Sparked by How to know if you’re in an abusive situation?

This question was asked yesterday, and I'm wondering if it really should be welcome on a site about Interpersonal Skills.

The first question this raises for me: Is 'recognize the signs of situation X' really an Interpersonal Skill?

I picked up the following definition of Interpersonal Skills a while back:

Interpersonal Skills are goal-directed behaviors, including communication and relationship-building competencies, employed in interpersonal interaction episodes characterized by complex perceptual and cognitive processes, dynamic verbal and nonverbal interaction exchanges, diverse roles, motivations and expectancies link, though it's from Google books so may not work for everyone

The definition seems to say (to me) that Interpersonal Skills are the goal-directed behaviours (including communication and relationship building competencies) that are used in certain situations. If I follow that, then the question that's about Interpersonal Skills should be about how to behave in a certain situation, not about the situation itself or the behaviour of others in such a situation.

The second question is whether or not this type of question fits the StackExchange Q&A model.

Generally, questions asking for a list of things aren't doing well on SE. It's why IPS deemed resource recommendations a bad fit for this site pretty early on. The upvoted answer there also warns against "Chatty, open-ended questions". This question does seem chatty and open-ended to me. Quote:

What I really would like is a rubric of the sorts; constituting community experience to go through my situations and determine if my scenarios are abusive or have potential to be.

This part specifically seems chatty and open-ended, I interpreted it as asking for 'please share your stories about your personal abusive relationships with me'. Wouldn't that be more suited to a forum for people that also have been through abusive relationships, instead of a question and answer site?

Second question, part B: Shouldn't canonical questions be on Meta?

In the early days of IPS, we had this meta question: Is this question still too broad even when it's purpose is clear?. I find the current question about abusive relationships of a similar character as the question discussed in that thread: broad, chatty, open-ended, a possible source to link future visitors to.

The top answer for that discussion raises the point that perhaps this Q&A thread should be on IPS Meta, if it really is intended as a canonical question that we can link future visitors with similar questions about abusive relationships.

So: Does this question fit Interpersonal Skills, is it off-topic or too broad (or both)?

  • 1
    I would say that its a useful skill to interpret interpersonal behavior correctly. Still its debateable whats the exact definition of IPS. As the linked question asks about something really useful and interpersonal, I would at least say that its on-topic for IPS. Yet its kinda broadly worded and might, as suggested, better fit the IPS meta Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 11:30
  • @XtremeBaumer Would you say that questions asking about a list of all the things that can mean a situation is X is equal to the skill of interpreting behaviour correctly? I can see how this might work for interpreting specific interpersonal behaviour (I said something, and they went nuts, and can someone please explain why?) but I feel like a long list of possible things that can be interpreted as (signs of) X is a bit different from that?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 11:40
  • No its not the same. Yet I can see myself developing a "skill" to recognize at least some of the things mentioned in the top voted answer, much faster as I now know about them. Actually, parts of the answer hint at `I said something, and they went nuts, even if "nuts" gets a different meaning here I guess. Personally I would keep these kind of answers around the SE for google searches like "Am I in an abusive relationship" or "signs of an abusive relationship" or "how to recognize an abusive relationship". The answer (maybe not the question so much) would fit all three searches Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 11:50

4 Answers 4


Does this question fit Interpersonal Skills, is it off-topic or too broad (or both)?

This is only a POV, and I guess many will +1/-1, as it's controversial, but I would just share some thoughts:

  1. too broad
  2. opinion-based
  3. off-topic

I just read the answer you link to. Well, part of it only with increased scrutiny (too long an answer IMO, and one of the reason the following is written below...).

Why do I think that? Because we're not here to write books about knowledge/situations, but share knowledge about a specific case (-> too broad).

In this particular answer, I just pinpoint the "Track your own feelings" part. Out of its 11 bullets, I recognize more than half of the feelings I once had, decades ago. All of them were because of INTRApersonal problems. At this time, my relationship(s) were all messed up because of ME. To me, that means that you can "keep track of your feelings, emotions, and actions" and still be on the wrong side of the plate. Plus, it can be different for many people (opinion-based).

I agree with @Noon about "being about to "read" people and situation is an interpersonal skill". It helps a lot, increases self-confidence, and one's skills.

But, as this question stands, it's not part of the IPS/SE Q/A model IMHO.

Community may want to explore deeper what Noon suggests though :)



Yes, but not the question that spawned this meta

Why is this type of question on topic?

We are working with questions of the form how can I recognize the signs of X? This type of question would be on topic, If asking about X itself is on topic. The help center lists topics that can be asked about here.

Questions about the following subjects are on topic for this site:

  • using or understanding interpersonal interactions to resolve specific problems or prevent problems from occurring with a specific goal in mind. This includes interactions with family, friends, work/school associates, acquaintances or strangers (or anyone else).
  • the written and unwritten - but well-established and expected - rules or conventions of behavior in a specific setting (also called etiquette).
  • understanding social norms as they relate to interpersonal interactions - why do we interact the way we do?
  • understanding theories and concepts commonly associated with interpersonal skills. - What is [theory/concept] or How do I use [theory/concept] to achieve [goal]?

Let's try applying the first bullet point to our topic X. Then we get a question of the form how can I use X to solve this problem that I have? or how can I use X to prevent this problem that I have?

I'll use this question as an example. The question asks How can I recognize non-verbal communication that someone needs a seat on public transportation? So, in this example X is "non-verbal communication". Let's flip that into the "how can I use" format. It then becomes How can I use non-verbal communication to indicate that I need a seat on public transportation? That would be a good, on-topic question, and in fact this question is similar (and a non-verbal solution could be an acceptable answer to it).

So, if you can extract an interpersonal skill from the question and it would be on topic to ask how to use that interpersonal skill, I think it would be a good fit for the site.

Why is the particular question being discussed not on topic?

There are a few reasons that I think this particular question is not on topic.

The first reason is that it doesn't fit the pattern discussed above. How can I recognize abuse? In this question X is "abuse". Flipping it would yield How can I use abuse to solve this problem? which would certainly be a bad question for the site, or How can I prevent abuse to solve this problem (thanks @dhein for pointing out that possible case). The second question is a bit trickier, because it feels a lot more like an on-topic question. In fact, if the subject was wasn't abuse, I would say that it would be a good question for the site. However, the subject is abuse, which leads right into my second reason.

The second reason is that the subject of abuse is a bad fit for SE in general. I say this because abuse falls under the need for professional help, which we have determined to be off topic. The question I linked is concerned more with questions that deal with depression/self-harm/suicidal thoughts, but I don't think that the general flow for questions where the OP needs professional help is limited to these scenarios.

Why does abuse fall in this category?

Let's take a look at the flipped version of the question again.

How can I prevent abuse to solve this problem

This question would be off-topic here, because we are not qualified to help people cope with abusive or potentially abusive situations. Much like depression/self-harm/suicide the best thing we can do to help someone in this situation would be to provide them links to better resources (such as a shelter for abuse victims in their area).

Much like we aren't trained to assist people actively in abusive situations, we are also not trained to recognize abuse. Without proper training, we shouldn't be answering questions about topics as sensitive as abuse, because any mistakes we make could have serious consequences for the OP. From the conversation that @noon and I had in chat

Rainbacon: How would we know? We are not trained to spot abusive behavior.

Noon: We wouldn't, but we could tell them: "from this article, here are the sign of an abusing relationship, you have to make your own conclusion based on that"

What I gathered from this conversation is that the best we can hope for to answer a question like this is to link another resource and leave the OP to decide things for themselves. I think that a better course of action would be to close the question so that the OP doesn't get any potentially harmful answers, and to also provide information to help the OP seek help in the right place.

A canonical question

While I don't think that this question is a good fit for IPS, I do see value in having a canonical question that we can use to close it. I mentioned that when we close a question like this, we should provide the OP with any resources that we can to seek help. The canonical question would be a good way to do that. As an example, this meta post deals with handling posts where the OP mentions self-harm or suicide. One of the things in the post is a ready-made comment that includes information about a suicide hotline that the OP could call. If we have a canonical question about signs of abuse, we could list similar types of resources on it and then link to the question when we close posts.

Using a canonical question in this way would help us protect the OP from further damage done by bad answers to their question while also protecting IPS from any fallout that might come from giving a bad answer.

  • I definitely acknowledge the sensitivity involved with abuse as a subject. The question in dispute however, isn’t asking for personal help. It isn’t asking for ways to resolve any sort of situation but merely “tips” on how one might be able to notice it. Food for thought, if you will. It isn’t direct enough to warrant enough concern. If the op was asking for help on exiting an abusive situation then that would be a significantly different story.
    – Anilla
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:27
  • While it is true that this particular question isn't cause for concern, I'm not sure that erases the concern about us not being trained to recognize abuse. Because abuse is a sensitive subject, I think that it is best for us not to hand out advice about recognizing it (even if for purely academic purposes) since we are not necessarily equipped to do so.
    – Rainbacon
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 20:43
  • Is anyone really trained in life though? A lot of what makes this site itself is the ability for people to chime in information based on personal experience. We even have an abuse tag with several questions using it. If it really were an off topic sensitive subject like what’s been mentioned, why is it... being discussed?
    – Anilla
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 21:00
  • The abuse tag currently has 10 questions. 5 of those are closed. Of the 4 that are open and not the one being discussed, 3 are about specific situations that involve a person who is known to be abusive toward someone other than the OP. The other is about seeing a former abuser in a context where there is not likely to be further abuse. I'm not saying that all questions where abuse plays a factor are off-topic, but I think (for the reasons listed in my answer) that this particular question is.
    – Rainbacon
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 21:21
  • 2
    As for why we are discussing abuse here; we can't decide that a topic isn't fit for IPS unless we have a meta discussion (which we are currently doing) where we talk about the topic and why it should or shouldn't be off topic.
    – Rainbacon
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 21:21
  • To be fair about your analogy: The first bullet point says "...to resolve specific problems or prevent " So turning "How can I use abuse to solve this problem?" into "How can I prevent abuse to solve this problem?" Would be the more fitting version. I don't know if that would change anything about the On/Off-topic part, but I would appreciate, making it more clear this way. :)
    – dhein
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 6:41
  • 1
    @dhein That's a really good point. I think it actually makes a stronger case for this question being off topic. I'll edit my answer to reflect that
    – Rainbacon
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 14:00

I personally believe that knowing how to diagnose and respond to a relational situation is an interpersonal skill.

Why? Because, experiencing relationships and their situational circumstances over time enhances your aptitude to handling new situations. You begin to really recognize certain key behaviors and the results associated with them.

As you get better you’ll know that (if I see x, y, or z happening then abc might happen). Sometimes people might be slower at developing these skills due to intrapersonal reasoning; but, I’d still argue that this can be learned from others and prove resourceful to them.

For my question itself: yes, It’s open ended and I’m actually planning on revising it. Asking for a personal repertoire of experiences isn’t exactly inline with the goals of this site; rather, sharing key behaviors to look for in a situation would be more fitting.

I still believe it’s a good question to reference (having more favorites than upvotes oddly enough). Learning to recognize key behaviors in a person-person relationship is definitely an interpersonal skill in my humble opinion.


I believe this question should be a canonical question on IPS meta.

To me, being about to "read" people and situation is an interpersonal skill (sorry, I don't have any back-up here). And "How to know if you’re in an abusive situation?" fit does criteria.

Furthermore, I believe this question and the answer to it is a really important one and could help a lot of people.

However, I agree that this question is pretty broad but I think that community wiki is the answer to good but broad questions.

About the fact that you read this question as "Please share your stories about your personal abusive relationships with me". I agree that this wouldn't be a good fit for IPS. However, I read it as "What does the scientific community agree on being the sign of an abusive relationship?" and I believe that would fit the IPS model.

About your suggestion of putting canonical questions on meta, I like this idea. This way it won't show a "bad" example where people feel like they can ask very broad questions. Instead, they will clearly see that canonical questions aren't treated the same as other questions.

However, putting canonical questions on meta raise the issue of them being hard to find. To mitigate this problem, I will suggest the following steps:

  • Make sure to post a link to the canonical question for every question you closed as being a "duplicate" of this canonical question.

  • Let's "build a library" (write a meta post) where we will put a link to all your canonical question.

  • Let's link this library in the faq

  • Let's make sure to use the tag for every canonical question we write.

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