I rummaged through our questions from last week and noticed they most all fit into certain categories:

How to talk to X about Y, so I achieve Z?

How to talk to X about Y?

How to talk to X?

How to achieve Z?

Yep, that's a massive list. And those are just a selection from last week's questions.

Now, don't get me wrong, but I thought this was an Interpersonal Skills stack, not an Interpersonal Problems one. Right now, I think this stack has a problem.

Looking at the extensive list of questions above, they often aren't so much about Interpersonal Skills as about solutions to Interpersonal Problems. As in, often they invite answers saying 'just explain it like you did here' or 'use your words', which comes with several 'try this' answers giving variations on the same sentence. We often have to poke answerers to explain how or why their solution works, and even then it doesn't become clear which Interpersonal Skill is at the bottom of the answer. Good Subjective, Bad Subjective provides six points for a good question, out of which 4 focus on the kind of answer that is to be expected. In other words: A good question invites good answers, and our current questions don't seem to be doing that.

As was said in chat by Cascabel:

I'd be wary of questions where the OP doesn't really know the root cause, because it invites a lot of guesswork.

If the OP doesn't know what Interpersonal Skill they have a question about, how are we supposed to focus our answers on explaining an Interpersonal Skill?

Also, another chat message from Shog9 that made me think:

And communication between people is a fine topic for the site. As long as you're focused on what you do and not what you're trying to get someone else to do.

We do have a 'questions require a goal we can address' policy for a while now, but I can't help but wonder if the 'goal' is often not just 'wrong' for this site, because the goal is getting someone else to do something?

I am wondering if 'How to talk to X about Y to achieve Z' or variations of that should be held to a higher standard than they are now. Yes, solving an Interpersonal Problem may require learning a new Interpersonal Skill, but since I often see questions where the answer focuses on things very different from Interpersonal Skills, I think 'How to talk to X about Y to achieve Z' might need a bit more scrutiny.

I found some example questions that show it is possible to ask about a specific Interpersonal Skill, for example:

IMO these are about a problem a specific person has with a specific Interpersonal Skill (at least, that's what I interpreted them like), and a much better fit for this site.

Should we be more critical of 'How do I talk to X about Y to achieve Z' types of questions?
Are they a problem for this site?

I'm not saying we should make all these questions off-topic, but how do we make this a site to focus on Interpersonal Skills instead of Interpersonal Problems?

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    "As in, often they invite answers saying 'just explain it like you did here' or 'use your words', which comes with several 'try this' answers giving variations on the same sentence." I've been saying this from the beginning: How many questions do we need about politely asserting your boundaries? – curiousdannii Mar 5 '18 at 2:13
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    @curiousdannii Oh, so you were ahead of your time. – NVZ Mar 5 '18 at 4:03
  • @NVZ Here's a perfect example of what i was writing about (slightly different from this whole topic though): interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/11255/110 – curiousdannii Mar 5 '18 at 4:19
  • @curiousdannii Yeah, those are presenting a similar problem indeed. Let's hope we have now seen enough to realise it is a problem :) – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 5 '18 at 7:21
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    I'm really perplexed by this: "... but I thought this was an Interpersonal Skills stack, not an Interpersonal Problems one", aren't skills essentially abilities to solve a problem (or achieve some goal)? What's the point of having skills if you are not using for something? – Maxim Mar 7 '18 at 22:34
  • @Maxim, the problem is we aren't having questions about Interpersonal Skills, but about Problems, so the answers address the problem instead of the skill as well. All of it focuses way too much on one time problem-solving instead of learning skills that can be applied to other problems as well... But I'm pretty much done arguing that, since the community doesn't seem to want to go that direction – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 8 '18 at 6:43
  • @Tinkeringbell OK, that clarifies it a bit, because while I think that skills and problems are closely related, you're right, the focus (of the answers) can be very situational – Maxim Mar 8 '18 at 16:02
  • Hmm... I'm surprised to find my question on this list. =/ I thought that was a rather good question, looking for Skills to use to settle an Interpersonal problem... (I know I'm late to the party, but... Well, I was handling other interpersonal problems, just not ones I needed the internet to try to handle.) Good write-up, either way, Tinkeringbell. – Kendra Mar 12 '18 at 20:45

We should have a low tolerance for questions asking "How do I get someone to do x?".

Questions asking how to manipulate someone aren't good interpersonal skills questions. They're far to specific and entirely dependent upon the individual being manipulated to really be answered without their complete history.

To quote Shog 9:

And communication between people is a fine topic for the site. As long as you're focused on what you do and not what you're trying to get someone else to do.

To me they should be closed as primarily opinion based, since without knowing lots about the person being manipulated any answer is going to be just a bunch of guesswork.

I've seen people who will just edit "How do I get someone to do x" to "How do I talk to someone about x". I think we should be cautious about this sort of edit. There's a big difference between having a conversation about something and getting someone to do it. Oftentimes successful contentious conversations end in compromise or a mutual understanding of each person's positions rather than "win" where someone's mind has been changed. I think that a big part of what makes those conversations successful is an understanding that their purpose isn't to get your way but to work collectively towards a mutually beneficial solution. Unless the OP is aware of the distinction between conversation about x and get someone to do x they won't be able to use any of the answers provided.

It might be a good idea to consider having a custom close reason for this type of question.


Questions about interpersonal problems including how to talk to X about Y to get them to do Z are currently on topic here. If we think that objective is manipulative, or not a good fit for this site for the valid reasons you brought up here, we can come to a community consensus to redefine "on-topic" to exclude that particular type of question. Specifically, that

questions asking how to make someone do something are off topic here.

Unfortunately so many of the questions we get fall under that category and I am not at all sure that interpersonal problems as a generic type could be deemed off topic here anyway, because for the last 8 months we have typically been addressing the solving of interpersonal problems through good interpersonal skills.

Thanks too for adding a list of example questions that actually ask about a particular interpersonal skill. It really helps us understand the difference between questions asking about interpersonal problems and questions asking about interpersonal skills. Looking at that list, 4 out of those 7 Q were asked in the first 2 months of this site and the other 3 were expertly constructed more recently by senior members. Such questions are relatively rare here.

Now please see the first 50 'closed' questions when arranged by relevance -- at least 20 Q are actually asking about an interpersonal skill but got closed mainly as "too broad" because OP was unable to restrict it to a specific interpersonal situation.

Additionally the close message for "too broad" says

please limit your question to a specific problem with enough detail to suggest an effective solution (paraphrase)

which can be misinterpreted as asking one to limit the question to a specific interpersonal problem, when read by a new user.

Even a good interpersonal skills question written by an experienced member who knows how to frame such a question can get closed as too broad based on certain interpretations of what is too broad on Interpersonal Skills Stack Exchange.

Case study: How do I learn to pick my battles a little better?

A very experienced member posted this question about a particular interpersonal skill (learning to pick their battles) but the Q was closed because the member declined to restrict it to a specific interpersonal situation and 5 members deemed it "too broad" for that reason. It was reopened because 5 members felt it was not too broad, mainly because it is actually about a specific interpersonal issue, which is that OP has had trouble with picking their battles, and I have always called it a good interpersonal skills question that fits this website. The Q got 10 upvotes and the best answer later won a 200 points bounty [please ignore any other debatable aspects of that post for the purposes of this meta question.]

It is true as noted in a previous answer that more people tend to ask a question about an interpersonal problem rather than an interpersonal skill, thus setting a pattern when new users read our questions list. Also, the way we approach closing questions here, which heavily emphasises that questions should be non-opinion-based and limited to a specific interpersonal interaction (unfortunately many people interpret this as 'interpersonal problem') unintentionally favors 'specific practical solution' questions of the "how do I talk to someone about getting them to do a certain thing" type, while a more generalised Q about a specific interpersonal skill, when asked by a new member not yet expert at navigating all possible close reasons [unlike an experienced member who can actually construct a high quality 'not too broad' question about a specific interpersonal skill] runs a significant risk of being closed as too broad.

What we can do when a question about a specific interpersonal skill is phrased too broad, is to help OP narrowly focus it on a specific interpersonal situation relevant to that skill -- a specific example that best illustrates the question -- and thus save the Q from getting closed as too broad. For instance, if I ask how to be a good listener, you can tell me to limit myself to a specific interaction, maybe with a particular relative or friend, which illustrates my need to develop the interpersonal skill of good listening. Or else we can agree to consider a question "not too broad" as long as it asks clearly about a specific interpersonal skill, even if it is not restricted to a particular interpersonal situation. The aim is to ensure that such questions remain open and get answered so that we can develop an "interpersonal skills" question model here to balance the currently numerous model of "interpersonal problems."

And if someone asks a question about getting someone to do something, we can possibly take a collective decision based on the community consensus on this meta Q, to advise OP that as noted in a previous answer, manipulation is not good IPS.

Update: the 'case study' question referenced here has now been closed again as too broad. Closing that question gives a clear policy response to this meta question by saying in effect that a Q about a specific interpersonal skill will still be closed as too broad, if it does not restrict itself to a specific interpersonal situation with enough detail to provide a good solution. All I ask for is consistency and I am fine with that most recent assessment of the matter by the community.

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    English Student, you've made 12 edits to this in the past 3 hours, or one every 15 minutes-ish. Some are important, some are minor. I'd recommend waiting until you have something really substantial to add; otherwise, you're just bumping this to the front page, which could take attention away from other posts. – HDE 226868 Mar 3 '18 at 19:11
  • I was responding to how the topic evolved in other answers but my answer is now completed and won't need more edits. Thanks for the reminder @HDE 226868. – English Student Mar 3 '18 at 19:17
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    @EnglishStudent It's something I have been telling you for a long time. ;) Make your drafts in a text editor to avoid too many frequent revisions on the site. – NVZ Mar 3 '18 at 19:39
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    I tried it out, thanks @NVZ but it doesn't feel as intuitive as making live edits. I like to look at my posts as if 'through the eyes' of other users reading this page, and improve the material in response both to feedback and the evolution of the topic through other answers, especially on meta. Some posts need less revisions than others. However, I am trying to restrict myself to a maximum of 6 edits. – English Student Mar 3 '18 at 19:45
  • Just a heads up the how do I choose my battles? question has been put on hold as too broad. – sphennings Mar 5 '18 at 5:49
  • It was closed as too broad and reopened a long time back: now closed again as too broad based on this answer... Certain elements of the community are definitely asserting their interpretation of "too broad" -- thanks for the heads up @sphennings! However (I just saw you cast a close vote and so did OP) that's how we have been interpreting it for some time now and I only ask that we be consistent in all such actions. – English Student Mar 5 '18 at 7:38
  • I think it would be better for it to have been closed as off topic. Of import to note though is that the OP of that question was one of the most recent close voters. – sphennings Mar 5 '18 at 7:40
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    Off topic is debatable but too broad is consistent enough right now @sphennings. If that is how we want to define too broad then it can remain closed. – English Student Mar 5 '18 at 7:42

Interpersonal problems are often how people notice a need to work on their interpersonal skills.

Much like how a site for auto mechanic skills, would likely have more questions about common automobile maintenance and repair rather than questions about best practices for wrench turning. Basically people don't tend to think about auto mechanics until their car breaks down or they become aware that they need to do some preventative maintenance.

Analogies also carry over to sites like Stack Overflow. It's a programming question and answer site, but I think you'll notice that people only ask questions when their code isn't working. (If I remember correctly, code review and best practice questions were usually closed for being primarily opinion based)

Likewise here, people ask questions when their interpersonal skills aren't working, or they're unsure of which interpersonal skills to apply to a given situation. This isn't always the same as not having a clear desired outcome, it's usually just a matter of not knowing which skills to apply to get there.

To put it simply, people don't tend to ask questions when there's no problem to be solved.

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    Yep. If there's a problem, we solve it. If there isn't, then why ask? :) – NVZ Mar 3 '18 at 13:34
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    But if I have a problem with my code not working, I ask about my code not working, even SO has restrictions on what you can ask (e.g. it has to be about your code, I can't just dump my entire code-base there and say 'it's not working)... I'm fine with people coming here saying 'this is my problem, this skill isn't working'... but I'm not seeing that right now. Am I that wrong? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 13:40
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    @Tinkeringbell Sorry, I don't understand what you're implying. Our on-topic questions are usually limited to solving one problem, not a list of them. – NVZ Mar 3 '18 at 13:42
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    You could make the difference clearer for us by also pointing out ideal questions that focus not on interpersonal problems but actually on interpersonal skills @Tinkeringbell. – English Student Mar 3 '18 at 13:48
  • @EnglishStudent I could add a few examples to the question. – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 13:50
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    @NVZ > Yes, but that problem should be about an Interpersonal Skill, like questions on SO are about code and questions on a site for auto mechanics are on auto mechanics. Just saying, I'm seeing these kinds of questions invite a lot of answers that don't focus on Interpersonal Skills because they aren't specifically asking for help with an Interpersonal Skill – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 13:51
  • Please do, @Tinkeringbell. That really helps us to focus on the 2 types of questions. – English Student Mar 3 '18 at 13:53
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    @Tinkeringbell It's very hard to pinpoint an interpersonal skill when solving a problem. Usually, it takes a few skills combined to achieve a goal - listening, communicating, decision-making etc. – NVZ Mar 3 '18 at 13:54
  • @NVZ yes, that's true. Still, it is possible, I'll look up some examples about questions asking about Interpersonal Skills directly, instead of a solution to an Interpersonal problem. Because if the OP can't pinpoint a skill, how are we supposed to? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 13:55
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    @Tinkeringbell It might be more clear to me if you can bring up said examples. As of now, my thinking is that if the asker already understands what interpersonal skill they are lacking, then what exactly are we here for? If they already know what skill to polish, they can already do so. – NVZ Mar 3 '18 at 14:00
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    @MaskedMan There's a minor problem about that, though. It's been said that we are not here to say "what" to say, but instead, "how" to say it. – NVZ Mar 3 '18 at 14:01
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    I have referenced your reopened question interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/4776/… in my answer here as a case study of how even a good interpersonal skills question by a senior member who knows how to frame such a question can get closed as too broad based on certain interpretations of what is too broad on IPS.SE, please see @apaul. – English Student Mar 3 '18 at 17:08
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    @Tinkeringbell "if the OP can't pinpoint a skill, how are we supposed to?" When I asked something on SO, it was because I wasn't aware of the existence of a specific function/command/whatever that solved my problem; similarly, when somebody has an IP problem is because they don't know about that IPS skill/they don't connect it to the problem. What we can do is ask a thorough definition of the situation, so that we can read in it more that the OP does. – LinuxBlanket Mar 6 '18 at 9:36
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    @LinuxBlanket okay, then let's say they don't have to name the beast. But if they don't know the root cause, are we supposed to go guessing? At least you had a clear specification on SO of what you needed, requirements for what you where looking for. If I'm unaware of the parseShort() method, that's okay, but I should at least be able to describe that I want to turn a String into a Short, or that my code is expecting a Short where I only have a String. – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 6 '18 at 9:37
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    The same goes for IPS: we shouldn't have to read more into the situation than an OP does, that would make a question primarily opinion based. If the OP can provide clear descriptions of what the OP wants to do (and not what they want to happen/another person to do) that would already make a huge difference. – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 6 '18 at 9:40

After rereading this question, I'm a little concerned that we may be setting unhelpful hurdles...

Most of the "interpersonal problem" questions could be reworded into "interpersonal skills" questions. Basically I suspect that setting a new policy on this would lead us to close nearly all questions while we pedantically prod new users into wording their questions a specific way.

You may be asking what the problem with that is. Well, I'm not seeing how this would meaningfully limit the field of questions, it just places a large hurdle on how questions are worded.


Father wants me to give him my work number and I don't want to

Would become:

How do I set a healthy boundary between my work life and my relationship with my father?


Are there any studies or statistical analysis on the effectiveness of different methods commonly employed by young adults setting boundaries with parents?

Effectively the first two are still the same question, and they'll likely receive the same sort of answer. It's not much more than a semantic difference that's easily circumvented by some, while at the same time creating a stumbling block for others. The third is likely somewhat unanswerable as often times the studies haven't been done, and a study on such a broad subject would probably be a little suspect.

The other problem is that forming "interpersonal skills" questions would sort of require users to have the language skills required... People who aren't as fluent in these things may know that their father is being pushy, but may not have the forknowledge that this is called "crossing boundaries" and a user who knew the term "crossing boundaries" might not need to ask this sort of question.

I guess I'm thinking that going down this road my create more problems (pun intended) than it solves. Yes having some higher skill questions would be nice, but I'm not so sure that adding hurdles is a great way to get there. We may end up having to rewrite nearly every question to meet a functionally useless standard.

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    As for the boundary example: Setting and maintaining a boundary is a skill which requires a few steps. Which step is the OP struggling with? What part of the skill can we address? How is this different from any other generic 'I want to set a boundary, how-to' question? Are they expecting an entire how-to? Then why not make a canonical question, close this as a dupe and let the OP explain what step they're struggling with/Don't understand? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 18:07
  • Also, we're already prodding users to write their questions a certain way, and I think having a clear guideline on what exactly is the difference between asking about an Interpersonal Problem vs Skill would not be a hurdle, but an asset to this site ;) Even if it might prove a hurdle, it might do a lot of good for those users answering something for the first time, because they now know what to focus their answer on. – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 18:11
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    @Tinkeringbell So... You want to add a hurdle for questions to solve a problem with answers? Seems like an XY problem... Doesn't seem like we have much if any evidence that messing with X will affect Y either. – apaul Mar 3 '18 at 18:27
  • Not really, just wanted to say it might not be as bad as you think, that there may be good side-effects to focusing more on Interpersonal skills as well... If you read good subjective, bad subjective, there's 6 points on what makes a good subjective question, 4 of them focus on the answers possible to the question... I don't want to add a hurdle for questions, instead, I want to make it as easy as possible for new users to understand we're here to help with skills and from what I'm seeing now that isn't always clear except to a few more regular users – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 18:31
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    @Tinkeringbell The sort of user who writes Non-IPS answers on an IPS site is unlikely to be dissuaded by a change to the wording of questions... Still not seeing much in the way of positive outcomes. – apaul Mar 3 '18 at 18:40
  • Okay, then let me rephrase it. How would a clearer scope be a hurdle? (Btw, I like the edit asking the research question, but that's probably not what that OP is looking for. Were you to edit the original into such a question, you probably wouldn't be honoring the OP's original intent) – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 18:45
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    @Tinkeringbell How does this clarify the scope? All I'm seeing is another thing to hassle new posters about. It likely won't prevent low quality questions from being asked or low quality answers from being provided. It just ends up asking people to word their question in a style that probably wouldn't be obvious to the average person. – apaul Mar 3 '18 at 18:50
  • Okay, then we'll probably have to agree to disagree... I thought to make it more clear what is expected of a question here would mean less stuff to hassle new posters about (both askers and answerers), you definitely seem to be thinking otherwise. Thanks for clarifying :) – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 18:53
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    @Tinkeringbell It looks like we get roughly 6 new questions a day, of those 6 we probably close 4, if we're really lucky 2 of those 4 closed questions will be significantly edited, and of those 2 edited questions maybe 1 will be reopened. If we start closing 6 out of 6, or 5 out of 6, how many "good" questions do you think we'll end up with at the end of the day? – apaul Mar 3 '18 at 18:59
  • I'm not saying we wouldn't have a problem with traffic if this change were made. But this site is about more than traffic, and trafiic may well pick up again, we don't know that. If we close 4 out of 6 and only 1 gets reopened, that is another problem... One of time and effort put into making it clear what this site is about, and helping people get on track. Not of having too little or too many guidelines.. – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 19:02
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    @Tinkeringbell That would suggest that we need better documentation of existing guidelines, and better mechanisms to educate users, rather than guidelines that seem unlikely to accomplish anything... – apaul Mar 3 '18 at 19:30
  • Or maybe we already have a lot, and it's time to summarize them all into 1 guideline... 'Ask about an Interpersonal Skill, not a problem' will probably encompass a lot of the minor guidelines we already have (e.g. don't ask us to provide you with what to say) – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 19:36
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    @Tinkeringbell that would require the person asking to know which interpersonal skill to ask about. As in they'd need to know half of the answer before asking the question. – apaul Mar 3 '18 at 19:49
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    To me, it would be the same as asking a question on StackOverflow: You need to know something about coding there, and you need to be sure you didn't make any typo's for example. You can ask generic questions there (For example, how to cast a String to a Short in Java) but yeah, it does require you to know what a String, Short and Java are. I don't see how asking our askers to do a little research themselves would be so wrong... Unless we want to be a Dear Abby site? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 19:54
  • If you think that's asking too much of people, that's okay, but it's also where agree to disagree comes in again. – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 19:54

Should we be more critical of 'How do I talk to X about Y to achieve Z' types of questions?

Yes. This doesn't mean we should close them right away, or discourage them from being asked altogether.

It does mean we encourage people asking these types of questions to think a little bit further, to write their question in such a way that it becomes clear they are asking for/about an Interpersonal Skill, instead of writing down a problem and just have it solved for this time. Also, we need to encourage describing the actual Interpersonal Skills problem over the Interpersonal Interaction Problem.

Are they a problem for this site?

Yes. The questions are not inviting answers focusing on Interpersonal Skills (how to use a specific skill in a specific situation, how to implement a specific skill, or what skill to use).

What they do invite, is answers that are speculating what may be wrong, answers that are just sharing experiences (and comments saying those answers are wrong, because hey, I never experienced the world that way). We get answers saying 'just explain it like you did here', or 'just say this'. Yes, we may need to moderate our answers more heavily, but I think that by tweaking questions a little, the 'Skills' part of this stacks name will already become a lot more prevalent.

Basically, they are all bordering on being 'bad subjective' questions, by inviting the wrong kind of answers (answers not mentioning skills - why and how to use them, short answers, opinion based answers/common sense answers over experiences and references to sources)

I'm not saying we should make all these questions off-topic, but how do we make this a site to focus on Interpersonal Skills instead of Interpersonal Problems?

I'd like to see questions more focused on Interpersonal Skills than Interpersonal Interaction Problems. Maybe we can start some quality guidelines, like SFF or Literature do for their Identification questions.

Such a list for Interpersonal Skills, in my head, looks like this:

  • An explanation of what was already tried, preferably focusing on how it was tried over what was tried.
  • A description of what went wrong, if at all possible with a bit of introspection on what Skill you think you failed on.
  • If nothing was tried, details on why it wasn't tried already, what are you afraid of?
  • If you know the word for it, the specific Interpersonal Skill you're asking about, like asserting a boundary, starting an unpleasant conversation, being persuasive.
    • If you think you failed on a single subpart of this like picking your moment or tone of voice, great! Put it in the question, ask about that.

So, basically, help users! 'How do I talk to X about Y to achieve Z' might be rephrased to 'What skill can I use in situation X to achieve Z?' or 'How can I use skill X in situation Y to achieve Z?'.

Have the question focus on the situation, the interaction between two people taking place, and what the asker does in that situation. Don't make the question about the other person (X) eventually doing something (Z), ask about what I can do when X happens. Have the question invite answers that explain an actual Interpersonal Skill.

Practical Example: How do I ask my Dad to finance my computer?

The question is a text-book example of 'How to I talk to X (dad) about Y (financing a computer) to achieve Z (the financing of a computer)'.

It's not focused on what Skill to use (which would probably be 'be persuasive'). It's focused on 'how can I make Dad finance a computer', on making Dad do something. Instead, it could (and should) have asked about what the asker could do in this situation: 'What can I do if I'm in this situation?' or 'How can I be persuasive given these circumstances?'. The question isn't really focused on the situation, the interaction between two people taking place, and what the asker does in that situation. There is no information on what was already tried or what OP is fearing might happen, there is no information on the interaction between two people taking place because there hasn't been one yet. We don't know the root cause of the problem here (too shy? Dad refusing because there's no money? Entitled brat?)

And the answers reflect that. None of them is actually mentioning 'be persuasive'. Not a single answer is referencing a source, although there are a lot of good resources on how to convince people, sell an idea, be persuasive.

The top answer is suggesting yet another skill: compromise. Yet, there is just a list of suggestions for what the OP could suggest as a compromise and no mention of any 'skill'. There isn't any guidance on how to make a compromise, how to effectively word a compromise, how to let the parent know this is a compromise. The word 'compromise' isn't mentioned once. There's no explanation as to why compromising will work, why in this case it is better than offering a false choice or trying to persuade dad to finance the entire expensive rig.

I don't think worrying about close voting a lot of our traffic is necessary, although a lot of the XYZ problem questions are often about the same skills. I think we should be careful by sticking to taking things like cultural background and power balances into account, just like we do now. If the situation is sufficiently different, it would do no harm to have a question explaining how to use the same skills in that situation as well as in another situation described by another question.

The question should invite answers that mention actual skills, how and why to use them. It should invite long answers over the short 'just explain it like you did here' or 'try this' answers. It should invite answers sharing experiences over answers based on opinion or common sense. It should insist opinions (common sense) be backed up with references to sources.

If it's lacking that, then sure, go ahead and close it as a duplicate of an earlier one that did to that, as unclear what you're asking or primarily opinion based. Becuase if it doesn't do that, it's not a good subjective question.

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    I agree with you up until the "backed up with sources" bit - I can explain a lot of skills that I have learned by existing as a human in the world, but I might not be able to prove them with science or an official study or whatever anywhere. – Ash Mar 5 '18 at 21:50
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    @Ash Generally what that means on this site is that answers should be more than "Do x". An answer should provide explanation, or justification for why it is correct. – sphennings Mar 5 '18 at 21:54
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    @sphennings then that should probably be stated a bit more clearly, especially with the reference to how Lit does things because they mean backing up with official sources, which is apparently what isn't meant here. So I would hate for people to be confused like I was! – Ash Mar 5 '18 at 22:14
  • Thanks for this in depth answer. It clears up the parts that I was fuzzy on (which might have also been due to the variation of answers that are not addressing the same issue) and gets down to business on your goals, which I think are all suitable and achievable. +1 – Jess K. Mar 5 '18 at 22:21
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    @Ash, it doesn't have to be 'science', a Wikipedia or wikiHow is also a source in this case, or a link to a random internet article... Just don't automatically go 'this is common sense', try to back up what you learned – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 6 '18 at 5:58

We should start closing "How to talk about x?" questions as duplicates.

If that's the level of understanding that the OP is showing about their problem then we should direct them to a generic question with a series of well written answers talking about general techniques for having productive yet difficult conversations. Answers to that question should focus on one conversational technique and provide a detailed explanation of what the technique is, and how it works, along with a few well written examples.

If people are wanting more specific help, they should ask a more specific question. Hopefully pointing people to an answer that covers the basics of how to have difficult conversations, they will be prompted to edit their questions to focus on how to apply a specific technique to their situation.

We shouldn't be blindly editing questions just to make them on topic. Edits should always preserve the OP's original intentions. If those intentions are off topic, or duplicating an existing question then unless the OP edits the question, or indicates their intentions in the comments, it should be closed.


I'm just going to throw this out there, but I think maybe this is more of an issue with answers than it is with questions (most of the time).

In the next paragraph, I'm going to be referencing the "Fastest Gun In The West" syndrome from the meta post How to get a better sense of community going?, so feel free to browse if you would like to know more about that specific term.

Anyway, again, I think it's an answer problem more than a question problem. While it's true that we have some great questions that are specifically asking about interpersonal skills, I think there can still be a lot of value from these questions asking about interpersonal problems (and how to solve them using interpersonal skills). The issue, however, is that answerers are essentially posting responses as though they're writing for "Dear Abby", and not providing thorough and thoughtful information on the interpersonal skills they're suggesting be used. I believe this is due not only to us not having stricter restrictions on answers, but also partially due to the previously eluded "Fastest Gun In The West" syndrome. Eager to answer, and with no real moderation against it, we end up with answers that explain what to say to someone and how it should help the situation, but we don't provide factual context or references to such skills, as many other SE sites do (maybe because a lot of the time we end up saying "Well, this worked for me once" and call it good - but maybe that's exactly what we shouldn't be doing if we want to focus more on the interpersonal skills necessary to solve a problem).

Now it'd be easy to say that if we restrict questions from being so focused on personal problems that "Dear Abby" answers would go away, but I think we could yield better results from not being so narrow. Ask yourself the following question:

  • Should questions with the format of "Which interpersonal skill(s) can I use to help resolve an issue between myself and someone else?" be on topic?

If the answer is yes, then I think it's fairly safe to say we can edit about any question (that would fit our current guidelines) to be a good fit for this site. If the answer is no, I'd like to hear why, because I think these specific example questions could still pose a great amount of value. Instead of only having broad questions about "Why is this behavior rude?" it would allow us to still maintain specific examples of why the behavior is rude.

Often times I believe the people asking these questions would have no great awareness of the skill they actually need to talk about, similarly to how on Stack Overflow we can find questions where people are completely lost on what code library they need to import to accomplish their goals (they might not even be asking for a code library, but let's use it as an example). Their question might not reference said library, because they don't know it exists yet! That's where great, truly helpful answers come in. Explain which library (interpersonal skill) is best for that scenario and why. Other people might even share other libraries (IPS) they think are more efficient. However, the community will vote based on their knowledge and experience, and the OP should still end up using the best library (IPS) for their situation, while leaving all other library (IPS) information in place for whoever else might need it.

Anyway, I won't go on any longer, since this is a question about question scope and not answer scope, but I do think we could achieve more value by having a discussion on answer scope instead.

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    we can edit about any question (that would fit our current guidelines) to be a good fit for this site. Really? I'm not so sure about that... Can we really edit them? Wouldn't that mean a lot of them would probably be closed as duplicates, asking about the same 'general' interpersonal skill? Are we still honoring the OP's intent when editing them? Can we slam our own interpretation of what skill the OP would (should) like to improve upon our current questions? I have questions :) ... – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 5 '18 at 15:51
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    I agree that this is a bit of an XY problem, you're right about that. What I'm proposing is being a bit more strict and critical of the questions, so the moderating of the answers will be easier too... To compare it with your library, we could leave comments asking OP's what skill their question is about, and leave some suggestions? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 5 '18 at 15:52
  • @Tinkeringbell In reply to your first comment, when I meant edit any question I just meant we could change things like "how can I talk to my mom about being gay" to be more appropriate. So if we edit my post to be "What skills can I use to help me come out to my mother?" and you ask "What skills can I use to help me talk to my brother about my disapproval of his behaviors?", I don't think they are really duplicate questions, although 60-70% of the answers might base on the matching interpersonal skills... (cont) – Jess K. Mar 5 '18 at 15:59
  • @Tinkeringbell I guess when I read your question intially I was thinking that we were going to limit scope too much and end up with wiki pages more than with application to specific problems, which maybe that isn't the case. Either way, hopefully what I said holds (some) worth. – Jess K. Mar 5 '18 at 16:00
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    Sure, I'm a big fan of applying wiki pages to real life situations :-) Your answer isn't bad, it's a good point that we need to focus our answers as well as our questions. I think I might write my own answer to my question to show my train of thought on how to turn these questions around a little, so we can hopefully elicit more skill-focused responses... :-) – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 5 '18 at 16:05
  • @Tinkeringbell I do have one more question for you. What is wrong with a question asking "Which skill is best for this scenario?" You had previously said, that maybe we could leave comments asking OP what skill their question is about, but if they just have a scenario and they ask us what could work best for that, I think that's on the answers to describe and argue/debate vs making the OP decide beforehand. That would imply a new question for each possible skill the OP would want to know about for their scenario... unless I'm misunderstanding. – Jess K. Mar 5 '18 at 17:14
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    There's not so much something wrong with asking which skill is best (although I would go with 'useable' or something since 'best' is opinion-based?)... 1 skill e.g. is using 'you' statements, so if it's a question about 'what skills can I use to tell someone they stink', the you-statements might be suggested... But it's already a huge improvement from 'How do I tell someone they stink' because that will have those answers that will explain what to say and why it might work, but will never touch the interpersonal skills side... – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 5 '18 at 19:19
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    but if they just have a scenario and they ask us what could work best for that might be a bit of a problem though, and I'd go with asking what was already tried, expect a little bit of introspection (what is the OP thinking they might do wrong) if nothing was already tried... Maybe they've already tried something but want to perfect it? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 5 '18 at 19:21
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    @Tinkeringbell Okay, I can see value these types of restrictions. I just want to make sure we aren't going to hurt users whose questions don't include specific skills they want to know more about (likely because they don't know what to be using). Even though interpersonal communication is something we all do, majority don't know said skills by name to reference. Anyway, I'm in agreement with this. – Jess K. Mar 5 '18 at 19:23

I really like English Student's answer.

To address your question: I do agree that the questions that are categorized as "How do I talk to X about Y to achieve Z" can be improved. But, I don't think we should scrutinize these questions too heavily and start an aggressive closing campaign.

I think that one of sphennings' answer is a bit presumptuous and assumes bad faith. I have not seen any questions that have had malicious intentions kept open for answers, and it seems that the community is moderating just fine. Moreover, sphenning's repeated claims of there being questions of how to manipulate others doesn't seem to be true.

Manipulation implies unscrupulous behavior, and such questions violate the Be Nice policy and are handled pretty quickly by the community. Instead, I think we had better be careful not to conflate "manipulation" with negotiation, which, to my mind at least, is a very good goal to aim for - and effective negotiation requires strong interpersonal skills. (The question regarding asking a friend to do professional work is an example where I think the aim was for negotiation, not manipulation - there was a market rate compensation offered in exchange for labor.)

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    " I think we had better be careful not to conflate "manipulation" with negotiation, which, to my mind at least, is a very good goal to aim for - and effective negotiation requires strong interpersonal skills. "__ a very good distinction between the two, thanks @.Hutchinson. I could also ask OP generically: how or why would any question about interpersonal problems be off topic for an Interpersonal Skills website, just for asking about an interpersonal problem rather than IPS? Writing my answer was quite satisfying but maybe this question itself needs to be redefined and focused, methinks. – English Student Mar 3 '18 at 18:57
  • Manipulate often has a negative connotation but not always. For the sake of clarity I was using it with a neutral connotation. Note how there is no judgment passed about those who ask "how can I get someone to do x?" questions, besides the fact that such questions aren't a good fit for this site. – sphennings Mar 3 '18 at 19:43
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    and effective negotiation requires strong interpersonal skills Exactly the problem: We don't know which of the skills the asker is having troubles with, so how do we answer? Do we focus on creating a connection? On understanding the other persons point of view? On knowing the background of the person you're arguing with? What would bo too heavily scrutinizing them? What's your definition of an aggressive close voting campaign? – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 20:09
  • @Tinkeringbell - good points. I think that asking the question writers to identify exactly which skill out of a combination of several that is needed in effective negotiations would be very difficult to do, and that perhaps it's in the answers, ideally, where the answer writers help identify where exactly the IPS weakness is, given the context in the questions, and then show the question writers some ways to proceed. – D.Hutchinson Mar 3 '18 at 22:21
  • But that would go against the quote from Cascabel in my question, and if we're supposed to identify the problem, that would be primarily opinion based... – Tinkeringbell Mod Mar 3 '18 at 22:50
  • @Tinkeringbell - good point. That's why I think question writers describing their specific interpersonal problem is the way to go - have them specify the problem, which likely requires a subset of the most common interpersonal skills (rather than just a single interpersonal skill). In addition to Cascabel's concern, how about the examples that Shog9 gave, e.g. difficulty with making small-talk, say, on a date or on a business lunch, difficulty with conveying one's emotions, say, a student having trouble talking to his research advisor who's too busy for him. – D.Hutchinson Mar 4 '18 at 0:02
  • ... I think the best that we can hope for is to require an interpersonal problem. So the phrasing of the problem, "how to ... convey my emotions to my advisor", "how to make small-talk for next week's business lunch, in Eastern European country X" would be better usage of "how to" - it would be deeper than the overly-simplistic "how to ... talk to X". We should probably get Catija, HDE, Cascabel and Shog9 to chime in, if they're around ... – D.Hutchinson Mar 4 '18 at 0:02
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    @D.Hutchinson - one of the best parts of how SE works is that sometimes, the community can work things out without mods to enforce things, and even more times, CMs aren't needed for this kind of thing. Mods are supposed to help guide the community, not just make decisions. So the mods might not have to write their own answers if they already agree with or support an already stated position. Heck, I have seen (and participated in) sites making site wide meta decisions on site policy without CMs even getting involved in any real sense. :) – Ash Mar 5 '18 at 21:54
  • Stack-Exchange questions are not about programming, they are about programming problems.
  • Worplace.SE is not about the workplace, its about problems with the workplace
  • ...

This is a Q/A forum- what do you expect? Especially one where discussions are discouraged and generalized questions like this are closed with We aren't here to answer hypothetical questions. comment.

If now also actual questions about actual problems are also defined off-topic - whats left?

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    It's not that their interpersonal problems that is the problem. It's that most of them are asking the same question with a different dressing. The questions "How do I print hello world?, and "How do I print my name?" are very similar questions with effectively identical answers. Instead of needing to answer each one individually it would be better off to answer one question "How do I print a hard coded string?" and flag every question asking "How do I print x?" as a duplicate. IPS is receiving a lot of questions asking "How can I tell someone x?" We as a community should find a solution. – sphennings Mar 14 '18 at 15:51
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    @sphennings: Thank you for your response. I am not sure I follow. If I want to print "My aunt just died" the code is transferable from how to print "I like your shoes". If I want to tell that to her daughter, the interpersonal approach is largely different. If it isn´t mark it as duplicate ... – user6109 Mar 14 '18 at 16:03
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    Then the question should highlight the nuance, and complexity. There are questions of the form "How do I print x?" that the answer isn't "print('x')" for instance "How do I print the current time?" Similarly I how can I tell someone that their parent just died in an accident, in as tactful a manner as possible?" is a more nuanced question. – sphennings Mar 14 '18 at 16:05
  • There is already a mechanism to deal with duplicates like the ones you are suggesting. I don´t think these are what OP meant in this topic. I don´t have anything against improving the topic-headlines like you suggest, but again, I don´t think that is what OP meant. – user6109 Mar 14 '18 at 16:08
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    There is the mechanism but there isn't policy, or action, which is I think the point of this question. – sphennings Mar 14 '18 at 16:11

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