Part of interpersonal relationships is knowing when to say nothing. Sometimes there is no polite way to say what you want to say. A recent example is this question How can I politely tell a family who invited me for dinner that I'm still hungry?.

In this case, it was not a one-time experience, but a consistent, established pattern. The OP, in my opinion, answered the question himself:

..... I decided to eat at home prior to visiting .....

Another example is this question about a noisy eater at work How can I ask an unfamiliar coworker to eat more quietly?. Again, the OP had the solution in his question

Most of the time, I've just been putting on headphones....

In both cases, the answer buried in the question was far from ideal from the OP's point of view. So what? Living with less than ideal solutions is part of interpersonal relationships and better than hurting someone's feelings, possibly for no purpose.

If you are a guest in someone's house, you follow their rules and customs. If you don't like it, stay home. If you have a co-worker with bad table manners, leave it to someone who knows him well to speak to him.

There is no kind or polite way to deal with some problems other than gritting one's teeth and keeping one's mouth shut.

However, advising an OP that what cannot be cured must be endured seems to be against the policy of this site. (See answer of HDE to Why was another one of my answers deleted?).

Let's not rule out keeping silent as a valid answer when it may actually be the best answer. Such an answer should explain why the problem the OP asked about is not one of the battles he should choose to fight.

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    Yep. This is one reason I believe this beta is showing that this site is pretty much useless for many people. Anyway, at least me.
    – davidbak
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 4:41
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    One more thing: Often people not just already have a working solution, but bring themselves into these strange situations by very stubborn or odd thinking (e.g. the person who refused to say thanks if somebody said 'Gesundheit' just because he didn't think this was something to thank for)
    – idmean
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 16:02

4 Answers 4


This site is interpersonal.stackexchange.com, not ihaveaproblemandwantanysolution.stackexchange.com. There's a definitive difference.

First of all, we are a site for Interpersonal problems and solutions.

We're not Lifehacks.SE, or Workplace.SE. So, please interpret the answer of HDE as saying that you can't answer a question about adressing the behaviour of a loud co-worker by only saying 'wear headphones', or 'go to HR and have them handle it'.

Living with less than ideal solutions is part of interpersonal relationships and better than hurting someone's feelings, possibly for no purpose.

If you can write an answer that argues (preferably backed up with how, why and experience) that no matter what or how you tell someone something specific, it will hurt that person to some extent, and they are maybe better off by not addressing it, then feel free to write it down.

You can leave an answer saying 'this is probably the politest thing you could do' ... but keep in mind, it may backfire in such and such a way.... so, unless you are prepared to take the risk, the headphones you're wearing now are really the best solution if you want to keep things polite'. You can't post answers that tell the OP they're being an ass for wanting to do something or post answers that state 'headphones are a good lifehack solution'. Provide your critique as part of an otherwise legitimate answer.


It's very, very hard to show that there's no interpersonal solution to an interpersonal problem.
It's very, very easy to claim that there isn't and then write a non-IPS answer.

This goes for answers suggesting use headphones/go to HR/take a xanax... If you can reasonably argue that the problem will go away with doing nothing, that's good.

There is no kind or polite way to deal with some problems other than gritting one's teeth and keeping one's mouth shut.

If an OP comes here to ask for an Interpersonal skill to their problem, and you're telling them to 'just suck it up, there's no way you can fix this', that's not an answer.

We should respect the premise of the question of an OP. The basic premise of a question is 'here's my problem that I'd like to resolve'. Not 'here's my problem, I'd like to ignore it'.

Even if you might think 'just suck it up', doesn't mean that other people can't offer advice about how to broach the subject as gentle as possible.

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    We have to agree to disagree. I've found that picking my battles is more important than picking a battle on everything.
    – user1760
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 19:55
  • Well, you can leave an answer saying 'this is probably the politest thing you could do' ... but keep in mind, it may backfire in such and such a way.... so, unless you are prepared to take the risk, the headphones you're wearing now are really the best solution if you want to keep things polite?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 19:57
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    You can't say 'suck it up, wear headphones'. Because that doesn't teach an OP an interpersonal skill. You can teach them to 'pick their battles' by explaining why even the 'politest' thing can go wrong..
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 19:58
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    "You can't say 'suck it up, wear headphones'. Because that doesn't teach an OP an interpersonal skill. You can teach them to 'pick their battles' by explaining why even the 'politest' thing can go wrong." Well said. Good answers teach people things.
    – user8960
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 23:51
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    The ability to keep one's thoughts to oneself on occasion is an interpersonal skill, and it should be legitimate to suggest that as an answer. Of course the answer should be framed that way, rather than in a "life hacks" way or as a one-liner with no explanation, but I don't think it's fair to say that answers suggesting maintaining the status quo are always saying that "there is no interpersonal solution".
    – 1006a
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 17:22
  • At worst, if I don't see IPS way of resolving this, and for instance, I see a workplace one, I would link to a workplace post in a comment. So I give that piece of information to the OP without answering. Yes I know, this isn't the real objective of comments.
    – Walfrat
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 15:35

This is a site mainly about how to communicate better. Most people come here in search of advice on how to communicate better with other people. Most questions are phrased in that angle.

Of course other solutions exist. But this isn't the place to tell someone to go to HR, or to fire someone, or to break up. This is a place where people come when they think they can find a social or communicative way of working out a problem, and the answers here (the good ones anyways) are supposed to hit that angle.

To that end, "don't talk to them" is an answer, but very often not very useful in solving the interpersonal issue at hand.

It's also incumbent on the askers to pick their battles, and if they ask here, it is at least implied that they care.


Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy the Interpersonal site, the rules applied to it seem to be based heavily on the rules from the related tech forums. Answers to tech questions may well be binary, but interpersonal matters are not.

Questions are routinely rejected for not including a specific question, which seems fair enough. But knowing the right question to ask can often be the solution, and if a poster knew that question they wouldn't be here, right? So for example, someone who is generally troubled by a friend's behaviour and doesn't know how to handle it (a perfectly reasonable 'interpersonal problem' to me) is forced to re-write their question to include a specific request which invariably ends up as something like 'What do I say to my friend...?'

In reality, solving an interpersonal conflict involves understanding the perspectives of all parties involved. Posters here are encouraged to include as much detail about the situation as they can, but ultimately any question asked by the poster will be one-sided.

Example An employee puts his feet on the desk at work. His manager keeps asking him to take his feet off the desk. This is causing bad feeling in the office.

If the employer came here to seek a solution, their question might be:

"How can I tell my employee to take his feet off the desk?"

Whearas the employee could just as easily bring the exact same interpersonal problem here, only his question could well be:

"How can I stop my employer nagging me to take my feet off the desk?"

Likely any answers to either questions in the above example would discuss the same issues - should the employee have his feet on the desk? Is it polite? Is there some other kind of solution? But the flaw in the system is that once a question is accepted, any answers are criticised for not directly answering the question. You may side with one party or the other, but ultimately, if you want your answer to be accepted you have to directly answer the question asked by the OP and give some suggested wording.

It's not a perfect system but I suppose that is why it is a beta.

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    If you can't phrase something as a focused question . . . then you probably don't have a clear goal in mind, which leads to unfocused discussion. @AnneDaunted's point is that we're not a forum, and that means that we want focus; that focus is accomplished via a specific and intentionally limiting format.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 13:20
  • @HDE226868 You are quite right, this is a Q&A site. The only questions here should be - is the question valid, and has my post answered the question? To answer the question I have to criticise the site to a degree because essentially the OP is asking why the site works the way it does. Perhaps its flaws are also a kind of strength - but hey, that's a discussion, and this isn't a forum.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 13:30
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    @HDE226868 I disagree that every problem can and should be phrased as a question, although I do understand that is the rules of this site and so I work with the format as best I can. The solution to a problem can be the correct question. In research, once you know the question you need to ask to solve a problem you are more than half way there - formulating the answer is just a formality. Here, we make the OP pose the question, and sometimes the question they pose is just arbitrary to meet the requirements of making the post.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 13:35
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    "I disagree that every problem can and should be phrased as a question" In this case, the problem may not be suitable for IPS.SE. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 18:13
  • @Astralbee Can you give an example of a good, on-topic interpersonal problem that can't be formulated as a question?
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 18:43
  • @HDE226868 You've proven that any problem can be forced into the form of a question. I'm saying that it isn't always the right question coming from the OP because a good question can be the answer. So here's an example. What if somebody posted "I hate my boss because he constantly criticises me. How can I punch him in the face?" You've got an interpersonal conflict, and a clear question. But should the answers give advice on the best punching techniques? I hope not. Violence isn't the answer, so the question is wrong.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 10:14
  • A very poor example, which could easily be turned into a more sensible question like "How do I tell my boss that being constantly criticised by them is demotivating me?" or something like that. And then ask over at TWP, of course. Why don't you give an example of a sensible IPS problem that can't be turned into a good IPS question, instead? Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 14:47
  • @AnneDaunted From this helpful discussion I can see that my statement "not every human dilemma can be phrased in the form of a question" is confusing the kinds of people that I spoke about in my answer - that see everything in binary. What I should have said is that they cannot easily be phrased as a question by the person with the problem. I will edit my answer to reflect this.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 16:22
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    That's demonstrating the XY problem, @Astralbee, showing that the OP isn't thinking about things the right way - not that the core interpersonal issue (conflict with the boss) can't be formulated in an interpersonal manner. Besides, that issue can be formulated as a question - it's just not asked as the right question.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 16:40

I personally agree with you that in some delicate situations it is better to say nothing, but that is not how the IPS.SE community approaches interpersonal interactions.

[I get your point that sometimes the 'interpersonal' solution can itself be perceived as unkind or impolite, but the problem with silence is, how's the other person supposed to guess what I am thinking?]

'Interpersonal skills' as defined on this site is all about good communication, and that was pointed out as a reminder by the recent 'rules' laid down by a highly respected Community Manager while cautioning members to avoid off-topic discussions about non-interpersonal subjects:

This site is chartered as a Q&A site for interpersonal communications skills (...) Do not continue to be a member of this site unless you're dedicated to building a Q&A site on interpersonal communications (...) If you do want a site for Q&A on interpersonal communications, then you must be willing to help build it.

It is notable that our site is called "Interpersonal Skills" but these expert guidelines explicitly refer to interpersonal communication skills.

From that, from the general consensus of what is off topic here and from the way the community responds to questions and answers, I am convinced this community sees IPS this way:

good communication is 'good interpersonal'. Bad communication is 'bad' interpersonal. (We will help you to improve that OK!) And not communicating is not interpersonal.

That is why most answers emphasise good interpersonal communications. The community is willing to assume on the basis of their massive collective life experience that interpersonal problems cannot be resolved without 'good interpersonal' communication.

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    Silence is a type of communication. Imagine your words hurt a friend and they stopped talking to you. The silent treatment is communicating to you that they're upset about it, rather than having to confront you with "that was hurtful, bla bla". Communication is simply about conveying a message, and sometimes silence can do that better than any words.
    – NVZ
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 6:12
  • You don't have to convince me @ NVZ. I already agree in theory that 'silence is a form of communication' and in practice I have given more than one person the 'silent treatment' rather than talk out my differences with them. But @ab2 is asking about this site approach to answers, and I think most active members on IPS.SE agree that silence is not 'good interpersonal' communication -- silence is often hostile and opens space for ambiguous interpretations, so an ideal form of interpersonal communication (Ideal = kind, expressive, non-hurtful) is far preferable to any form of silence. Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 15:29
  • I can also tell you from my own experience of giving certain people the 'silent treatment' @NVZ that silence (and also avoidance) is a potent interpersonal 'weapon' when a person wants to hurt someone and make them feel anxious/confused/guilty without actually investing the effort and emotional risk of directly engaging them in a constructive conversation. Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 15:34
  • Fair points....
    – NVZ
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 17:14
  • My innate tendency is not to communicate, and I am still dominated by that instinct @NVZ. Using silence is also (for me) the 'easy option'. However I recognize the value of good interpersonal communication, which is why I am fascinated with IP skills and respect very much the type of interpersonally talented person who contributes their valuable insights on IPS.SE! Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 17:45
  • You wrote a good answer to the question interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/7371/…, and I upvoted it. However your answer here does not jibe with your answer there: here you are postulating a (false) dichotomy between using interpersonal skills to address a problem in real life and advising a person on this site. As the question referenced shows: be quiet in real life, and the best advice on this site for that problem is to be quiet.
    – user1760
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 18:15
  • There is a big difference between these 2 situations @ab2: OP finding out something about his father's biological parentage by doing family DNA testing presumably on his own initiative does not constitute an interpersonal problem that necessitates good interpersonal communication for its resolution as is the case with most of the questions we get here on IPS. In fact that question wasn't asked as an IPS question here, but migrated from Genealogy.SE as a "possible match for IPS". No interpersonal issue: OP's revelation would be gratuitous and unwarranted. Which is why I advised silence. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 19:40
  • (contd) Note too I opened this meta answer with "you are right that in some delicate situations it is better to say nothing": that's my personal opinion; but I find the IPS community values good communication over silence. As it stands OP's problem is only intrapersonal @ab2: "I found out that my grandfather isn't my father's biological father: how do I break the secret" is not yet an interpersonal issue, assuming OP hasn't told anyone: and in view of the grave consequences I actually advised him to 'bear the burden of his discovery' and not create a serious interpersonal problem. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 19:54

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