Tag Archives: tell culture


I didn’t really have good role models for boundaries, and didn’t hear them talked about much as a kid, so when I first heard people talking about them, I tried to fit them into my existing categories. But that didn’t work very well, so they felt like nonsense.

It looked like when people were expressing boundaries, they were drawing on nothing but their own preferences to determine them - so maybe boundaries were a kind of strong preference? But people seemed to use some sort of moralistic language around boundaries. People who “violated boundaries” weren’t just costly to interact with, but behaving wrongly, viewed as dangerous, to be excluded from one’s life. Then maybe boundaries were like absolute standards of right and wrong? But that didn’t work either, since they were determined so subjectively. Continue reading

Communication From Another Dimension

In my post complaining about the way people talk about Guess, Ask, and Tell Cultures, I summarized them this way:

The gist of the difference is that in “ask culture” it’s normal to ask for things you want even if you don’t expect to get them, it’s normal to refuse requests, and it’s not expected to anticipate others’ needs if they don’t ask for things, whereas in guess culture, you’re expected to offer things without being asked, you don’t ask for things unless you really need them or strongly expect the other person will want to give them, and it’s rude to refuse requests. (Tell culture is a variant on ask culture where instead of just making a request, you express the strength and exact nature of your preference, so other people can respond to your needs cooperatively, balancing your interest against theirs, and suggesting better alternatives for you to get what you want.)

But the more I think about it, the more I'm sure that the problem isn't that one or all of these is bad - it's that these distinctions are insufficiently dimensional. Here are a few more precise axes along which communication differs:

  • Explicit vs Indirect
  • Verbal vs Nonverbal
  • Anticipation vs Self-Advocacy
  • Zero-Sum vs Coöperative

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Gel Culture: No Boots

The way people have been praising ask culture and tell culture makes me imagine a boot asking a human face whether it would like to be stamped on - forever. Whether it wants to or not, eventually the boot's going to give in. But why do I feel so uncomfortable with the idea of ask/tell culture? It seems so sensible; why do I want to run away and hide whenever I hear someone explain how good it is?

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