10

I haven't answered many questions here because I've decided to stick to dealing with situations where I've experienced something similar or identical. My rationale for doing so is that answers on Interpersonal Skills can have major outcomes on a person's life and relationships, and answerers should know that their suggestions are good and sound. If we forward guesswork based largely on conjecture, there could be trouble.

Now, there are cases where you don't need to have experience in that situation to write a good answer, but there are also plenty of cases where you do. I'd like to encourage people writing through experiences they've had and methods that worked, rather than more hypothetical answers. Part of one comment by Robert Cartaino expresses what I mean (emphasis mine):

This is a complicated issue oversimplified to "if you like it, do it; as much as possible." Then you reverse and say the opposite... all without any regard to whether such behaviors deteriorate real-life interpersonal skills (the original question). That's not to pick on you specifically (you asked for such clarification) — but I suspect we will see this a lot on this site (opinions and random platitudes without any actual expertise in this subject space). Despite the down-votes, I hope that helps.

I have two questions:

  1. Should we explicitly encourage writing based on personal experiences and cases, and explicitly discourage guesswork and empty opinions?
  2. If so, how?
6

Experienced based answers are the way to go. Here's how to write a decent experience based answer:

The members of this site need to take some time to look at the other Stack Exchange sites that deal with interpersonal issues. The three main sites that I am familiar with are the RPG Stack Exchange, the Workplace Stack Exchange, and the Academia Stack Exchange. All three sites are incredibly successful, and all three sites are an incredible resource to get practical advice about interpersonal problems. So when there's a question about what this site should be doing, any of those three sites would be an excellent starting point to see what has worked and what hasn't worked.

If you look at the answers on those sites to questions about interpersonal topics, you will see that they don't cite a lot of sources. What they base their answers on is a combination of experience and common sense. And having had some of my questions answered on those sites, I can say that their answers were/are incredibly helpful.

So in my opinion, experience-based answers are the way to go. Quite simply, they work.

The problem is that experience-based answers can be as hard to write as an answer filled with citations. There is specific information that you need to include in the answer, and they are counter-intuitive to write. So to illustrate how to write an experience-based answer, I'm going to steal some advice from the RPG meta, and I'm going to give some examples of good and bad experience-based answers.

To start off, here is a non-experience based answer.

Have a no cold caller sign. While yes it might irritate them, as long as you're not there for them to express their irritation on, you should be fine.

If you know it's them you can simply ignore the door, and not open it, you can burn (or recycle) anything they put through your door.

Finally, if they still don't get the message, write a note on the door, or perhaps even leave a polite letter for them, informing them that you do not appreciate what they do and have no interest in following their religion, however should you have a change of heart you know where to go.

If they end up being a large nuisance, simply call the police to remove them from your property for trespassing.

This answer is just a list of suggestions for what to do. Essentially, it is saying, "try having a no cold caller sign." The answer provides no explanation of why any of these suggestions should work. Some of these suggestions even seem like jokes: for example, why on earth would it be a good idea for me to "burn... anything they put through your door"?

I wish this site had an example of a good experience-based answer that I could quote from, but quite frankly, I haven't found any good answers. So I'm going to have to steal from the RPG Stack Exchange. Here's a great example of an experience-based answer, stolen from my friend BESW:

I've played in and run evil campaigns of various sorts in both 3.5 and 4e (though not 5e, I think my learning will transfer), and run into a lot of problems: My Guy Syndrome comes up a lot, as does a tendency to default to a regular D&D storyline only with more stealing of spoons and kicking of puppies to remind ourselves we're evil. Sometimes an evil campaign instead descends into over-the-top motiveless violence until there's no story at all. There's a whole host of at-the-table and in-the-story issues, and I tried many different strategies to address them. Eventually I came up with a framing device which works well for us in avoiding these problems:

Provide the PCs with a Master to guide them toward orchestrated works of Evil.

Start the game with the PCs as underlings/minions/hirelings/apprentices/etc of a powerful evil NPC. The Master has a complicated Evil Plan and he tasks his minions to enact various parts as the Plan progresses: "Bring me the soul of a hound archon," "Raze the border keep," "Steal the Apocalypse Gem," "Help a spy infiltrate the paladin's ranks," and so forth, tailored to the PCs' abilities.

This provides the party a reason to work together despite having different agendas (and working together will hopefully bond them as friends so that they want to continue as a group) and establishes small achievable evil goals that accumulate into an Epic Evil Event.

All you need to do is ask the players to make sure their characters have a good reason to work for the Master: The serial killer likes having his rampages subsidised (and the Master protects him from the Law); the necromancer seeks to learn from the Master's experience and gain access to his libraries of forbidden lore; the mercenary's in it for the money and benefits.

Eventually the Apprentices will surpass their Master.

Expect the party to betray their Master at some point, hijacking his Evil Plot for their own gain: this is not only expected, but awesome. It's the Master's Evil Plot, not yours, and the story isn't about the Master--it's about his apprentices. Consider the Master to be training wheels for evil, setting an example which the party can then follow to surpass and overthrow their instructor as they level up.

This works because Evil Needs Goals.

As Ed describes so well and AgentPaper elaborates in the D&D context, evil needs concrete reasons motivating its actions. The Master provides goals and motives while the players find their feet in the new paradigm, channeling and guiding their exploration of what it means to be evil in ways compatible with the D&D paradigm without simply kicking puppies during a dungeoncrawl.

A word of warning: Alignment is tricky.

D&D has a history of the details and nature of alignment sparking major heartfelt arguments, because D&D alignments are not easily (or appropriately) matched to real-world philosophies and moralities; they're narrative simplifications to support the game's conceits and draw their power from storytelling conventions rather than from genuine moral complexity. Exactly what this means and how to deal with it are beyond the scope of this answer (and possibly this site, although there's a LOT of questions on the topic you can look at), but you should be aware it exists and be ready to talk with your players about what "Evil campaign" means to them so there aren't nasty surprises mid-game.

And here is BESW's explanation of why this is a good experience-based answer:

I like to refer to the advice about what good answers look like which can be found in (strangely enough) "What types of questions should I avoid asking?" It tells me to:

  • explain “why” and “how”
  • write long, not short, answers
  • use a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
  • share experiences over opinions
  • back up opinion with facts and references

Taken together, this means explaining clearly not just what my advice is, but also sharing:

  • how I learnt the techniques or insights I'm offering
  • why I think it's a good solution to the situation being asked about
  • what effect I think the advice will have

This leads naturally to sharing my experiences as part of my answers. It improves my advice (not replaces it!): specificity helps people judge the answer's usefulness to the original querent (making it easier to vote effectively) and helps future users tell whether my advice will be useful in their similar-but-not-quite-the-same situations.

Hope this helps.

5

Yes, we should require experience or sources as appropriate for the question.

I'm seeing three rough categories of questions so far:

For questions of fact, where the inquirer wants a true answer, answers should at a bare minimum include personal experience. Ideally, they should involve references. The question I link above could be answered with references to studies on the topic.

For requests for advice, I think the requirements are looser. Answers should include both advice and a justification of why it is good advice. This should rely either on personal experience ("I was in a similar situation and this worked for me") or a general principle ("You can't force people to like something"). "Common sense" is unreliable, but I think SE's voting system will help judge that.

For questions about customs, I think the answer should either come from a person in the culture in question ("I'm from Thailand, and we always...") or should provide a reference to a reasonably reliable source.

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