There are fourteen answers on this question: How to write a note that will convince an unknown person to not urinate next to my garage door?

The "Question" part of the question states:

If we were to communicate with this person through a note we print, what should we say to them, so we encourage them to stop what they're doing?

Or, can you suggest an alternative approach to pass the offender the message they can't continue urinating right next to our door?

Both of these options involve communication with the person doing this.

After reviewing the answers, I've found the following:

  • 2 answers actually seem to address the question from an interpersonal direction, at least in part.
  • 8 answers don't involve interpersonal interactions at all. They are solutions that involve cameras, paint, posters, etc.
  • 1 answer ignores the OP's request to not do something passive aggressive.
  • 3 answers are deleted.

Do answers need to actually suggest a solution that uses interpersonal skills?

What should be done with answers that do not propose solutions that involve interpersonal skills?

I've updated the title of the question to specifically mention "writing a note".

  • 1
    Your edit deviates from the intent of the question and renders answers that were previously (arguably) valid less valid. That is generally not considered okay on SE. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:24
  • 1
    @BrianMcCutchon The answers ignored the actual question. Both parts of the question specifically say "communicate through a note" and "pass a message". I haven't changed anything.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:25
  • 3
    The answer also includes "or can you suggest an alternative approach." Sometimes the best answer is not what the OP is looking for. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:26
  • @BrianMcCutchon No. It does not. It says "suggest an alternative approach to pass the offender the message". One can not ignore half of the sentence just to make it say what you wish.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:27
  • 3
    There's more than one way to send a message. A security camera sends a message pretty well. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:29
  • @BrianMcCutchon Then the answers need to explain that. Most of the comments I left on the answers that don't seem to be interpersonal skills request that they explain how the answer is related to IPS. That specific one does not but that is definitely an option. Explaining why your answer will work is required on every SE site.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:31
  • 2
    Okay. I'm also against a too-strict enforcement of scope or even of the constraints of the question in answers. Many answers on Stack Overflow are along the lines of "You can't do it that way, but..." or "That's a bad idea, but here's another approach...." But maybe, for example, the security camera answer should start with, "Confronting this person or passing a written note is a bad idea, but...." I just don't think it should be deleted. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:37
  • @BrianMcCutchon Which is why this question exists. To decide what to do in this case. You've written your answer. Monica has written one, too. I've not taken any action other than to write comments. We shall see what the community decides. That's what Meta is for. There is a completely different meta question, by the way, addressing the what should we do if the answer is "don't do that" is done somewhat here they are different issues.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:41
  • How does this question differ from this one? Aside from the legal aspect, I mean. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:53
  • 1
    @BrianMcCutchon That question is specifically about the legal aspect, so I'm not sure that you can ignore the legal aspect. Shog's answer would apply here, as well, but he pretty much ignored the legal part of the question... so that's his fault, not the question's. His answer is also not really a solution, it's more of a signpost to great meta discussions on the network that we can use to determine how this community wants to deal with similar issues. We are a new beta site and still having to make these decisions for ourselves.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 5:09
  • 1
    Do you consider "Do not engage this person directly, go to another person" an interpersonal answer? I do. Sometimes, not getting into a conflict and let someone else handle the situation is best, e.g. a violent drunk (calling the police might be the safest solution for everyone). Some of the answer go in that direction, but should make it more clear where the interpersonal angle is.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 7:37
  • 2
    @Polygnome Definitely. As we've already discussed elsewhere, it's not necessarily the solution itself that is the problem, but the omission of answer content that actually explains why the question as asked isn't the best solution. We should not be expected to intuit "don't do that" as part of the answer. The answers should explain why not to do something along with explaining why their solution is better - regardless of whether the new solution deals with IPS or not.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 19:42
  • @Catija look at interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/2358/… I think your iput could be valuable there. Imho, that question is off-topic since it has nothing to do with IPS (the Op clearly states he isn't interested in salvaging the relationship) but purely a legal one - and the accepted answer shows that, giving only legal advice.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 8:26

10 Answers 10


Those answers are probably responding to "or can you suggest an alternative approach" while missing "to pass the offender the message". (When I wrote this answer, the original question was more clearly asking for help writing a note.)

All questions on this site carry an implicit assumption that solutions should involve dealing with the other person. Not mounting cameras. Not rebuilding walls in rental properties. Not repainting.

My understanding of SE guidelines in general and this site's scope is that most of those posts are not answers to this question on this site. Deleting them is not inappropriate.

The community needs to help, though. We can't expect the moderators to clean up everything on their own. We have flags. We have downvotes. We have reviews. Some of us (not me personally yet, but some of you) have delete votes.

Let's use them.

Comments have questioned using Not An Answer (NAA) flags for posts that offer alternative approaches. Yes it's fuzzier here, but an answer like "start a YouTube channel to humiliate the person" when the question asked for non-passive-aggressive responses isn't an answer to the question that was asked. Like "order pizza" on Seasoned Advice or "just use jQuery" in response to a Perl question on SO, it might be a good (and/or entertaining) answer to a different question. But posts that don't fit within the framework provided by the OP don't help the site with its goal of high-quality, focused Q&A.

Interpersonal Skills isn't just about finding the right words for conversations or notes -- sometimes the right response involves an appeal to authority, evasion, or even some physical force. This isn't talk.SE. But it's also not Lifehacks, so if we see answers accumulating that seem to go somewhat afield of the scope, it's time to review the answers and the question.

  • 1
    I think the NAA flag is perfect for such cases. The question on IPS implies an interpersonal nature to the question, and expectation for answers. If the answer ignores that this is interpersonal skills (such as with technological, biological, or environmental answers) then it is not really an answer to an interpersonal question.
    – User 27
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 4:50
  • 6
    But, a (fake) security camera and even an anti-pee corner does also — indirectly — pass the offender a message. So it's not so clear to me whether those are not an answer.
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 10:51
  • 4
    I'm not so sure it's black and white like that. Interpersonal skills aren't all discussions and notes. Dealing with other people may involve indirect methods of communication; and is actually a big part of how we communicate. Perhaps people should make it clear how it's an interpersonal skill; but IMO doing anything with the intent of changing another person's behaviour does have interpersonal aspects. This is, in essence an interpersonal conflict.
    – JMac
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 11:12
  • "should involve dealing with the other person." or "don't involve dealing with the other person." If it can be concluded that dealing with the person is a bad idea (may be violent, or too much a hassle to wait the unknown person), then no need to deal with the person, just solve the problem.
    – Vylix
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 15:57
  • I've made some edits based on these comments (pinging @gerrit since I can only ping one of you in this comment). Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:47
  • My answer was deleted so now I don't have enough reputation to downvote this nonsense. Of course a security camera IS used to communicate! Just like ANY kind of security measure (or do you really think that the security checks at the airports are actually done for security?)
    – user3746
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 9:45

This site isn't necessarily just about written or spoken communication, AFAIK. Not speaking with someone is still interpersonal relations.

I would interpret the cameras / paint answers as implicitly saying "don't even speak with this person, just solve the problem with a device". Perhaps they think being passive-aggressive is the best solution, despite what the OP stated.

Maybe we should ask them to mention that explicitly?

  • 3
    Yes to your (rhetorical?) question, such judgments should be spelled out.
    – 1006a
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 17:19
  • 10
    Arguing that mounting a camera is a form of communication is a plausible answer (though maybe a tough sell). Suggesting that an asker looking to communicate should mount a camera without making that argument isn't. We can't just call everything implicitly a form of communication because of where it's posted.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:22
  • 2
    I guess we should start asking people to spell that out, next time we see answers like that. Maybe?
    – user2191
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:23
  • 5
    I wouldn't; it's fine to assume good faith, but assuming this sort of (uh... bold?) approach without clear evidence probably gives the author both too much credit for their creativity and too little for their actual willingness to help. I'd probably just observe that they had neglected to address the actual question and strongly encourage them to do so ASAP.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:29

I believe there are two parts to this that lead to a potentially enforceable policy:

Questions must ask for problems requiring interpersonal skills for an ideal resolution

Using the example question linked above, if the person knows who the offending micturater is, then interpersonal skills are required to resolve the issue. Since the offender is unknown, however, asking about leaving notes is not about using interpersonal skills to resolve the issue. At best, the only on-topic portion of the question would be "is leaving notes for an unknown person an effective means of communicating?". At worst (as I believe is the case here), it attempts to disguise an off-topic question as being on-topic by suggesting an interpersonal solution when one isn't even practical.

In my opinion, interpersonal skills require, at a minimum, being able to communicate directly with the other party. Leaving notes for an unknown individual in the hopes that they will see the note, and read it, is an indirect method of communication, and therefore should be off-topic.

The other issue is what is acceptable in an answer.

Answers should address the use of interpersonal skills to resolve the stated problem, or offer a detailed explanation as to why the resolution being sought is a bad idea

This is harder. Due to the complexity of interpersonal relationships, we can expect to see a lot of background information provided for context in the questions. This is generally helpful, but it also provides a lot of temptation for sidebar discussion, or answers that focus on the context, and not the actual question.

For example, I recently asked how to communicate with the father of another child. Many of the comments are focused on aspects that aren't really the question (what I should say to my son, what I should say to the teacher, etc.). This isn't a problem, because comments are temporary and subject to deletion, anyway. If it doesn't provide clarification to the question (or an answer), it is noise that will likely get cleaned up. More problematic, imho, are answers which address something other than what was asked. For example, this answer, while providing advice that is pertinent to the context of my question, makes no effort to address the interpersonal issue that I'm actually asking about. It makes not a single mention of the father of the other child.

Answers like this, no matter how well-intentioned, should be deleted as Not An Answer. The same applies for any answer that doesn't provide a solution based upon interpersonal skills. "Move to another school", "enroll your child in martial arts", or "call a lawyer" are not valid answers, because they don't involve interpersonal skills. "Talk to the teacher", or "talk to Walter directly" should also be deleted, since they don't involve the specific use of interpersonal skills the question asks for.

However, something like "Don't talk to Walter's father, because x, y, and z. You should instead work through the teacher" would be fine, because it directly addresses what was asked about.


It is likely that this site will often attract questions that can be solved without interpersonal skills, and sometimes the interpersonal solution may not be the best one. In that specific answer, if the perpetrator turns out to be a violent drunk, interpersonal skills are likely not the way to go. If the questioner makes it clear that the only interest of the question is interpersonal skills, that's one thing, but often people ask questions on whichever site seems most appropriate in the hopes of just getting a solution.

You might argue that questions on other sites can be solved by out-of-scope solutions that are banned; for example, a question about making pizza on Seasoned Advice should not have the answer "order pizza" (per this Meta.SE question). But, in that case, the asker obviously doesn't want a pre-made solution, or else they wouldn't ask on that site.

By contrast, a solution to a question on The Workplace might be "get a lawyer," even though lawyers are arguably outside of the workplace, because workplace problems often require legal solutions. It seems this site is more like that one.

Furthermore, restricting the scope of answers too much risks losing quality answers. I think there's a reason that SE doesn't have an off-topic flag/delete reason for answers. Answers are typically given more leniency, since the answerer can't choose the site on which to post the answer, and, sometimes, the questioner chooses the wrong site for the question, or doesn't think to dual-post it to another site. I don't think the questioner or the community should be deprived of good answers because of that oversight.

My suggestion, in this case, is that the answers that take approaches that do not appear to be in scope or to follow the guidelines of the question should include a brief explanation of why they do so. For example, "Confronting this person or leaving a note is a bad idea because [reason], but [alternative solution]," or even, "You could take that approach to this problem, but here is another one that is better because...."

  • One point that I choose to address independently from anything else. You include "sometimes, the questioner chooses the wrong site for the question" and that it should be answered anyway. SE is designed specifically against that. The help center has this about off-topic: If your question is not specifically on-topic for Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange, it may be on topic for another Stack Exchange site. If no site currently exists that will accept your question, you may commit to or propose a new site at Area 51, the place where new Stack Exchange communities are democratically created.
    – User 27
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 5:03
  • 1
    @WitanapDanu When I said "wrong," I didn't mean "off-topic," I meant "on-topic, just not the site where you would get the best answers." I think the best solution here is probably cross-site question sharing. Short of that, if this community really doesn't want those kinds of answers, maybe dual-posting the question to another site is a good idea. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 5:16
  • 4
    Note that The Workplace does ban certain common answers of this sort - otherwise by now there'd be a bot that posted them to every single question. As you suggest, explaining why such an answer is appropriate to the specific question asked should be considered a bare minimum requirement for it to be considered an answer; if it isn't clear that the answerer has read and understood the actual question, much time will be wasted on these. Actually, I just did this for the top answer.
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 18:27

In this case I think moderator intervention is appropriate.

I think what we need is a site specific Post Notice that can be applied to answers. One that states that answers here must either solve the issue using Interpersonal skills or explain why using interpersonal skills is not the right solution for the issue.

Add this banner to those answers, then delete them in 24 hours if they do not take action to correct it. I think that the community will help back that, but unless they see some sign saying stop or yield they are just going to blow through the intersection(up vote) not realizing that the answer has issues that make it improper for this Q&A.

Suggested wording:

Interpersonal Skills SE requires that answers either attempt to solve problems using interpersonal skills or that they explain clearly why solving the problem using interpersonal skills is not the appropriate solution. Answers that do not meet this requirement may be deleted.

NOTE: Please feel free to edit/wordsmith the notice so we can get one that works here


I think the most important goal of an answer is that it answers the OP's question.

One thing I have noticed is some questions are very long (compared to other SE sites in general). They contain a lot of background information involving complex interactions, with a question in there somewhere.

For example (for illustrative purposes only, not to critique the content),
What to do when another person believes that you are mind bogglingly ignorant?
The title really isn't specific (no doubt there is an excess of mind boggingly ignorant people in the world), and it is difficult to find in the body what specific question is being asked of us. And answers tend to not be focused as a result.

I think it would be helpful for the OP to block out the specific question being asked. For example:



How can I discuss this matter with my teacher in a respectful manner, and if necessary would it be appropriate to escalate the issue to the principal?

This would reduce the possibility of asking multiple or vague questions, and would help to keep answers relevant and on-topic.

  • Sometimes the back story helps to understand the question, and its context. Other times it's really noise, and is not important to understanding the question, nor finding an answer. In a few cases it is even worse; it can take a good, well-focused, question and turn it into a question that is too broad to write a good answer for.
    – User 27
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 6:18

Specific to the linked question, I think the problem lies on this part

Or, can you suggest an alternative approach to pass the offender the message they can't continue urinating right next to our door?

This "alternative approach" allows the answers with no (or very little) IPS-related approach to fall onto "acceptable solution", or even more "creative solution", hence the upvotes.

Remove this part, and those answers will be invalidated and may be deleted.

Future questions should be protected from second question which is off-topic disguised as "alternative solution" loophole that will make them too broad, or even attract off-topic answers.

People is actually giving solution to the problem, without actually answering the main question:

If we were to communicate with this person through a note we print, what should we say to them, so we encourage them to stop what they're doing?

I believe this is appropriate as this is actually solving problem X in a XY problem, unless explicitly stated that they are aware of available lifehack solutions and more interested in IPS solution.

Even so, I reviewed some of the answers and found some actually conveys the message indirectly via alternative approach, which falls to the border of IPS, but still on-topic. The answers can be improved by stating explicitly why it works better than just a note (which can be ignored) or confronting the person.


In some cases, the "softer" interpersonal skills like active listening and finding common ground may not be sufficient to solve an interpersonal conflict. In those cases, it will be appropriate for answers to suggest other methods of solving the OP's problems. Standard requirements for interpersonal-related evidence should still apply.

Those answers will be on a spectrum between something like "you need to get out of the house right now and call the police" (then we close the question as beyond the scope of what any Stack Exchange can solve) and "try A, B, and C, and if those don't work you can escalate to X" (those questions and answers are perfectly appropriate here, assuming A, B, and C are traditional interpersonal techniques and X is something legal).

I think because this SE is specifically dedicated to improving interpersonal skills, there is a lot of value in helping folks identify when situations diverge or cross a line. But that means that if an answerer is going to jump right to X, the onus is on that answerer to explain why regular person-to-person interaction is insufficient, or how X is, in fact, an appropriate part of the interpersonal skill set.

In other words, I would be happier with answers to the example question that explained why some folks like to pee in public, or how "pee corners" develop and attract multiple unrelated individuals, or what-have-you; why a note is never going to change that behavior no matter how well worded; and what kinds of incentives would change the motivation equation of the urinator(s) (assuming that all of that is accurate and supported).

I personally would prefer that the support for the above come from some kind of reproducible evidence, but even something like "in my experience, people pee in public because they're drunk and, also in my experience, drunk people aren't likely to read notes, don't respond well to the reasoning of those they do read, and probably won't remember having read it the next time they're drunk with a full bladder, so you need a more immediate consequence that has some lasting repercussions" would be preferable to just leaving it all entirely unsaid.

Given such support, a bunch of solutions like "hydrophobic paint, motion-activated sprinklers, or put up a highly-visible camera and then post video of them to the web" would have a solid grounding in interpersonal understanding. Without that context, such answers are, at best, a proxy for a list of search results on "how do I stop people peeing on my wall" and, at worst, actively mean-spirited and counter to the goal of better interpersonal relations.

Just a note: I don't have experience in discouraging public urinators, nor have I researched the topic, so all examples above are purely hypothetical.


Answers Can be Wrong, But Not Off-Topic

I'm new to this site, so my perspective is strictly that of a Stack Exchange contributor.

As I understand the SE model, questions can be off-topic, but answers to on-topic questions cannot be off-topic. Instead, problem answers can be:

  • Wrong
  • Not An Answer (something other than a legitimate attempt to answer the question)
  • Incomprehensible (i.e. VLQ)

If a question is deemed on-topic by community standards, then answers that are legitimate attempts to answer the OP's question, yet somehow invite the label "off-topic" by virtue of not promoting the site's purpose for existence, are simply wrong answers.

As already noted by @Monica Cellio, the community already has the tools to deal with wrong answers. But it seems clearly contrary to the spirit of SE to delete such answers unless they're first notably downvoted, confirming the community's disapproval.


Do answers need to actually suggest a solution that uses interpersonal skills?

No, the question needs to request a solution that uses interpersonal skills, making wrong any answer that does not deliver upon the OP's request.

What should be done with answers that do not propose solutions that involve interpersonal skills?

If the question is solidly on-topic, such answers should be downvoted. This is how the community provides feedback about the (perhaps site-specific) usefulness of an answer.

It's OK to have wrong answers to questions. If a question is attracting lots of them, then perhaps the better question is what's wrong with the question? Given that the design of SE is such that many wrong answers are precluded by closing off-topic questions, perhaps it would be useful to consider why an on-topic question is enticing users to post "wrong" answers.

It's helpful to acknowledge that this Meta question was prompted by a question that drew a lot of attention because it was on the Hot Network Questions list. Unfortunately such questions often attract a lot of up-votes from users that are less familiar with a site's standards. Such is the nature of the HNQ list.

Perhaps for this reason it is doubly-important to ensure questions meet site standards. Putting a question on-hold will not only block further answers, but also remove it from the HNQ in about an hour's time.

  • 2
    If the question is solidly on-topic, such answers should be downvoted. The problem is too often on allsites on SE the voters are less concerned about the topicality of a question and its answers than the core community. so even if you get 10 down votes 2 up-votes cancel out the penalty and 20 more upvotes get piled on because the answer is useful even if the question and answer are off topic. Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 16:09

I think whatever people's arguments are, as long as this site is named as "interpersonal", their answers will always and inevitably be shaped by their understanding of "interpersonal". This is purely the linguistic/cognitive problem, and we would be wasting time arguing if we don't have a clear, indisputable definition on "interpersonal".

So what are the definitions of the word?

  • Oxford: Relating to relationships or communication between people
  • Merriam-Webster: being, relating to, or involving relations between persons
  • Cambridge: connected with relationships between people
  • Macmillan: involving relationships between people; interpersonal skills (=the ability to create good relationships between yourself and other people)

I see most dictionaries don't include "communication" in the definitions.

  • None of the definitions include the work "skills" either, yet it is part of the name for this site. What skills other than communication do you suggest we develop or use to create and affect relations between people? ("Relations is in your chosen definitions.)
    – User 27
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 9:54
  • I would interpret hanging a poster is equivalent to saying upfront. Is that communication?
    – Ooker
    Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 14:33

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