For someone who is shy, interpersonal skills are always a big challenge. It's especially daunting, because there's always an intrapersonal aspect to it, which is generally much harder to overcome than the actual interpersonal issue.

Stack exchange, as a whole, is a lot more hostile of a place than it feels like it was intended to be. The interpersonal / intrapersonal dichotomy issue on Interpersonal SE is a particularly noteworthy example. It's one of the two most friendly SE sites I have been active on, and yet I've seen several people seeking help for their Interpersonal issues get shut down because they had a significant intrapersonal component.

This feels like it's a big problem to this SE, not just for the shy people who are being shut down, but for the SE in general, because the only area where it's really lagging for going prime-time is the questions.

So, what are some tips that people can follow in their questions to enable them to work around the interpersonal issues dealing with the interpersonal SE community? Also, are there any better ways the people who are shutting these questions down could phrase their direction to be more conducive to shy people actually being able to comply with the directions?


This is an example of the sort of question that I feel Interpersonal Skills falls really short on due to the Intrapersonal aspect. Sure, the OP here has an intrapersonal issue, but they also have an interpersonal issue, and that interpersonal issue is likely to blow up on them while they work on the intrapersonal issue. There should be a way to help them deal with the interpersonal issue without requiring that the intrapersonal issue get resolved.

Figuring out how to proceed with ones interpersonal issues while one has an ongoing intrapersonal issue that makes it difficult is a very important life skill, and one of the things that I struggle with on a day to day basis. Finding answers to this is a large part of why I spend a lot of time on this site, and it feels like the active people on this site are doing their best to actively avoid dealing with it. Dealing with the intrapersonal issue is important and off topic for the site, and I don't disagree with either of those points, but life goes on relentlessly despite our intrapersonal hangups.

I realize that this is inserted into this question ungracefully, but I just woke up with the epiphany that this was the sort of question whose handling was what prompted me to feel like I can't actually ask my own questions here. Seeing this question, and having slept on it, I do understand a bit more what it needs to have to be fitting with the site. I do agree that the question is not a good fit as stated, but we should be giving guidance on how to refocus the question rather than just saying "OMG, IntRApersonal issues? Not here! OMG, I can't deal with this!"

I don't have time to give this question the attention it needs to fix it up at just this moment, because life does go on, and I have things I need to do to start my day, but it feels like I need to at least point this stuff out while I can, and then spend time fixing up this question, and fixing up my answer on the reference question to be a proper framing challenge, or otherwise do what I can to explain how it needs to be edited, this evening.

  • I am not familiar with this se, but on other se metas it's fine to discuss things in comments: I think most people here lack structure in their questions. Doesn't have anything to do with them being shy (what ever that means). Not once have I seen a well structured question that was vaguely on topic getting closed. I don't think you can teach people to order their thoughts and reflect on the issues they are having and how to present them in a clear way via comment. This is a fight i have given up long ago (again not in this se). But you can start by adding a more useful word than shy ...
    – Raditz_35
    Feb 16, 2019 at 9:52

4 Answers 4


We've been pretty strict on not answering questions about intrapersonal issues on this site, from quite early on:

The expertise to understand/resolve internal, psychological problems is very different than someone who is a keen observer in the ways of social mores and interactions.

And from a comment to that answer:

and it doesn't seem like questions dealing with deeply personal self-help issues are a good fit for platform that does not support the conversations these subjects deserve, Without that empathy and support, this is more a source of frustration than a "better Q&A solution."

You're not the first, nor will you be the last to run into the limitations of IPS SE. Stack Exchange focuses on Questions and Answers, not on discussion and talking and understanding what's wrong. This may seem harsh, but it is what it is.

Now, about intrapersonal issues that mess with your interpersonal skills, you wrote this in the (now deleted) comments:

For people like me, every Interpersonal interaction is prefaced with one or more Intrapersonal battles. There isn't an Intrapersonal SE, and this is an intrapersonal issue specifically relating to achieving Interpersonal success

We can't take away the intrapersonal issues. We can't answer questions on how to handle the intrapersonal parts (like how to feel less shy, less tired when depressed, how to feel more confident). We can't really help you fix the intrapersonal battles that have an effect on your interpersonal skills.

What we can do, is understand that there is something (ADHD, autism, depression) that makes you act a certain way. In the end, though, it should be about asking us how to handle a situation, about the interpersonal skills needed in this situation, not about why you handle a situation a certain way and changing this why.

How to reduce the risk of people interpret me implying things, when I never intended to? is a good example of a question that does this:

  • the author explains what they usually do, and how that is a problem.
  • the author also briefly mentions why they do this:

    I have Asperger's Syndrome. I'm an aspie. I am naturally inclined to say things literally and take things literally, but I have learned most neurotypicals communicate differently

  • but in the end, the question is about what, about how they can improve their Interpersonal Skills, not about fixing the intrapersonal Asperger's Syndrome:

    How can I communicate more clearly that I really just meant what I said, and did not mean to imply anything else?

So, what are some tips that people can follow in their questions to enable them to work around the interpersonal issues dealing with the interpersonal SE community?

First off: take some time to get to know this site. Read the help center pages about what is on/off-topic, take some time to look through our guidance on writing good questions and answers. Take your time to click through, read a bit from the meta posts linked there, to understand better why things are done the way they're done here.

For questions that involve intrapersonal issues, follow the example above and make sure that if you have intrapersonal issues that have an effect on your interpersonal skills, you focus your question, but also the background information to that question, on how you usually react to/handle situations and what you'd like to happen instead of all the intrapersonal issues. We don't need to know every thought that crosses your mind before you actually do something, though we might want to know you do things the way you do because you're shy, introverted, traumatized, on the spectrum, or anything else.

If you're not sure a question will fit, there's always the Sandbox. But in the end, the scope of this site still stands: It's about Interpersonal Skills, not intrapersonal issues. So if a question is asking how to fix being shy, how to feel more confident, how to love someone or stop hating someone... I'm sorry, we can't really help.

Also, are there any better ways the people who are shutting these questions down could phrase their direction to be more conducive to shy people actually being able to comply with the directions?

In general, we try to be nice. Especially with intrapersonal issues, the 'standard' reply, in my opinion, should be a bit more than 'this is off-topic':

"I'm sorry, I understand this must be hard for you. This is a site about Interpersonal Skills, about the behaviors you use when interacting with people. Your question right now tells us a lot about why, but not much about what or how. Could you give an example of what you usually do, and what that results in, and provide a result you're aiming for? Something like this question would be nice."

Always make sure to ask for additional details, don't phrase your comments as a demand or threat, and don't assume people know what you're talking about: "you need to do this or it will be closed/you need to add an example" are much less useful/nice than someone explaining what kind of example is needed and asking you to add it.

Additionally, a thing for engaging people is making a quick edit: If there is a lot of background information, perhaps you can cut it back to just what is necessary. Quick edits often show that people do care about the question, that they'd like to keep it, if the necessary details are added. That's a good message to send.


There are a number of things you can do.

  1. Search for your topic before you even think of posting your question, as it may already be answered. If you need this question's answers, you'll have already done this. Do it again, with every version of the question you can think of, or possibly just some keywords. Pay special attention to any closed or on hold answers - it's tempting to just ignore questions with no answers, but this may be a learn from history or repeat it situation.

  2. Get active on the meta site for any SEs you want to post on. Read questions and answers that might be related to the sort of question you want to ask. I realized this point on waking up today. Having come here to find the question migrated, it may seem like it makes less sense to list it here, but I think if this answer has lasting value, it would most likely make its way into a help center answer.

  3. Write a number of drafts and, if feasible, have a friend look over them. Most particularly, keep several versions. You want the one you lead with to be the best possible version you can initially make. But it can be helpful to have several versions of various possible edits, gearing for responses you think sound plausible but you don't think will actually happen.

    Polishing these ahead of time isn't important - if they come into play, they're probably going to need substantial changes before you can use them. I mean, if you could polish one to the point where you could use it without changes in response to a complaint, consider how likely that complaint is. If you feel it's quite likely, you might want to lead with that one. But having some initial stabs at correcting a complaint at least this gives you a better chance of an obvious next step you can use. People on SE are people of the 21st century, and generally have little interest in waiting, so it's helpful to be able to make your changes while your post is still considered current.

    1. Using an offline editor can be helpful here. That eliminates the chance you will post before you intend, and is probably easier to organize than a bunch of browser tabs. I use zim, which has the advantage of using a similar markdown format.
  4. THere's a sandbox for questions on Interpersonal SE. This is for getting early comments on how to fix any question you are worried might get a close vote or might receive downvotes if you post it as is on the main site. Thanks, Tinkeringbell

  5. For any SE, get familiar with the stack exchange before you post. Read posts, especially those that seem like they might be similar to yours in some way, even if you're not actually interested in the specific question they ask. Read the comments of the other users, and pay attention to the rep those users have. The opinions of higher rep users matter - not because of their clout, but because they are more likely to be on at any time. Anyone who has gotten enough rep to vote to close can vote to close, regardless of how much rep they have now. But the active users won't stay at low rep long. Use the information you collect in this step to try and improve your drafts, especially your main draft.

    1. Especially take note of the questions that are closed, put on hold, and marked as duplicates. Try to address the problems that cause them to be shut down before you post the first time.
  6. Also have some potential comment responses in mind. Remember nothing offensive is permitted. Any comment you make should either address the criticism you received or discuss possible corrections to your question. The goal of this preparation is to be better able to respond constructively to negative comments, rather than responding in the heat of the moment after feeling like someone is critical of you.

  7. If you have a partial idea of how to address your issue, rather than writing it into your question, write it into an answer to post with your question. This shows that you've done some research on your question in a more obvious way than just writing it in your question.

  8. Remember that the question isn't written in stone, you can edit it. The on hold message explicitly directs you to do this even. So even if you face opposition, it's not hopeless.

  9. Post at a time when you will still be online for a few hours, and preferably active on SE, so that you can notice sooner rather than later if things don't go well. Seeing that your question has a vote to close allows you to start working on the fix before everybody has their opinions about your question set firmly in their minds. Seeing your post receive a vote to close right before you were about to go to bed could cause you to be up way past your bedtime. Seeing your post closed or on hold the next day means many active people won't be looking at your post again.

  • 3
    In response to point 1, on drafts: We have a Sandbox for people wanting a few eyes on their question before putting it on main: Sandbox link. The added value here would be that you'd have community members looking at it, people that are (hopefully) already aware of what makes a good question for IPS and how to shape yours into one. The sandbox has a feed to chat, to ensure posting there will reach regulars and won't go unnoticed :)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 15, 2019 at 8:28

I agree with pretty much everything in Tinkeringbell's answer and I think your self-answer has some great tips too! I wanted to add a few thoughts from my perspective to the mix.

So I struggle with shyness and social anxiety, among other things. Like you, I was drawn to this site in part because of those issues - even though answers here can't teach me how to not have those problems, they can tell me appropriate ways to interact with others. This still helps a lot, because now I can approach those interactions with some confidence that I am "doing it right", despite what my anxiety is telling me. For example, my recent question - I was really anxious about emailing that recruiter. I couldn't ask "will they be annoyed at me?" or "can someone tell me if my email draft is ok?", but I could ask that question. (And then if they got mad at me afterwards I could convince myself that I was in the right ;) (fortunately it turned out fine!))

As far as techniques, for question askers:

  • Start in the sandbox if you're unsure. There's no reputation risk, and the users commenting there do their best to be patient, constructive, and helpful.
  • While this site can't tell you how to stop being shy, anxious, depressed, etc., I do think it's useful to let us know if that's a reason you're struggling with an interaction. In a lot of cases I think you'll get the same advice either way, but including that information helps users tailor their advice. It also can help prevent comments like "but why don't you just say that??", as well as encourage answerers to include more details and backup.
  • Try to state your goal as clearly and objectively as possible in the question. It's a good idea to put this in a single sentence at the beginning or end, so the key interpersonal issue is easy to see, even if there's intrapersonal issues mentioned elsewhere in your description. Check out How do I write a good question? for some more suggestions on what to include.
  • If your post ends up on hold, please don't take it as a punishment - this gives you time to make edits, without having to worry about people posting invalid answers. We try to make sure every closed post has some feedback on what would need to be improved, and editing to address that is strongly encouraged. If you're not sure what to do - ask! You can reply to comments, post here on meta, or ask in chat.
  • Worst case, it's simply not a fit for this site. That doesn't mean your problems aren't valid or you're unwelcome here! It just means that StackExchange isn't a good format to help with that specific thing. I totally support finding a forum elsewhere that allows for more free-form discussion for intrapersonal issues or asking "what should I do" questions, and have done that myself in the past.

For those writing comments,

  • Be nice - remember there's another human on the other side of the screen who is looking for help.
  • Be constructive. Including suggestions of how OP can make their question on-topic here ("We can't answer X, but we could help with Y or Z if you'd like to ask about that") gives them some encouragement to edit rather than simply abandon their post. Understanding our scope and guidelines can be confusing, so examples can help.
  • If you see a way to rephrase the question to be on topic and are reasonably sure it's still in line with what OP's goals are, make the edit! It's a good idea to leave a comment afterwards if you do this, both to make sure the OP approves and to bring it to their attention so they can learn more about the scope of our site.

FWIW, I tried making such an edit on the question you linked. I agree that it seems the OP is asking about a primarily interpersonal issue (talking to his girlfriend about her continued pressure to support a different charity), rather than asking us to come up with an explanation for why he likes the one he currently supports. Currently 3 reopen votes :)


Try to make some things clear to you.

Feeling exposed

You feel exposed - to whom?
Other people here don't know who you are. Stay nice although it is - as some seem to think - "only internet". But don't take things too serious if you didn't cross a red line.
If they upvote you, cool. Be happy about that. If they downvote you, ok for what reason? Can you improve your post? Or just think "well... internet" (but still be nice).
Nobody comes to your door to tell you what you did. Btw. don't tell personal information here.

Getting downvoted

Compare these forums to others. You won't find stuff like

  • me too
  • thx
  • haha - you idiot
  • who needs that

in them. For god's sake! You find helpful answers, mostly. If yours isn't helpful - make it so. If it wasn't - improve it or at least learn from it.
It's not a negative thing, no punishment.
The only thing that could feel too unreal is the constant question "can you support this with personal experience?". Some answers could be helpful even if the person didn't make personal experience with this very situation. Oh to avoid this here... yes I personally did feel that too ;-)

Writing so that others will understand

It is not easy to do but if you have composed a question you should try to read it from the perspective of someone who only has your text - not your mind.
Can someone know what you mean from only reading your lines? Do your words express everything or would one need to know your thoughts too to complete what you wrote?

Put the problem in a nutshell. Don't talk around the situation and forget the actual problem. If you have a problem with your partner - tell the problem with your partner. Not where you met the first time, what they like to eat or watch in TV. Except if it's a part of the problem.

What next?

  1. Write your question into a document or on a piece of paper.
  2. Wait.
  3. Look at it again. Improve it if you like. If you are still unsure go to number 2. You didn't post anything yet.
  4. Post it and see what happens.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .