to me, but I don't want to accede to the implicit request because I think it's unreasonable, I stop worrying about it.

Yo, guys, I am so bad at humaning

ME TOO! Soooo much better at dogs. And cats.

I'm gonna assume this is just as hard for the rest of you.
...this actually never occurred to me. Except obvsly there are ppl who are really bad at being human. But they prolly had neglected and abusive childhoods (Da Capo al Fine).

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