Do you feel frustrated when people beat around the bush instead of asking for what they want? Or do you feel some people are rude and impose themselves on you when they ask for things?
Either one of these feelings is probably the result of having an “Ask” or “Guess” approach to life.
Ask parents vs. guess parents
There is no better explanation for this than the original post from Andrea Donderi as a response to a question on the Ask MetaFilter community. Here is a short extract:
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. 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.
This is an absolutely brilliant summary of the frustration many people feel in life when dealing with a culture different from their own. What does it mean for you and your kids?
Learning to be direct is important
Being able to ask for things politely is a great life skill. Most small kids are brilliant at asking for stuff. As they get older, family pressures and natural insecurity may cause them to become much less direct.
I think we should be wary of this indirectness taking over. We can help our children know when it is helpful to ask for what they want in a friendly, direct way. They can also understand how to respond appropriately when someone says, “No.”
Guessing is a useful skill
I’m an asker without a doubt. My wife is a guesser. Our children are somewhere in between.
Even though it’s not natural for me, I see how being a guesser is helpful. It requires more empathy, consideration, and tact. All these are skills and intuitions I want my kids to develop.
Developing asking AND guessing skills in your kids
Let me offer 2 quick tips I’ve tried with my own kids to help develop them develop both ends of their own ask vs guess spectrum.
First, I encourage them not to beat around the bush. When they start giving me the back story before asking for something, I stop them and say, “Please just ask your question.” This is directness in practice.
Second, I help them to read the room. When they interrupt something or ask some inappropriate question in the context of what is going on, I call them on it. I say, “What is happening around you? Why ask that now?” This helps them judge the outcome before they ask the question.
Askers and guessers can get along well. We can help our children grow up knowing when to be direct and when to show extra tact. It starts with the simple step of dialogue.
Share your thoughts on asking vs. guessing with other parents. Tell us who’s right in the comments below.