In my recent question, there was a surprising number of users insinuating that because the question was about the use of an Interpersonal Theory, it was inherently manipulative. This is a significant issue because if true, then it invalidates the on-topic section of help where it suggests "How do I use [theory/concept] to achieve [goal]?" as a viable structure for a question, and if it is false then it is discouraging (in my opinion), a great type of question in IPS where proper research and references can be used easily for more in depth understanding of the subject.
Specifically, it was mentioned in two (both up-voted) answers and one (also up-voted) comment by 3 different users.
Here: (revision history)
People and their emotions are not toys to be played with. If someone feels like you are acting inappropriately, then they are going to be even more disinclined to open up to you. People do not respond well to being manipulated.
Here: (current answer)
People who know what this is (manipulation) don't fall for it. Same is true for Social Penetration Theory. We're always better off by gauging the relationship and the person and treating them as an individual, not a "game" or "technique" which both do.
And here: (comment)
Taking advantage of social norms to get someone to do what you want them to do when they don't want to do it is manipulation. – swbarnes2 2 hours ago
(An update: since creating this post, there have been many more discouraging comments/posts/chat on the question and it is very clear that there is a noticeably popular opinion that any question asking about "how to use a theory in IPS" is manipulative, but the comments have even gone so far as to insinuate my character is corrupt and I am a manipulative person for trying to use this "inauthentic technique".) - Because this mind-set is one that will obviously continue to arise with any question structured similarly to that which is suggested in the help, I think it makes this an important matter that needs to be addressed.
In my understanding, each one of these examples has miss-understood what Interpersonal theories are, what manipulation is or some combination of the two and this false interpretation seems likely to arise again in future questions about the use of theories so I would like to try and establish where the community stands on this matter.
What do we define as manipulation?
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence adopted to know about the psychological vulnerabilities of your opponent. It is usually adopted to know what tactics are likely to be the most effective weapons against them. Psychological manipulation changes the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. Such methods are often considered as exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. It is often used in an attempt to control the behavior of others. It uses various forms of psychological abuse, brainwashing or bullying, emotional blackmail, to coerce others to do things which they naturally do not want to do. It is also known as emotional manipulation. - reference
There are other types of manipulation, but psychological is the only sort that really applies to this discussion as it tries to change the behaviour or perception of others and can lead to psychological/emotional/mental abuse and is clearly what is being implied when someone says "manipulation" in an IPS context. The more general definition of manipulation can be extended to even simple things like modelling clay and has a notably less negative context than is being insinuated in these cases.
For a more detailed list of types of psychological manipulation and what to watch out for, I really suggest reading this in order to get a clear picture of the contrast between questions such as mine, and psychological manipulation.
In a nutshell, psychological manipulation is always targeted, damaging and malicious (whether intentional or not). Looking back at the questions, my goal to "to use Social Penetration Theory to mutually help each of us with our relationships together" should be the first sign that perhaps Interpersonal Theories are not inherently manipulative.
Thats not to say that a question about IP theories will never be manipulative, but instead I am saying that we should assess the OP's goals and methods in a case by case basis like every other question and not stigmatise the application of knowledge.
What is an Interpersonal Theory?
The biggest misconception here seemed to be that these theories are all some sort of game/trick/technique that can be exploited to get what you want such as what was displayed in a lot of the examples from this link I gave. This is a very harmful misconception that could hinder a lot of potentially great questions and coming up with a routine way of dispelling this belief would be the ideal outcome of this post.
Interpersonal Theories are basically the study and understanding of interpersonal communication and skills themselves. Which is the very thing this site should be thriving on. A theory is an attempted understanding or insight into a particular behaviour and how you use that knowledge is similar to how you use the knowledge gained from life experiences, the benefit here is that documented studies and theories can be sited easily, referenced and built upon. Since honesty and trust are a large part of IPS, I would even go so far as to say that these theories are directly opposed to "dishonest tricks to get what you want from people". For some research with different communication theories. The study and understanding of these theories I feel would be a major benefit to the future of where this site goes and to categorise it as "manipulation" seems like a major diss-service to ourselves.
Simply because of what an Interpersonal Theory is it can not be inherently manipulative. If anything the question should only be called manipulative if OP has manipulative or ill intentioned application or use of the theory. But this applies to every other IPS question too. If OP asks a question where the goal is to (intentionally or not) psychologically manipulate or abuse someone then we should take the recommended steps. But that, is certainly not the same as applying Interpersonal Theories. So for this example, the only type of comment that might be justified in terms of mentioning abuse would be about my unideal use of the theory. Which is what the question was about in the first place.
What should we do about questions that DO involve manipulation?
The answer to this is quite varied, depending a lot on specifically what sort/how manipulative the questions is, but has been covered in previous meta posts.
Social engineering is about getting information from people they don't want to give and morally questionable acts. The consensus for this seemed to be that because of how subjective morality is and how much questions can vary, these questions were not necessarily off topic but they were something to be wary of.
This was about questions where OP wanted to make someone do something and circumvent that persons boundaries. This seems to be a good example of how my question was wrongfully interpreted as they answered in a way that would have been recommended if this were the case. Here the answerer updated their answer to something more applicable after it was explained that the goal was not to make someone do something, and using theories does not mean trying to circumvent someones boundaries. The suggested answer with questions like these was a "Don't!" answer, ideally with a thorough explanation and reasoning. A don't answer can be great, and is a good solution to the above problem but having misconceptions about what Interpersonal Theories imply and responding to every question involving a theory with "Don't" would be distracting from the value of the post, and hopefully we can find a way to discourage the indiscriminate use in these situations while still encouraging it when used correctly.
So what do we do about these answers/comments?
IF we as a community agree that these comments are unhelpful, and they are discouraging a type of question that we really want to be encouraging then what can, or what should, we do about it?
- Flagging answers accusing a question involving Interpersonal Theories of being manipulative as NAA seems too risky since the flagger should probably be required to determine that the answerers interpretation of the question was objectively wrong since there still could be a small percentage of theory questions that are actually about manipulation.
- Down-voting seems applicable to me, but it does not really help improve the problem
- Lastly, I think the best thing we could do is come up with a staple, agreed upon response to inform the answerers and hopefully result in some better and more focused responses that do not get caught up in the false stigma of how people use Inter Personal Theories.
- Any other suggestions that are a better fit would be helpful