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The community seems to have come to a consensus that "what should I do" questions are not a good fit here (rightly, I think). A common work-around for these questions is to change should I do X into how do I do X. Unfortunately, X does not always seem like a wise action for the OP's underlying goals, so we have then essentially created an XY problem and may end up with a bunch of frame challenge answers.

A current question that fits this pattern is Dreamt of another girl, want to tell my girlfriend, but how without getting smited? In its first incarnation, it asked

Basically i want to be transparent with Alice, but i'm abit torn about two things:

  1. Should i actually tell her about this dream i had?
  2. If i do tell her, is there any particular things i should do or phrase which will not bring her deeper in insecurity or cause her to mistrust me?

It was closed, revised, and reopened so that the core question now reads

Basically I want to be transparent with Alice.
How can I tell her so that I don't set off her insecurities, or cause her to mistrust me?

The result is that the majority of the answers, including all three of the (currently) top-voted ones, are either flat-out frame challenges focused on why the OP should not tell Alice about the dream, or else something along the lines of "here's how you maybe kind of could approach this, but you really shouldn't." In other words, they're primarily answering the OP's original, deprecated "should I" question, but now with the tone of correcting a misapprehension. This outcome seems perverse.

I have an idea about an alternate approach to some of these, which I'll post as an answer for separate voting, but I'm also (mainly) interested in hearing whether other folks see this as a problem and, if so, what we could potentially do to fix it.

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    As the writer of one of those 3 answers I am sad to see your characterisation, which I don’t recognise. My answer didn’t challenge the frame or tell the OP he shouldn’t. . It invited the OP to imagine a reversed scenario as a means of assisting them consider the balance between transparency and negative effects. I used the reversal to highlight aspects the GF might find most difficult and explain why. Given that there are no magic ‘don’t upset the GF’ phrases the answer tries to help the OP find his own words. – Spagirl Mar 8 '18 at 1:48
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    @Spagirl It is a good answer (funny too) and well worth preserving. It does, however, address the should I ... question, and that's the problem being addressed here. That does not make it an attack on the answers, but emphasizes the point of this meta issue, and the comments to the OP's answer. – Witan ap Danu Mar 8 '18 at 2:01
  • @WitanapDanu Well I certainly didn’t intend it to address whether he should; so if others are seeing that in it, please comment on the answer how it’s doing that so that I can amend. – Spagirl Mar 8 '18 at 2:09
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    @Spagirl You addressed the should I .. properly: Make the OP evaluate the decision on their own, using insights that you provided. You didn't answer the "should I...", rather you addressed it. Much better for the OP (helps their own IPS development) and much better for the future readers since it is think about this suggestions, not do (don't) say/do it this way. The answer is good, keep it! It serves as a shining example of what can be done, even with a poor question. – Witan ap Danu Mar 8 '18 at 2:14
  • @Spagirl I really liked your answer (and upvoted it); I wasn't suggesting that it was inappropriate in any way. It looked to me like a frame challenge in the best sense of the term because it challenges the OP to reconsider their underlying goals and whether the proposed course of action will actually accomplish said goals. My concern is not that these particular answers aren't good, but rather that there might be a more straightforward way of accomplishing something similar, without artificially forcing the OP to pretend to have decided on a course of action that they're actually debating. – 1006a Mar 8 '18 at 2:23
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    This is why you don't edit questions without the OP's express approval of the change! – curiousdannii Mar 8 '18 at 2:53
  • @1006a Thank you for the kind words and upvote. I was already concerned that a couple of comments on the A suggested they thought it recommended against telling, but left it alone. You say it 'challenges the OP to reconsider', but there is a distinction to be drawn between an answer having the potential to cause someone to reconsider and stating that they ought to. I don't even have a view on 'whether the OP should', only that they should consider the different impacts of different ways of doing it. It just seems odd to have apparently written something I didn't intend. – Spagirl Mar 8 '18 at 13:12
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    @WitanapDanu Hmmm, this is fascinating, because I still don't think I addressed it, though I certainly aimed to provide some help considering how it might be received. I think I'll leave it as stands, but for the record I didn't write it as either a frame challenge of a 'don't do it' answer. But thank you for the kind words. – Spagirl Mar 8 '18 at 13:15
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I started to post a comment on your answer but it's getting rather large so I'm going to post an answer.

We aren't here to list out all possible options for someone. Doing so would change the scope of this site.

We are here to help people understand how to use interpersonal skills to accomplish a goal that is stated in the question. Maybe the XY edits get boring to read over time, I can agree, but they're necessary to fit this standard, and most OP's are fine with those edits being made to their posts.

The result is that the majority of the answers, including all three of the (currently) top-voted ones, are either flat-out frame challenges

That is a more appropriate format for Stack Exchange than having answers listing out handfuls of different routes to go on an open-ended "What should I consider when I'm making a decision?" question. It just gets way too broad. The methods we have in place at least limit disagreeing answers to "Don't do that, here's why. Try this instead if you must take action." VS "Well here's 12 other avenues to consider."

On top of that, all of these frame challenge answers on Dreamt of another girl, want to tell my girlfriend, but how without getting smited? seem to meet the criteria you are asking for anyway. This one in particular explains in great detail what considerations should be made, even though it uses a tone that is less favoring towards taking said action.

Honestly we just aren't a decision making forum and the XY method has been the best way to prevent us from becoming such a place. I'd be on board for alternatives but so far the proposed alternatives make things way too broad.

Edit: Perhaps the most important thing I want to add is that most anyone can still use our current system as is to help them make decisions. "I want to tell her, how do I do it?" turns into answers saying "You probably shouldn't, here's why" and OP still holds that power of decision. That's why I think we have a lot more to lose from allowing broader questions than we do to gain.

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    Perhaps this example wasn't the greatest, since you're right that the answers turned out OK (largely because there seems to be a community consensus over the answer to the "should I" part of the original question). It was just the latest example I've seen, but there have been others where the choice wasn't nearly so clear-cut and the answers were a hot mess. I'll try to look around for an example or two later. – 1006a Mar 8 '18 at 19:38
  • @1006a Fair. I'm thinking that with questions where there's a large consensus that OP is making a bad choice, there might not be a very good way to salvage it. OP needs to be told why they're making a bad choice (whether they ask if they should do it or not), and most answers still offer up explanation as to why it's bad, so I'm not sure what we are to gain from allowing alternate editing formats (XY => "What should I consider?") – Jess K. Mar 8 '18 at 19:45
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    I guess my hope is that if the decision to act hasn't/doesn't appear to have been made already, answers can spend less time on "here's why that particular choice is bad" and perhaps a bit more on "here's how you make this kind of decision". Less giving them a fish (or stopping them from eating a rotten fish) and more teaching how to fish, to use a completely original analogy. – 1006a Mar 8 '18 at 19:49
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    Maybe it isn't clear enough, but I really am more interested in discussion of the issue (or non-issue, if that's how folks see it) and other possible solutions than in pushing the one I proposed; I'm not 100% convinced my proposal is the way to go (and I'm sure it could benefit from tweaking even if the underlying idea is good). That's why I posted it as its own answer, rather than in the question. – 1006a Mar 8 '18 at 19:52
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    @1006a Maybe. But again, a good frame challenge should offer that already (A is probably a bad idea for these reasons... but instead, you should consider doing B, it's better for these other reasons). If we explicitly allow people to come here searching for help making interpersonal decisions, my opinion is that we will be opening pandoras box. – Jess K. Mar 8 '18 at 19:52
  • @1006a I think the proposal has value and I see where you're coming from, but maybe the frame challenge answers are what work moreover the actual XY questions? We have a meta open for that too, though: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2511/… – Jess K. Mar 8 '18 at 19:54
  • @1006a and JessK: How about this one as an example? interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/11611/… It started out basically asking us for a decision on what to do, then on opinions on the approach they wanted to take instead of on how to undertake that approach. In the end, I ended up asking those nasty leading questions and being unsure if I was actually helping someone with a problem or someone who just wanted to post a question and keep it here... – Tinkeringbell Mar 9 '18 at 12:21
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The result is that the majority of the answers, including all three of the (currently) top-voted ones, are either flat-out frame challenges focused on why the OP should not tell Alice about the dream, or else something along the lines of "here's how you maybe kind of could approach this, but you really shouldn't." In other words, they're primarily answering the OP's original, deprecated "should I" question, but now with the tone of correcting a misapprehension. This outcome seems perverse.

I agree that questions like these, especially when edited, aren't very helpful to this site. That's why I was nitpicking in the comments there, trying to find out what Skill the asker was trying to learn. I liked the suggestion from Philbo in the comments there:

@Tinkeringbell I'd agree there. It seems the skill this question is more looking for is: how to deliver potentially unsettling news to a partner, without unsettling them?

You see, having a good bad-news-conversation is much more of an Interpersonal Skill than knowing whether you should tell someone something or not. But, unfortunately, the OP seemed to be asking for phrases, not for guidance on having a bad news conversation. So, I decided not to edit without input from the OP.


As for editing them into the shape suggested here, I'm not a big fan of that either. I still don't see those types of questions as being about Interpersonal Skills. They also have a tendency to be lacking details very fast. When do we know enough to tell an OP that they should take X into account? Another person might find it is way better to focus on Y, etcetera. We'd have only moved the problem then, from an OP not knowing what to decide, to an OP not knowing which answer is most important for their 'how to decide'.

Especially this part:

These kinds of questions lend themselves to answers focusing directly on interpersonal skills such as empathy and decision-making, and are likely to be fairly true to the original problem that the OP is having.

As far as I'm concerned, both empathy and decisiveness are intrapersonal characteristics, not Interpersonal Skills.


Now, as to what I think would be a good question. I've been 'lucky' enough to have received some Interpersonal Skills coaching in my early teenage years. It's weird to say this, but if I have to summarize it into one sentence, yes, it was focused on teaching me to decide and evaluate situations. But, if you look closer, it was so much more than that.

People taught me when to speak up, and how. But I wasn't taught decisiveness or empathy. Instead, they taught me things like assertiveness and maintaining healthy boundaries, how to provide constructive feedback or have a bad news conversation. Those are Interpersonal skills, and if we can get a question to ask about those, and find the root cause the OP has with that, we can answer their questions so much better.

The same goes for being taught when to shut up. Picking battles, disengaging, assertiveness, conflict aversion, de-escalating, all are skills, and once you know how to use them correctly, you can make the decision yourself.

So, instead of having people ask 'should I' or 'How do I decide', have OP's ask about the skills they want to use in a situation. If they are planning on using the wrong skills, we can point them to the skills that are a better alternative. If they are planning on using the right skills, but in a wrong way, we can correct that too.

If OP is at a total loss because they really don't know what skill they want to use, we can suggest some in the comments, and with their feedback, hopefully, improve the question.

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    Interesting that you don't consider empathy and decision-making to be interpersonal skills; I would have thought empathy would be at the top of any list of such skills. Decision-making is a little less clear-cut, but it still appears on many lists of such skills. Maybe another Meta discussion about defining or enumerating these IP skills for which the site is named is in order. – 1006a Mar 8 '18 at 19:43
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    @1006a Well, I can only speak from experience, but decision making and empathy can be acquired/faked when you know how to do the Interpersonal Skills I listed in the answer. They're a byproduct of the technique, not a skill itself. Maybe another meta might be a good idea... I'm very curious to see what was the original intent of this site as well. – Tinkeringbell Mar 8 '18 at 19:45
  • @1006a Empathy is a character trait, not a specific skill. – curiousdannii Mar 9 '18 at 14:16
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    If empathy can be acquired (learned), how is acquiring and using it not a skill? It might not be a "base skill" because it requires other things first, but that doesn't make it not a skill, it's just higher up in the tech tree. – Em C Mar 9 '18 at 14:40
  • @EmC, like I said, empathy itself can't be learned, you'll only learn skills to fake it... empathy is a character trait, that you either have or not. By learning skills, people may think you have it, while in fact you don't – Tinkeringbell Mar 9 '18 at 14:47
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    Maybe I am being confused by your phrasing. I can agree that feeling empathy is intrapersonal, but showing empathy is 100% an interpersonal skill. – Em C Mar 9 '18 at 14:58
  • @EmC, I think we both have very different ideas of empathy then ;-) Because I don't believe you 'show' empathy. You do certain things and people find you empathic. The things you do are the skills, the opinion people have of you afterwards is based on how well you executed those skills. – Tinkeringbell Mar 9 '18 at 15:01
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    @EmC, Tinkeringbell This probably depends partially on definitions. There are 2 traditional views of empathy; one is that it is an emotional reaction ("I feel your pain", Betazoid-style empathy). That perhaps cannot be taught. However, there is also a more cognitive definition, which focuses on the ability to identify (NOT necessarily identify with) other people's emotional states based on their outward cues and a knowledge of human reactions. That's a skill that can be taught and learned (other than to/by psychopaths, in the clinical sense). – 1006a Mar 9 '18 at 15:25
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    If you're interested, there's a huge body of scholarship on teaching empathy in various contexts--to clinicians of various sorts, to children, to folks on the autism spectrum, etc. – 1006a Mar 9 '18 at 15:26
  • Okay, that clears things up a little. I was definitely leaning more towards the first, where you express things and then other people think you feel their pain. Identifying other people's emotional states is a bit difficult to discuss on this stack though? Isn't that why we also close 'she did XYZ, now does she love me' for? – Tinkeringbell Mar 9 '18 at 15:41
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The big problem with changing a simple question into an XY, or any edit actually, is that whatever the editor doesn't understand gets added into the question.

By XYing a question, you don't answer how to do X but rather how to do Y which will accomplish what the OP really wants. If you understood it correctly. If not, you wind up answering the wrong question. I've had several of my questions trashed by this sort of "improvement".

The best way I think is to just not do it.

  • I understand what you mean here, but to me it looks like most newbies (N.O.) try to edit once and get upset because their question won't be reopened since they still don't get the functioning of IPS. If we edit their question, then there is a chance that the following answers would help the OP, even though it doesn't perfectly respond to his/her initial matter. – avazula Mar 14 '18 at 11:30
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One solution might be to edit "should I" type questions into something more like

What should I consider when making this decision?

or

How can I evaluate the likely outcome of these different potential actions (or inaction)?

These kinds of questions lend themselves to answers focusing directly on interpersonal skills such as empathy and weighing up competing interpersonal interests, and are likely to be fairly true to the original problem that the OP is having.

The hoped-for benefit of this approach over pure "what should I do" questions would be to help the OP learn how to make this kind of decision, rather than just telling them what to do. This is largely what the best of the answers that I have described as "frame challenges" are already doing.

The hoped-for benefit of this approach over changing them into "how do I X" questions is that we don't force the OP into a corner of making (or appearing to make) a decision about a course of action that they originally came for help with making.

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    "What should I consider when making this decision?" is basically built for frame challenges. +1 – Froopy Mar 7 '18 at 22:37
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    Agreed that this is much more constructive @1000a, I upvote. – English Student Mar 7 '18 at 22:42
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    eh ... seems like just window-dressing the "should I" questions ... – D.Hutchinson Mar 7 '18 at 23:00
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    I'm only a small part of the community; but in my opinion having these types of questions seems far more reasonable than our current suggestion. I'm really on board for going this direction instead of forcing an outcome. As far as I can tell these are basically the criteria that good answers address here anyways. Definitely interested to see if the community is on board for this. – JMac Mar 7 '18 at 23:02
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    a good answer writer will already know to address the "what should I consider" / "how can I evaluate the likely outcomes of" part of a "should I" question, a bad question writer isn't going to focus their answer any more, not even with this window-dressing of the "should I" question types, I think ... worth a try, but I'm doubtful that it helps ... – D.Hutchinson Mar 7 '18 at 23:04
  • Does "dressing up" questions like this make a question less obvious as a "should I" and lead to overall better answers being generated? We want to make it easy for "bad answer writers" to write better answers. – spiral succulent Mar 7 '18 at 23:13
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    @D.Hutchinson I wasn't thinking that this would change the core of the best answers to these questions, more that it might 1) not make the OP feel bad for asking (cuts out any whiff of finger-wagging about "why would you think this is a good idea?" when the OP wasn't sure about that to begin with) and 2) cut down on arguments about whether the frame-challenge answers are actually answering the question. It might possibly also head off a few lower-quality answers, but that's really secondary. – 1006a Mar 7 '18 at 23:13
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    this rephrasing would allow clear cutting of answers about what the OP should do as "not an answer," while encouraging answers which don't prescribe a specific course of action, but consider the interpersonal implications of multiple courses of action. – spiral succulent Mar 7 '18 at 23:18
  • @1006a agreed with spiral's comment ^ and, community moderation is the key here - e.g. deleting the non-answers. Window-dressing won't help. Also, consider that your proposal makes the questions lose their authenticity, which would be a bad idea: if a question deserves a dozen or more answers that all give a resounding Don't Do This type of message, then I think that there's a lot of value in this. – D.Hutchinson Mar 7 '18 at 23:29
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    @D.Hutchinson it sounds like you think we should leave "should I" questions as-is, rather than change them in either the proposed way or the current manner (—>"how do I"). If that's right, you should write it up as an answer; I'd be interested in an analysis of that option. – 1006a Mar 7 '18 at 23:42
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    Going from "should I" to "how do I", say, with the example you chose for your question, keeps the question's authenticity -- after such an edit, the top-voted answers would still be a resounding "No, you shouldn't." / "No, don't do this." This is actionable and thus useful. Imagine a student going to a professor's office hours with pressing questions, but for fear of sounding dumb, they ask other questions to try and make themselves sound smarter -- and they leave the office without having asked questions on material that they were truly confused about. – D.Hutchinson Mar 8 '18 at 0:05
  • As for writing my own answer, I won't, because I don't have a good solution either. Moderating the answers heavily and pushing for the answerers to write good IPS solutions seem to be the best that I can come up with for now ... – D.Hutchinson Mar 8 '18 at 0:05
  • We also seem to have plenty of answer writers but not enough question writers. So I would suggest attacking this problem in reverse: instead of focusing on questions, going on aggressive closing / deletion campaigns, or editing questions so that they lose their authenticity, we should instead start to focus more on pushing answerers to be better ... until we have a site that gets a high volume of questions. – D.Hutchinson Mar 8 '18 at 0:28
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    Right now, we mostly have a high volume of problematic, feel-good answers that don't offer true IPS solutions. Here's something to consider: with better answerers in this community, the question writers will be better, as a result. Question writers who stay here long enough, and guided by knowledgable answer writers that answered their previous questions, will start to write better, yet still authentic, questions. The growth of the community would be more natural this way ... – D.Hutchinson Mar 8 '18 at 0:29
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    This deserves a good "think" and I hope to reach a personal conclusion, which is worth sharing as an answer. The size of the comments by @D.Hutchinson suggests that there should be a second answer already. – Witan ap Danu Mar 8 '18 at 2:04

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