Earlier this summer, I read a fantastic article from The Guardian entitled Are You an Asker or a Guesser? In the article, the author offered up the idea that people fall into two distinct groups based on how they request favors from others and how they deal with those requests.
In the words of the author, Oliver Burkeman, "We are raised, the theory runs, in one of two cultures. In Ask culture, people grow up believing they can ask for anything – a favor, a pay rise– fully realizing the answer may be no. In Guess culture, by contrast, you avoid "putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes… A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer."
It's easy to see how this can really be a problem in the business world. Businesspeople use negotiation as a key part of their success, and finding yourself as an asker negotiating with a guesser can be very difficult, as can the opposite. Some cultures are heavily into guess-style negotiation, while others just ask.
I was raised to be a guesser. It was often considered very rude to simply ask for the things that other people had, or even to ask for discounts. It is a constant challenge for me to overcome my cultural background and do things like negotiating sales and other such tactics that are incredibly useful for small businesspeople.
Quite often, I find myself in negotiation situations, both with askers and with other guessers. I've learned that the best approach for both sides is to simply clearly state both sides of a proposed trade focusing on what benefit each side gets from the trade, and ask what the other side thinks.
Askers expect this kind of negotiation behavior. Guessers appreciate the details that explain why the other person is offering this trade (I know that, as a guesser, I certainly appreciate it). Both sides appreciate, on some level, a straightforward trading partner.
I'll use a recent example of this. As I mentioned last month, I've been shopping recently at a store that's been running an ongoing out-of-business sale. When I was in there, I spotted a book that I was interested in reading – and perhaps writing a book review about. However, the sticker price on the book was higher than I thought.
If I were purely operating as a guesser, I would have either paid the sticker price or left it on the shelf. If I were purely operating as an asker, I would have simply walked to the counter and low-balled. Instead, I took a middle road. I walked to the counter, said that I was interested in this book but I knew I could get it for less elsewhere, and offered to match the price I found with an internet search. The cashier smiled and said, "Sure!"
Here's the take home point. You'll have better success in business and in life when negotiating if you act like an asker but make a sincere effort to respect the guessers. Negotiate with clarity, but without bluntness, and you'll earn the respect of people from both cultures.
Image credit: Miss Karen