Swizec Teller - a geek with a hatswizec.com

Senior Mindset Book

Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

Senior Engineer Mindset cover
Learn more

    Askers vs. Guessers

    Here's a culture clash that comes up every few weeks in various contexts: People who Just Ask and people who Guess Before Asking.

    I got tired of linking to the original source from 2007 and decided to put my own explanation into writing. Yes I've been explaining this to a new person every few weeks for years. Now you get see people's eyes light up as their brain goes "Holy shit this explains half the conflicts I've ever had". You're welcome :)

    Yes that's an old MetaFilter post, a relic of the old web. Others have since written about this concept, like The Atlantic behind a paywall, and Kottke with his 25 years of fine hypertext products. In anthropology this is known as high- and low- context cultures. There are papers about askers vs. guessers, it's not just something the internet dreamed up.


    Askers are people who Just Ask for things. They think it's your job to say No, if their request makes you uncomfortable.

    This is the friend who thinks nothing of asking for ridiculous favors. The boss who keeps adding to your TODO and never stops. The infinite email in your inbox. The grandma who keeps filling your plate at a holiday feast.

    Saying No is always okay and even expected. An asker won't stop until you tell them to stop. You set the boundaries.


    Guessers try to Guess Before Asking. They think it's their job to make sure a request is reasonable before asking.

    This is the friend who gently floats the idea of maybe hanging out sometime hoping that you'll invite them to dinner. The copilot who says "Looking at those gauges might be good" instead of "Yo we're crashing into that mountain". The person with explosive people in their past (usually a parent) who makes sure you're in the right mood before asking for things. The guest who feels awkward asking for a glass of water.

    Saying No is unexpected and shocking. They've done all this pre-work to make sure the request was reasonable and within scope. How can you say No!? That's just rude :O

    The culture clash

    My partner is French. They're a high-context culture. My grandma is Slovenian. We're a low-context culture. The first time they met was hilarious. My sister and I almost died laughing 😂

    My grandma likes to cook food. Obviously, she's a grandma. And my partner thinks it's polite to finish your plate.

    Finishing your plate in Slovenia means you're still hungry. My grandma added more. My partner ate it. Shocked, my grandma added more. Struggling, my partner ate it all. Grandma adds more. Partner stuffs it all down. Grandma adds. Partner eats.

    It was a dinner mexican standoff!

    Eventually my sister and I brokered a cease-fire. In Slovenia you have to say that you're done eating and couldn't possibly eat more. You're expected to get into a little argument about how great it all was but really you are quite full and besides isn't there dessert?

    Later my partner commented "Wtf was that I nearly died?" and my grandma was like "Wow you've found yourself an eater, I'm gonna have to adjust my portions! 🤩"

    Or as a friend likes to say: Don't ask, don't know, don't get. The further you stray from your close family and friends, the better it is to act like an Asker.


    Published on November 29th, 2023 in Psychology, Mindset

    Did you enjoy this article?

    Continue reading about Askers vs. Guessers

    Semantically similar articles hand-picked by GPT-4

    Senior Mindset Book

    Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companies

    Learn more

    Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.

    Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.

    Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.

    Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev

    Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization

    Want to get my best emails on JavaScript, React, Serverless, Fullstack Web, or Indie Hacking? Check out swizec.com/collections

    Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog

    Want to brush up on your modern JavaScript syntax? Check out my interactive cheatsheet: es6cheatsheet.com

    By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️

    Created by Swizec with ❤️