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As this question points out, a big proportion of questions on this site get closed, more so than on other Stack Exchange sites.

I would argue that the current restrictions on questions are arbitrary and limit the potential and usefulness of the site.

What-to-say/what-to-do questions are natural

Many people have a specific social situation in their life in mind and want advice on what to say or do in that situation. This is one of the most common and natural reasons people want interpersonal skills advice, but is considered off-topic on this site.

On other Stack Exchange sites, people post questions about specific problems that they encounter and get specific solutions: e.g., on Stack Overflow, someone will post a specific programming problem and often get a snippet of code as an answer. On English Language & Usage, someone may post a phrase or sentence and get corrections on it as an answer.

Getting help on specific responses in specific situations is helpful because:

  1. Other people might encounter a similar situation, search for it, and find that a past question applies to their situation.
  2. People generalize solutions for specific situations into more general skills by recognizing patterns. Figuring out what to say to person A in situation X will build my intuition for what to say to person B in situation Y.

In contrast, requiring questions to "focus on how to generally write or decide what to say so that you can tailor them to your situation" is an unnatural restriction. It would be like banning code snippets on Stack Overflow, which would greatly limit the usefulness of the site.

Unintuitive requirements

Other questions get closed for not providing enough detail. Users have to thread the needle between the generality and specificity requirements, which can be confusing and unintuitive.

3 Answers 3

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I came here today to ask the question "Has moderation gone too far on IPS?". Seems this one is quite similar.

It is a pain to see almost every question get closed by a few overly zealous mods, who seem to take the guidelines almost literally. Then, when a question does, by miracle or extrenuous editing, stay open, answerers are attacked for not speaking from experience if their situation wasn't exactly the same or not backing up their answer by links to 50 scientific studies on the subject.

Take for example the latest question on a meeting about behavior in some martial arts class. OP has made it clear they are going to attend the meeting but are unsure about how to handle themselves. This was closed as "asking what to do" or "what to say" is off-topic. It is clear OP is not asking what to do in a way like "should I go to the meeting or not" and is not asking for what to say in a way that is an exact script. They can also not answer the "what have you tried and why did it not work" question, since the meeting has not taken place yet.

Now a perfectly valid answer could have been "go into the meeting with an open mind, listen to what they have to say, don't get defensive and decide on a course of action afterwards". Perfect way to handle this type of situation in an interpersonal way. This could have come from someone who was called into a similar meeting at work, school, ...

All this to say that yes, the current restrictions are unhelpful, and basically killing the site, not because the guidelines are not necessary or even unclear, but because some users are enforcing them too strictly.

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  • 1/2 Only the last 2 sentences seem to be kind of a problem IMHO. But your points are valid (to me) when you say "OP has made it clear they are going to attend the meeting but are unsure about how to handle themselves" and that they can't share previous tries outcome. Your answer ("a perfectly valid answer could have been...") could also be helpful. But I'd rather see the OP edited first in a way that makes your answer valid. You have the power to edit, and it might be useful to propose some modifications on this one, don't you think?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 10:18
  • 2/2 but I agree with people (and I'm one of them) who say that we can't let this stack slip on the dark side and end up with a lot of questions that are badly shaped or written, asking for opinions, open-ended or polling or whatever. I was one the few who thought we could help with (re)phrasing the choice OP had made, but it wasn't picked as an option by the community. You put the finger on the exact line (again, IMHO) where we must walk, and choose the right side to push the OP :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 10:22
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Many people have a specific social situation in their life in mind and want advice on what to say or do in that situation. This is one of the most common and natural reasons people want interpersonal skills advice, but is considered off-topic on this site.

This site isn't some 'agony aunt'. It's a part of the Stack Exchange network dedicated to building a library of knowledge around Interpersonal Skills (Behaviors people use to interact well with others, and achieve certain goals). It's not a site for 'interpersonal skills advice', even though lots of questions still seem to suggest it is.

On other StackExchange sites, people post questions about specific problems that they encounter and get specific solutions: e.g., on StackOverflow, someone will post a specific programming problem and often get a snippet of code as an answer.

On Stack Overflow, you post about the problem you encounter, you include a minimal, complete and verifiable example, and information on what your code is supposed to do. You don't go there and ask the site to program a Sudoku solver for you in whatever programming language. You go there and mention you are working in Java, trying to make a Sudoku solver, and that with your current code you're getting a certain error, and how to fix that so that your Sudoku solver ends up working.

Same here. You don't come here asking what your goal should be, which course of action you should pick, or what you should say. You may come here with what you're trying to build (a specific goal you're trying to achieve through your interactions), a minimal, complete and verifiable example of your code (examples of things you've already tried) and the 'error message' (what unfavourable result you did get instead).

As for the English Language site, it is a bit different but it also expects more from a question than just 'is this right' before giving you those corrections in an answer. Looking at their criteria for proofreading questions from their help/on-topic: "Proofreading ("Is this right?", "Are there any mistakes?"), unless a specific source of concern is clearly specified. See below for hints on checking existing texts.". So, they also don't just take any question asking for corrections and just give those.

I would argue that the current restrictions on questions are arbitrary and limit the potential and usefulness of the site.

These restrictions aren't arbitrary, but the result of discussions here on meta. We've seen questions asking for what to say fail, turn into 'mindless fun', and in general not being about Interpersonal Skills. It's not an Interpersonal Skill to be able to repeat a script, the skill is in knowing the ways you can deliver your message and deciding upon the one most proper to your specific situation.

So no, the current restrictions are definitely not unhelpful in trying to turn this site into a library of knowledge on the topic of Interpersonal Skills. I can agree with you that they are often unintuitive and can be confusing, but that's not a reason to get rid of them, just to find some way to communicate them better. Stack Exchange is working on making new user onboarding easier, and hopefully, some of the initiatives coming from that can help this site as well.

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  • This site isn't about "interpersonal skills advice"? The tour page says this is a "people looking to improve their interpersonal communication skills." - what's the difference?
    – sfxedit
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 10:05
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My comments on questions being closed

I understand the restrictions that reject intrapersonal questions on a site dealing with interpersonal topics.

Nevertheless it's a weird first impression on this forum's entry page if many questions are closed. It makes wonder if something essential could be improved.

Would it be an idea to open another forum for all those questions that don't fit here?

My comments on requiring a backup

Yes I do understand basically the idea of backing up in a sense of not just writing something random. But I think the way it's practised it is not helpful.
Questions asked here are very specific. Not only the situation is specific but also the people involved are.

In the end what sense is in saying "I had the same and I did xy which helped me - but you can still fail horribly with it because so many things are different for you"?

Wouldn't it be better to help the asker understand why others perhaps do what they do, how the asker could better act and react, knowing how the other person could feel like and understand why things could have gone wrong...?
These thoughts are not the eventual solution but could direct more towards a solution in this very case. Better than "if someone does this, do that".

I have seen nonsense getting upvoted just for "me too", while answers trying to see the asker's particular situation got downvoted. This appears ridiculous and makes no sense at all.
I stopped writing on IPS although I can understand some people and their problems very well and I might give good thoughts, but I don't feel like getting downvoted. Many questions have no response because perhaps nobody dares to say something. In its current state this forum is not much more than a counter of "who felt the same?".

Let's take this as an example what I want so say.

on StackOverflow, someone will post a specific programming problem and often get a snippet of code as an answer.

Does StackOverflow require "I wanted to program the same as you" or "I made the exact mistake you made"? No it doesn't.
Instead those people respond who have a clue what went wrong or who stumbled over the same error but probably with a different purpose.

An example (added later)

The newest question on IPS is how to best quit with a piano instructor. Assume someone has done exactly that and was successful saying or doing X. Then to make X successful for the asker, I think it's very essential to know

  • Is the relation between person and instructor the same?
  • Do both instructors have the same attitude so X has the same and not a very different effect?
  • Do the piano players have the same attitude so that they can say or do X in a convincing way (which depends on the instructor too)?

All this makes me wonder how would we seriously assume all this is the same and a backup would be the slightest guarantee to make a detailed recommendation.

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  • 1. "These thoughts are not the eventual solution but could direct more towards a solution in this very case": if everybody is giving a thought/idea, then, at the end, you only get a bullet-list of options, many "pick one of these and see if it fits your needs". 2. "I can understand some people and their problems very well and I might give good thoughts": like many of us dare I say... That doesn't mean we're right and that it'll help the asker. It'll just be a discussion between people sharing ideas. These kind of things are the ones done in circle or in therapy.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 5:40
  • To clarify what I think, here's an example of an opinion/thought. And I see it as a bad idea for IPS to slip down this road.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 5:44
  • @OldPadawan I do really see and understand your point. But to me it is essential to be aware that situations and people are different. There may be 10 completely different explanations how 10 people handled their similar but never exactly equal situation - and nevertheless none of them might be appropriate for the person asking. Doesn't that mean a response is nothing more than an option that you mentioned?
    – puck
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 8:27
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    A stupid example but it explains what I want to say. Question: how do I best drive to city A? Response 1: I haven't been there but I know that interstate x is closed so you better take route y, then z. Response 2: I went there last week, driving out of my porch I first went left, then straight for 10 km then right... According to what I have experienced in IPS response 2 would be accepted ;-) This is another road a forum can slip down.
    – puck
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 8:32
  • if you give an answer with you data/experience (might be different from mine), and some, say, 3 others do the same, we'll have 5 different answers (with back-up) and probably 2 or 3 different outcome. Then, OP can pick the one they think is the best and tick it. That's how it should work.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 12:52
  • FWIW: might as well be a stupid answer from me, but "Response 1: I haven't been there but I know that interstate x is closed so you better take route y, then z." means you don't know that when you turn on Z, you'll encounter a huge traffic slow down every day at 5:00 and OP will not make it on time. Or that this road has been closed for months, and you'll be lost for hours. That's why we need people "who know" and not people giving ideas/options
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 12:57
  • That's why we need people "who know" - right, we need them. But since nobody can evaluate someone's very special situation and other people involved in this situation (motivation, reaction, behavior), nobody can know which effect a stranger's solution has on the asker. So yes we need people "who know". But we don't have them! I'd prefer someone who explains me how somebody could feel, rather than someone simply saying my relative wanted me to do X too (perhaps very different motivation), I did Y (differently than you would do) then Z happened (more or less by chance) - good luck with that.
    – puck
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 8:20
  • To make my last comment shorter. I want to raise awareness that IPS is not a mechanics forum like "my machine doesn't work when the operation switch is x - turn it to y then it will work, switches must ALWAYS be y to make machines work". It's about humans that are not predictable by just a few lines of description ;-) Btw. I also don't want to change this forum with all means, this is just my opinion and if you like the way this forum runs then have fun with it, no problem.
    – puck
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 8:26

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