An insurmountable number of factors come into play that result in either effective or frustrating communication. Personality type, current mood and speaking the same language are only the beginning. Perhaps the most important factor is communication style. One of these styles that’s specifically related to negotiation has two main types: askers and guessers.
This concept of askers vs. guessers first came up in a MetaFilter discussion. Askers feel comfortable requesting just about anything they want, understanding that the answer may not be favorable. Guessers avoid asking for things unless they are fairly sure that they will get what they want.
If you and your ex, friends or family members have regular communication issues (or get along easily), you can likely attribute that to being compatible here. When you aren’t compatible or one of you doesn’t effectively ask for what you want, communications break down quickly. Let’s get into how to avoid that.
How being an asker or guesser affects your relationships
As you might imagine, when an asker meets a guesser, tensions often arise. Askers are often seen as presumptuous and rude to guessers because askers go after what they want without taking into account possible objections. One example of this in a divorce scenario is that askers aren’t shy about demanding all the shared property they want. Askers can alienate others who are afraid to say no. Guessers can easily hear askers’ requests as (often unfair) expectations. However, you see what you get more clearly with askers, who are direct and honest.
Guessers can be seen as indecisive or passive people-pleasers. Askers might see them as easy targets or doormats they can walk over. But guessers are usually very empathic, nice and fair. In this, they might lose out on some of the things they want. However, they are usually seen as polite and considerate (unless they are being perceived by someone who wants to say no). An example of this is when a guesser assumes their spouse will be lonely if they don’t have the kids for a special occasion. Instead of asking for that day, the guesser might forgo time they really wanted to spend with their children to avoid conflict with their co-parent.
Is it better to be an asker or a guesser?
Neither is really better or worse — but askers tend to get their way more often. They often tend to be “right” more often because they probe the situation directly vs. making assumptions. So, one might argue that it is better to be an asker as long as you ask in a tactful, thoughtful and productive manner.
How askers can improve their negotiation skills
Here are a few ways askers can increase a positive outcome in their negotiations:
- Read the room. Before you speak up and ask for what you want, wait for a time and place where it seems like the other(s) will be able to thoughtfully respond without feeling put on the spot. Otherwise, they might give an impulsive decision or change their mind later.
- Try to consider the feelings of others. Just because you want something doesn’t mean it’s fair. Compromise is almost always a better long-term solution than selfishness.
- Soften your request. Instead of saying “I want the kids this spring break” (mic drop), weave in qualifying details and use an emotional appeal. Say, “Since you had the kids all winter break, I’d love to take the kids to the lake for spring break.”
How guessers can improve their negotiation skills
Here are a few ways guessers can increase a positive outcome in their negotiations:
- Have counterpoints prepared. Since you’re naturally going to consider all the reasons you might get a “no” response, don’t take those as reasons you shouldn’t even ask. If you can come up with counterpoints that still make your request reasonable, have those points to frame the conversation for success prepared in case they object.
- Be clear and firm. Try not to overthink it or get tripped up on a possible negative response. If you want something and think it’s fair to ask, state exactly what you want and why. So, instead of saying, “Is it OK if I have the kitchenware set?” say something like, “I’d like the kitchenware set because I’ve really enjoyed using it over the years.”
- Ask in a setting where you feel comfortable. Pick a time and place where you feel confident and safe and where the person you’re dealing with will be receptive and not in a position of power. So, instead of asking them in their office at the end of a workday (when they are likely geared up and in a place where they’re in charge), ask them to get together so you can discuss something important to you.
Final thoughts on askers and guessers
So, in summary: there’s no straightforward better or more socially appropriate approach when it comes to asking vs. guessing. Both types need the proper balance of approach, etiquette and delivery. We’d love to hear your thoughts on askers vs. guessers, and how you approach situations where you need to request something from another. Chime in below in the comments section.
More tips to improve communication:
- Communication During Divorce: Productive Conversations
- Our ‘Go-To’ Mediation Expert Shares the Secret to Keeping Your Divorce Amicable (Your Kids Will Thank You!)
- Is Your Style of Communication Getting in the Way of Your Relationships?
- Three Little-Known Communication Tools to Improve Your Relationships