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Basic Social Skills Guide (2012) (improveyoursocialskills.com)
1291 points by lisper 68 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 409 comments



While some of you may make light of the fact that I am giving you advice, my single most important piece of advice to people who are highly analytical and/or always solving problems is to not give unsolicited advice to friends, family, acquaintances, or even strangers.

People will ask for advice if they really want it. People are not “broken pieces of code” begging to be fixed.

I’ve lost friends over this, until one dear friend pointed this out to me in a “look, I have to tell you something really really important” manner.


I've been working on this since I noticed it in myself a few years back. It's really difficult because I'm the "problem-solver," but I'm also the person that people want to vent to.

So I've come to realize - After a friend/coworker shares something that they're sad/angry about, my standard MO is:

1) Say something like "Wow, that must really feel terrible. I'm sorry to hear that!" (I always feel the need to add more to this statement, but it's better off said with a light touch and not heavy-handed.) Then,

2) "I feel like I was in a similar situation a few months ago when..." Important rule about this step - this statement is NOT to be a 1-upper. You're not saying this to proclaim that your situation from the past is more significant/worse than their situation. You're saying this because it helps your friend/colleague understand that they're not alone in how they're feeling, and their feelings are (generally-speaking) justified. Also - You don't talk about what you did to solve the issue. You talk about how you felt, etc. Be vulnerable, be open, and the person venting to you will respond similarly. Finally,

3) Ask "So what are you gonna do about it?" This kinda turns its head on the status-quo. Usually, this is the time you start explaining "Well here's what I did in my situation!" But that's not what you want here. Instead, you're asking the person if they've thought of a plan to tackle the issue. If you've established a "safe space" to discuss the topic, they feel more open about sharing their plan to resolve the problem, even if they don't have a plan and have to come up with it on the spot. Then, more likely than not, they'll ask "What do you think?"

At this point, you're free to let your problem-solving self run wild, assuming that you don't then consider your friend/colleague a "broken piece of code begging to be fixed."


I’m a coach in training and question number 3 there is a powerful question. That’s a really great question to ask because you’re not getting involved in the topic, you’re not giving them ideas, and you’re not working through it for them.

The others are too nuanced to easily explain, but “what are you going to do with that,” is a fucking fantastic question when a friend confides in you. You’re right that this requires some level of safety, but you are making sure they are still self-empowered.

The worst thing you can do is remove that agency and try to solve someone’s problems for them.


This is a great teaching technique as well. It opens the door for students to realize that they can attempt to solve a problem on their own. You also gain more insight into what roadblocks they are running into and what to really focus on. They also get to practice conveying their thoughts and in some cases, this builds confidence as they might find that they were much closer to the answer than they thought.


This is classic mentoring. The difference between mentoring and coaching is that as a mentor you will offer answers. As a coach, you will offer none. In both cases you’re giving them the ropes but in the first you’re holding their hand around them.

And as a teacher, you are telling them.


"My car's been having trouble" "I know a good mechanic" "Oh my god how dare you take my agency away from me, I'm never talking to you again"

Good riddance if that's how somebody in my life ever reacted in that situation.


The difference is whether the person is expected to manage the situation on their own. If I said that to a buddy of mine who I know works on his own car he would be upset. He imagines himself capable of working on cars and I just communicated I don't think he can handle it.

Nobody wants to be the person that other people see as a basket case. Just because someone is upset doesn't mean they can't solve the problem.


You can make a scenario where anything is rude. Here, if he said something and you said "could it be the fuel pump" that should also be an inoffensive comment, not prompt him feeling like "how dare this fool presume to lecture me about the inner machinations of an automobile; let this mark the end of our friendship"


I dunno man, I think this is more for situations where people are having personal or emotional issues. Things that they might be trying to work through. Not for troubleshooting a broken car or computer.


Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance explores exactly this beautifully.


Unasked-for advice is often not actually helpful and more about the advice-giver than the receiver.

They would probably not say that and just slowly freeze you out of their social life because they found you annoying, grating, or unpleasant to interact with.

People often simply want to share what's going on and be heard and recognized. It's a basic human need.

Obviously it all depends on the situation.


Can you imagine the reverse scenario, people giving you unsolicited advice?

Most people just don't like advice they didn't ask for.


Does that "most" mean 60% of people, or 90%?

Unsolicited advice only annoys me if it's long-winded and preventing me from doing something else.

Also, I don't know what "validation" is in this context. Oxford English Dictionary doesn't seem to adequately cover psychobabble (though it does at least have the word "psychobabble").


Do you need a coach to fix your car? Almost certainly no.

If you’re trying to be absurd or sarcastic then I think you need someone like me to help you with that, and I won’t.


Maybe try to establish whether it is something they could fix themselves first?


What are you a coach in training for?


I think I want to do life coaching but more often than not I work with relationships. Relationships are a strong part of life.

I’m a programmer but I don’t enjoy writing code. I enjoy helping people with themselves.

So I strongly advocate for anyone who wants a way in and I choos to use my coaching skills to be a cheerleader for new and existing talent.

But to answer your question, I’m a coach in training for coaching.


If a friend/coworker shares something that they're sad/angry about, sometimes they're not asking for advice. Sometimes they just want someone to relate to them and their struggles. #3 can sometimes be a detractor because, once again, you need to wait for them to ask for advice and not just come in with your own advice/assuming that they are even asking for help. Venting emotions != Asking for help


Yes and no. When you ask “so what do you want to do about it?”, you get no as an answer. “I was just venting man” is a legit response, so it’s all fair enough. You can take it from there. Let them vent, you can only vent so much.


I am not sure it is that simple. When someone vents off to me - I can't ignore it, I am no psychopath. This is especially hard with people whom I am close with. Having a solution is what gives my brain to "check it off", which I equally need as they need to vent. What should I do? To tell fuck off with their complains if they are not seeking a solution? (done that to some, they still do not understand) Just keep soaking it in until Ill get wired and depressed? Get drunk to switch off executive function completelly and engage into feelings discussion? Anything else?


I find that I am like most people in these threads and find it difficult to not provide advice on how to solve unsolved problems in other people's lives.

That being said, when more "socially normal" people are the recipients of other people's venting, I don't imagine that they are able to ignore it because they are psychopaths. In fact, I imagine many of them aren't actually ignoring it. I imagine that many of them feel sympathy, some maybe even empathy, but they understand what we don't, namely that unsolicited advice makes it worse. More "socially normal" people understand how to commiserate without providing unsolicited advice, and they understand that such commiseration is helpful.

Like I've told my wife multiple times, if I'm venting, I want solutions. If someone isn't able to give me advice, they're not helpful. But I've realized that more "socially normal" people aren't like this. They often don't care about the solution, they just want to be heard and understood. I don't get it, it boggles my mind to no end. But I've come to accept that it's true (though I often forget). My wife doesn't care for my solutions if she doesn't ask for them. She'll figure it out herself. She just needs emotional support.

Again, emotional support is useless to me. It's idiotic. I need solutions, not emotional support. But other people want the opposite.

Now, how to provide that emotional support... without being flippant, condescending, insincere, etc... is yet another conundrum... partly due to my foundational believe that emotional support by itself is useless. How can I be sincere about something I don't believe to be effective?

Anyway, my point is... I don't think others are psychopaths... they're just more emotionally intelligent as to what other people are actually hoping to get when in need.


Sorry for a wrong impression, I am not saying "socially normal" ones are psychopaths. If their natural reaction to someone's suffering is emotional support - it is totally normal in my book to do it. But for me to fake emotional support to support socially accepted norm without feeling bad about it, would be psychopathic behavior - do what others expect from you to not be frown upon.

And I doubt "socially normal" people "understand" such commiseration is helpful (i am sure it is, by the way), but they are genetically or environmentally conditioned to respond like that and it just happened it is majority like that.

Don't get me wrong. I understand it requires effort to be accepted, and i try to fit in. But being constantly under stress during my normal day, adding on top of it someone's else emotions about something they do not want to fix, but rather want to share stress with someone as a social interaction, is no good for me mentally (very different story at parties where I get quickly drunk enough to no pass out, but completelly turn off my internal problem solver btw - I can talk feelings all night long).


Funny enough, I think you and I are very like minds on this subject.


You bring up a lot of challenging questions. Here's a perspective I've heard that I found insightful:

Somethings can be true and useful.

Somethings can be true and neither useful nor useless.

Somethings can be true and counterproductive.

These philosophical statements I think do apply to general conversation. Sometimes it's not useful to tell somebody what steps they need to take, sometimes because they put themselves in the situation in the first place, and sometimes because they just need to understand it from a wholistic perspective.

Because people are at seeing their actions. We then judge ourselves by our motives—and others by their behavior. Even the smartest of us.


It is hard to deny all of that. It was just a response to a "just let them vent it out, folks" :)


I'm the same. A problem solver that people bring information to and also vent to. I have no problem making decisions and I consider my instincts to be very good which can make it worse when I have a solution so soon. I've been working on being a better listener, getting more info and considering more angles and perspectives.

You make some great points above which is what I try to follow too after doing it poorly in the past. It's especially important if you're married. :)

My wife almost always wants my perspective but she wants to be listened to first and to vent on occasion. And also to ensure I have all the information first before I weigh in.

She wants an advisor not a magic 8 ball.


The trouble I have with #1 is when someone tells me their problem and they don't want help with it, now I have a new problem to worry about, and worse, I can't take action to solve it because the problem isn't mine.

I guess the trick is not worrying about other people's problems. But... I dunno, I just don't like unsolved problems hanging around.


The answer is to stop talking to normies. We'll make a virus some day that eliminates the nonspectrum and all be better off as a species. Sorry, I don't actually want that, I'm just venting. Wow that actually helped, maybe the normies are on to something.


You can always set a boundary with friends not to tell you their problems. "Hey, I appreciate you wanting to share with me, but I'm probably not the right person to just talk about problems with. I'm happy to listen if there's something I can do to help or if you want advice though!"


Sometimes people just want to talk, they want to be heard; occasionally bouncing ideas or thoughts on somebody can help come to a realization, or even a solution to a particular problem.


I think you can skip #2, if you're trying to help then this is about them, it's not about you, so probably the word "I" can be removed from your vocabulary for the rest of the conversation. Algorithm for nerds is: ask questions, repeat back what you heard. Also works in sales!


It depends on the context. If you have had a very similar experience, it can help to share that they are not alone in their feelings. But reaching for straws to try to draw a similarity where none exists isn't helpful.


If you've actually had a similar experience, that can be validating to share.


I really like this script! My neat trick is to directly ask "Do you just want to vent? Or do you want my advice?" If said in a gentle and non-sarcastic tone, this works pretty well on other engineers with meh social skills. I don't think I know any socially competent people to test it on.


What I struggle with after #3 is when I get the response "I don't know". At that point I really don't know what the next steps are beside trying to come up with solutions (and that doesn't work out too well sometimes).


That’s when you share this story from amanda palmer

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6679223-a-farmer-is-sitting...

A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out. A friend walks up to the porch to say hello, and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house. "What's that terrifyin' sound?" asks the friend. "It's my dog," said the farmer. "He's sittin' on a nail." "Why doesn't he just sit up and get off it?" asks the friend. The farmer deliberates on this and replies: "Doesn't hurt enough yet.


I love this quote. Thanks for sharing.


I think it’s often a less is more kind of thing. If the goal is to listen, not offer advice or solutions, just acknowledging the answer is enough: “Gotcha”, or “I see”, or “Yeah it’s a tough one”. Then leave them the space to continue if they want to.

Like many here, this has not been natural for me, but one thing I’ve been impressed by is how much more people will be encouraged to talk if you just give them short answers that show you’re listening and leave the ball in their court vs. taking over the conversation at every opportunity. Sometimes you just have to let the silence hang for a bit.


Isn't that much what psychiatrists do, they guide you by asking questions?


thank you for your advice, they were really helpful to me


To add to this, it’s important is to realize that even when people open up to you about their problems, that still does not mean that they are asking for advice! It’s very likely that what they primarily want and need from you is sympathy and validation. If you’re unsure, ask first.


I've learned that people hardly ever want advice. Mostly, they want you to tell them that everything is okay.

The hard thing to square is, if you really care about someone, and you really think you have some input that could help them, you need to figure out how to communicate that without annoying them / hurting their feelings.

It's also important not to have an ego when giving advice / input. It's likely that you're not perfectly correct.


At least for me, I would love advice that perfectly solves all my problems. But probably this advice doesn't exist, because if it did, I would have figured it out already. I often have conversations that go like this -

Me: I have this problem that sucks.

Other person: Have you tried A?

Me: No, I thought about that already. A isn't a good idea because of B.

Other person: Well, what about C?

Me: No, I thought about that too. C isn't a good idea because of D.

Other person: (Angrily) Well, I don't know how to help you then.

And so now in addition to having to deal with a hard problem to solve, I have to deal with making other people angry about how they can not solve my hard problems.


I've been on both sides of this. When somebody will try and help me in a situation like that, once they suggest one thing to me i've thought of or tried, i'll usually give a quick rundown of what I have tried and thought of. Doing it that way still validates them and at that point i'll usually say something like so 'I dunno what do you think, any ideas?'. Then they might give another suggestion I have or haven't thought of. If it's something I have thought of and realized won't work, instead of saying I already thought of that, i'll pretend to think about it, then give them my reason I thought of before for not using that option, but pretend I just thought of it.

People get angry, because they want to feel helpful and useful. When they can't help with something they feel frustrated and when you tell them you've already thought of everything, they feel stupid. By doing it the other way, they still feel like they've helped you. I'll usually try and be light hearted about it and laugh about how it really is a difficult problem or something like that. When you do it that way, it puts the problem into perspective for them and they don't feel stupid for trying to help, they feel like it's something difficult you're both trying to solve. Then they inevitably get bored and go do something else and leave you amicably to work on your problem. At least in my experience.

Sorry for the unsolicited advice.


The other thing is tailoring it to the individual. All of this is easier if there’s less ego on both sides. I try to operate that way generally, but everyone has their triggers. There’s no one size fits all solution.


I'm a different person then. When I talk about my problems, I do want advice, because if I'd have already figured out a solution, I wouldn't be talking about it in the first place!

I just don't understand this humanoid need for seeking emotional validation by pretending to ask for advice. A lot of my friends and acquaintances do that, and I know how to handle it, but myself, I just can't do that.


I don't think pretending to ask for advice is a fair description of what's happening. usually when people tell me about their problems, it comes in the form of declarative sentences. clearly venting, not asking for advice. sometimes they'll say something like "I don't know what I'm gonna do" or "what am I gonna do?" which almost sounds like asking for advice, but really isn't.

now if someone describes a problem and asks "what should I do?", that is a clear solicitation for advice. if they get mad at you for trying to help solve the problem, that's totally on them.


Very often, there is no perfect solution. Even if somebody has some idea what they can do about the problem, that doesn't mean they can just do it and everything is great. Say, if your marriage is falling apart, you can either stick with it and try to improve things or get divorced. Those are your options, and they're both painful.


This is covered in the book «games people play» (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Games_People_Play_(book)) under the name «why don’t you? yes, but...»

In some cases People aren’t looking for the advice/solution, as much as the recognition that they have a problem... person A tells a problem, person B suggests ways to resolve the problem, to which person A has to give/come up with a reason why that solution won’t do. We then repeat this until a stalemate is reached, and everybody can acknowledge that person A is justified in their feelings about having a problem...

So on the flip side; your example seems to be a misinterpretation of this game. I.e. some person who’s played this game, and learned that this is what to do, meets a frustration where you’re not playing along with it... (maybe)

Short order solution; don’t play that game with people who don’t have a healthy relationship with frustrating problems.


Bernian games are situations where the initiator is looking for a pay-off (eg. validation). The parent's comment is not about such a situation.


- If I talk to someone about a problem and he gives me a suggestion. I know that he is trying to help. getting mad at him is unfair because he means well. In fact what's natural is to be happy that someone values me enough that he's spending effort to help me.

- If someone talks to me about a problem that I can't solve. I'll try to help, if I don't know the answer. that's normal. I don't know everything.

- If I try a solution to a problem and It doesn't work, I get frustrated not at the asker, but because It didn't work.

If everybody acts this way, The situation gets easier for everybody, problem are solved if possible and no bad feeling are had,if not.

In fact this behaviour follows directly from already well established moral values: giving others the benefit of the doubt, not being vain ( needing others to validate/compliment you), humility, "I know that I know nothing", Thirst for learning.

I don't understand why autistic people are assumed to be wrong/inferrior in scoial contexts even when their behaviour is the right thing to do.

Another example is trashtalking people behind their back. I always feel compelled to either say a nicething about that person, defend him/play the devil, stop the conversation. People don't like it when I do that, although I'm sure that they, as well as I, would appreciate if someone defends them when they are not there.


> I don't understand why autistic people are assumed to be wrong/inferrior in scoial contexts even when their behaviour is the right thing to do.

The world would be a better place if you ever found an answer to that question.

It's not a fair comparison[0], but I tend to internally categorize people as logical or emotional. It usually helps keep things running more smoothly to treat the two groups how they prefer.

The trick is to not make the distinction a value judgement. I'm usually pretty good at that, but sometimes I slip up.

[0]: Because both groups display traits of the other, and it's not a hard line distinction. Ever seen someone on the spectrum throw a tantrum? It might (might) be logic that started it, but emotions take over nearly immediately.


Well you kind of led them down a path to failure/wasted effort. One of the best ways to prevent these kinds of unhappy conversational paths is pre-emption. If you've already considered A, B, and C, then you can assume that someone else might think of them, and you should mention them in your initial problem statement. "I tried A but then realized it wouldn't work because of B." Now you've communicated the same information and skipped the part where you ask them for ideas and instantly reject them. They may still be equally unable to offer a solution, but at least they haven't gotten frustrated and given up before understanding the true problem.


are you positive that B and D are rule out A and C?

maybe a slight more productive way to have these conversations would be

"I thought about A, it didn't seem like a good idea to me because of B, what do you think? Am I thinking about this wrong? Is there some reason why B doesn't prevent A from being a good idea?"

subtle difference, but it signals that you value their input and ideas, and leaves open the possibility of you learning new things about your problem

(if you don't value their input and ideas, perhaps you shouldn't share your problems with them)


There are two reasons someone might come to you for help. (1) For advice. Simply put, to get problem solving input. This is the less common case, however. (2) To get emotional courage to face whatever difficulty they have. This is the more common one.

Most people feel the best when THEY manage or solve their problems. But this is really hard. Often one's emotions get in the way. By sharing them with other people, you can sometimes release a pressure valve which makes someone feel more capable of dealing with their problem.

It's a key distinction.


What I've found is people usually want to be validated. That they exist; and they are important enough to be listened to. That's all. If they ask for more, fine. But usually, listening is the Gift they are asking you for.


Often it's useful to mentally frame this as that the problem is that the speaker feels unheard, not that they're speaking about a problem.


And that more often than not, the speaker already knows potential solutions and next steps, they just want you to agree that it sucks. Too often, solutions driven people try to solve venters' problems rather than simply listening to what they are.


Those ideas aren't mutually exclusive.

Sometimes people are more receptive about suggested solutions after you've expressed some solidarity.

"Yeah that does suck"

"That situation happened to me, it was a pain in the ass, I tried to do X, it didn't work that well, then I tried to do Y, it seemed to work ok, if I'm in that situation again, I'll probably go with Y"


>Too often, solutions driven people try to solve venters' problems rather than simply listening to what they are.

If you don't want actionable answers to a problem, save it to your personal life or therapist.

Your colleagues have a duty to behave decently towards you but they are not paid to be your emotional dumpster.


You're talking about colleagues, who you don't have any duty to be emotionally available for, but the parent poster is talking about friends and family.


The top comment even mentioned strangers!


Even if you have no contractual obligation to listen to your coworkers, in general many people enjoy, and potentially expect, to become closer with their coworkers which is generally accomplished through sharing personal details and emotions. It's totally fine if you don't want to participate, (and it's possible for people to over-rely on others for emotional labor) but I think many other people are more productive when they're more than just acquaintances with their coworkers.


You may not feel an emotion connection to people you've spend thousands of hours around but that is unusual. Most people do. You can't really expect people who spend 1/3 to 1/2 of their waking hours in close proximity to one another for years to not become friends and confidants who are able to talk about serious, non-work things together. It's normal.


I'm quite certain everyone else knows we're talking about personal lives, not colleagues.


Some colleagues you spend a lot of time with and and there is still a bond even if you are not real friends that would spend time together outside of work.

Sometimes my colleague needs to went about a project that is going bad or a person that is making their life difficult and sometimes I might do that as well. You listen and sometimes you discuss solutions but sometimes it just venting about a situation you both know is shitty.

Just don't become they guy/girl who is always negative or talking shit about people though.


The discussion started even mentioning strangers.


Thanks for pointing this out. I agree 100%. When I find myself in this situation however I find it hard to be authentically sympathetic. And if it's not authentic I have trouble doing it at all. Am I broken? Is there anyway to work on this?


The focus is on the person, not the problem they are describing. So the question is what they need as evidenced by their choice to talk about the problem, not what they need as evidenced by the existence of the problem itself.

In other words, a choice to talk about a problem can be fueled by several possible impulses - the need to solve the problem, the need to connect with their friend, the need to share the interesting complexity of the problem, etc.


> If you’re unsure, ask first.

Good advice. Sometimes people clarify situations by talking about them, and simple active listening can provide what's needed.

If sympathy is what they want, and you start offering solutions, they will be tempted to argue back about why the solutions won't work, and then (as the saying goes) you have two problems.


To refine this, it's not necessarily about giving advice unsolicited, but minimizing the personhood and agency of the person you are giving advice to. Sometimes giving unsolicited advice is the best thing a friend can do, but you need to do it in the right circumstances and in the right way.

Anyone who receives unsolicited advice often has reason to believe that the advice giver (a) doesn't truly understand the issue at hand (b) cares more about themselves being the giver of information than it actually helping.

Before you give advice, you need to make sure you've established trust. One way of doing this is to actively listen and communicate back what you understand. Many social problems involve an emotional aspect, which is why many people recommend acknowledging the emotions of another person.

Spewing a ton of information without listening doesn't build trust. And if you present it as something they SHOULD do, versus something they have the OPTION of choosing, that minimizes their agency. People don't like to be bossed around.

The reason why your comment is no big deal on this forum is that you haven't targeted anyone personally, so nobody feels like you are misunderstanding their personal circumstances or that you are trying to trump their agency.


You noted the irony that you're giving us advice about not giving advice. But there's actually a double irony because you're giving advice about not giving advice due to your friend giving you advice about not giving advice.


The problem with online forums! In real life you can check if the person wants advice: do a "meta" offer of advice and back off if they don't want it. But on a public forum you need to put it out there. If HN had a spoiler feature that might help as you could make the advice shown on click.


I noticed this too. I think that as a fellow advice-giver problem-fixer, I actually welcome unsolicited advice if it's useful. That's basically why I give it - since I'd like to get it. So the friend probably realised that.


The difference, as I see it, is between giving a general advice and giving advice as a response to someone venting about something. There is no problem with telling, "I have learned that X", or "in my experience X is a good thing to do when Y". The problem is when you answer with, "you should do X" when someone tell you about a problem they have without asking for help with solving the problem.

It is even a difference between me saying something like: "The way this work in javascript sucks", which clearly is venting. And: "the way this work in javascript is so confusing, can you help me understand it?" Someone writing a blog-post about how this work is of course also advice, but not as a direct answer to someone venting about it.

Meta, I know the sentence structure wasn't the best, but I don't want help with improving it right now


> I’ve lost friends over this

I've stopped helping, or even started avoiding, some "friends" because of this.

Of course some tact is needed, and I've sometimes got that wrong. You have to properly listen before making suggestions, perhaps you need to ask questions first too to make sure you actually really understand, and definitely watch for signs (or explicit mentions) that advice/solutions are not wanted at this point (sometimes people just need to sound it out, to help get things in order in their own heads), and don't give definitive sounding advice when you aren't as sure as you sound, and sometimes great care needs to be given to your wording/intonation (lest advice be confused for judgement), but if after all that I make a suggestion and get my face bitten off, I am not the dick in that situation.

An actual quote, yelled before storming off: "oh, that is just like you, trying to solve everything". Damn right that is just like me, the me you know well. If someone I care about has a problem in front of me then yes I'll try help them solve it. If you don't like that, then making me not care is not particularly difficult - screaming "oh, that is just like you, trying to solve everything", storming off, and not offering any apology at all afterwards, is an effective step in that process.

Of course I need to be aware that how I react to problems may not be what other people want, and I'm not afraid to admit that empathy is a trait/skill I am sometimes not as strong in as I would like to be. But accepting that other people are different should work both ways.


> If someone I care about has a problem in front of me then yes I'll try help them solve it.

You should read about the triforce. http://thebetaman.com/2017/09/26/the-triforce-of-communicati...


What happens when people tell you about problems that require experts in a specific area to solve, and you are not an expert in that area? Do you still try to help?

Like I will tell my friends and family about problems I am having at work because they are my friends and family and I assume that they care about how my life is going. If they are able to provide solutions, I will not rule it out for them. But most likely they are not because they have different jobs. When people attempt to give advice on things they don't know about, I assume they are more interested in appearing smart than my well being.


> about problems that require experts in a specific area to solve, and you are not an expert in that area? Do you still try to help?

Depends on the situation. I would certainly make it clear (if I didn't think it was already abundantly so) that anything I said wasn't from a position of expertise.

If someone is simply wanting to sound out a problem, or is seeking to describe their frustration as in your example, that should be fairly obvious from their wording (this tends to fall apart a little when there is a bit of a language barrier, so take extra care in those situations).

They may be deliberately looking for an outsides view - sometimes even a wrong suggestion can jog the mind towards some wood that you've not seen for the trees. Here asking questions can help: if you try to formulate your problem in a way that an outsider understands it can actually help your own understanding, or make you spot the simply thing that you'd managed to miss while "thinking too hard".

Another way of helping rather than directly, particularly in technical matters, is to suggest other helpers ("have you asked [insert someone I think will be able to help for more than I, here]?"). Or even general problem solving help. They may just need a distraction (the old "fresh air / food / hydration / company - then hopefully hit the problem again with a fresher mind).

> When people attempt to give advice on things they don't know about, I assume they are more interested in appearing smart than my well being.

I would agree with that, but only after allowing for the above caveats. And I try to be polite when it happens: the Dunning-Kruger effect can lead people to innocently misunderstand both complexity and scale, through no malice nor desire for self promotion.


> An actual quote, yelled before storming off: "oh, that is just like you, trying to solve everything".

Maybe they wanted comfort, and not a solution?


If so, maybe that was clear and I missed it. Or maybe it very much wasn't, and they should know me better than to expect different behaviour in that case.


It seems that you have fallen for Geek Social Fallacy #2: http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html


Yes.

"Ein ungefragter Rat ist ein Schlag."

Unfortunately, in english, it doesn't rhyme that nicely: "An undemanded advice is a punch." (I seriously doubt that "undemanded" is the best translation for "ungefragt", but you get the idea.)

When feel like people would benefit from advice to the extent that not giving it would be unfriendly/selfish/whatever itself, I try to follow following guidelines:

* Refraining from using "you did", "you said", "you <whatever", but instead choosing something like "I read that as", "I interpreted it this way". * Not implying what the other one meant, but instead saying something like "when I did it the way you did, I did it because of xy. Only later I learned that I was wrong, and people didn't actually mean it that way." That puts you onto the same level as the person you are talking to. Even if the other person takes what you say as accusation, you are accusing yourself of the same, so it's less bad. Plus, there is still the emergency exit for the other person to say "well, actually my reasons for stating it this way are entirely different".

I hope you get what I mean.


I know it as

"Ratschläge sind auch Schläge."

which could be translated as

"Advice is also punishment"

In German it becomes obvious as the word "Schläge" (punishment/beating/plural of punch) is part of the word "Ratschläge" (advice).


I would probably use unasked instead of undemanded


advice unrequested is like a punch

...conveys the meaning of the German words best to me. It's funny how meaning of words in one language doesn't map cleanly to another.


In Chinese culture, there's a big thing about your true friends being the ones who will tell you when you're wrong. A coworker, on the other hand, is not your responsibility, it's their life they're screwing up.

Of course, that doesn't mean people like it.

Personally, I will eventually give advice to people if they're venting. I'll make it polite, of course. If they don't want to fix their shit, then I'm not obliged to listen to it.


The best advice I've ever been given is when I didn't ask. Honestly trying to please people doesn't always help them out. Being the bad guy can help them more than sulking with them. A good friend will care more about you than what you think of them.


This exactly. I spent most of my professional career actively SEEKING feedback at every turn. So it's kind of a relief when someone offers "free" advice, even when it's personal.

While it's rarely very useful, and sometimes annoying, it's not something people expect me to be offended about. If it's really not that useful the conversation changes quickly. It's usually just a window into another's frame of mind. I welcome it.


In Poland, we have a proverb "One gets to know his true friends when he's poor." A true friend will be with you in times of need, a false one will break ties.



With my wife, when she was upset about something, I'd tell her how to fix it. That... didn't go well. Eventually, I learned to just let her talk, and for me to say "Uh huh", for about five minutes. Then I could tell her how to fix the problem. But I had to listen for five minutes first.

Note well: Five minutes worked for me talking to my wife. For person X talking to person Y, the correct time may range from 0 to infinity.


Same here. I learned the hard way that I have to pay the entry fee of listening for 5-10 minutes and affirming emotions before I'm allowed to offer solutions. This wasn't immediately obvious for me, because in my case, the optimal listening time is 0 - if I didn't want actionable advice or knew how to solve a problem, I wouldn't be bringing it up in the first place.


Why are men expected to be the only ones who have to put in any effort and make any changes in this situation?


Partly because, in that situation, I'm the one who's not upset. I'm not the one who's on the verge of tears. I therefore am probably more able to make the adjustment at that moment.


Eh. Consistently applied, that logic lets some people (maybe not even the most emotional ones involved) overrule the thoughts and feelings of others with their emotions. One person has thoughtful opinions, another has emotional needs.

Who should be considered? Well, both.

At least over time. I'm not saying finding the balance in a relationship is appropriate at the moment when people are emotional, but it is possible to emotionally neglect or bully someone who is fairly even-keeled.

And, of course, I've seen less emotive women bullied by emotionally unstable men. I wouldn't say it's necessarily one gender getting the short end of this dysfunctional communication pattern.


At it's most basic, it is simply a matter of trust. If the other person doesn't trust you not to attack their emotional stance, then by listening for a few minutes and acknowledging that you're willing to do so, you signal to them that you aren't going to do that.


Made me chuckle. Your "just let them talk for 5 minutes", is another person's "wait until they're receptive to feedback." :)

I've never met a frustrated or angry person who is receptive to actual feedback. I'm the same way. Validate my emotional concern first, then move on to the next step.

Most of the time all I need to do is vocalize my problem... and that works best when I "have the floor."

If you don't mind me suggesting, that is really what was happening.


It might well be that that's what was happening - validating her emotional concern. But, you know, I'm an engineer. "Validate her emotional concern" isn't really in my toolbox. "Listen for five minutes" is something I can figure out how to do.


> Your "just let them talk for 5 minutes", is another person's "wait until they're receptive to feedback."

The way I'd put it is "just let them talk for 5 minutes" is another person's "actually listen to them before offering feedback". I'm constantly surprised by how many people offer advice without even hearing what the problem actually is.


Been guilty of that...


Highly recommend "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation" by Deborah Tannen. Tannen is a professor of linguistics. What you just describe is one of the typical difference in communication styles between men and women. Her other book "That's not what I meant" is also a good read.


I'm 33 and I wish I learned this a long time ago (I started realizing I did this 4 years ago and it took a while for it to sink in how much people dislike unsolicited advice).

I think, for me, it comes from a deep desire and need to be "noticed" and when I am observing someone or listening to someone and there is an opportunity for me to start "fixing" I feel this compulsive urge to do so.

I've started telling myself: just STFU. STFU, let them talk, and if after talking they open the door for feedback or thoughts or observations share them, otherwise they only want someone to acknowledge what's going on for them.

Unsolicited advice is also really vicious the more I've thought about it, you're robbing someone of the opportunity to figure things out for themselves, even if you've figured it out yourself or you have a great way of doing things, most people will and should figure things out on their own (and those that want to improve will open themselves up to feedback).


One instance of this I've struggled with (mainly b/c online comms is hard) is when people publicly post that they're annoyed about a confusing thing. "OMG why does it take 10 clicks to do X". This often prompts solutions ("If you turn on Y, then it will only take 2 clicks"), but can sometimes then be followed by irritated rebuttals ("Yes yes I know it's configurable but the point is...").

On the one hand I get the desire to just vent. But if you're going to post certain types of problems (esp technical) very publicly, IMO the expectation should be for unsolicited feedback, especially since others might benefit. Nonetheless, I still usually err on the side of not replying.


I can see myself being one of these irritated people. More than once, I've posted (maybe not even on Twitter; maybe on a support channel of some sort) something like "why did it take me 30 minutes to figure out how to do X?" And people, particularly the developers or people in the community, will reply with "just do Y and Z and you can do X". This irritates me because I didn't say "I can't do X!", I said "it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to do X". I.e, a usability problem, not a functionality problem. And the fact that it doesn't register to them that this is what I'm complaining about is all the more irritating ("yes I know, but the point is..." from your example), because it feeds into my bias that they have a blind spot about their own UI.

As to whether I'm just venting, I suppose I imagine that on Twitter the developers might hear my complaints. (And yes, as such I should always remind myself to keep my complaint relatively respectful for this reason).


Generally when people come to you about their problems they do not want or even need advice. Whenever I am in that position I try to help them understand the problem, by just asking questions to understand the problem clearly myself.

You can dig pretty deep in that way and they may open up to the root of the issue, and sometimes reveal a belief that is preventing them from carrying out the correct action.

In many cases once they have talked at length about the problem so that all it's ramifications are as clear for you as they are for them, they have also greatly increased their own perception of their problem, which generally reveals an obvious solution (and this is the important bit) that they themselves have to put into words. The "solution" may be obvious to you, but if you present it as such immediately you will get pushback.


Can relate. Being a good listener usually allows people to solve their own problems just by you letting them explain it to you.

I used to joke that at a previous gig I was the team's therapist because I'd take people out to coffee or a beer and let them vent about whatever problem they're dealing with, while not really caring too much about it myself. Very rarely did I ever give any advice unless I was directly asked, and usually I would just give a question like "Well, have you tried this option?".

Listening to the problem while simultaneously not caring about gives the other person the ability to care less about it as well - and a solution usually presents itself.


I've taken this even further. I no longer correct any factual mistakes or misspoken words unless the person making this error is either a student or someone who reads. Even then it may be best to not say anything.


> or someone who reads.

Can you please elaborate? I don't follow.


Often, mispronouncing a word means you've seen it in print, but haven't heard it said aloud. So I've heard some people say that they mentally frame it not as an embarrassing mistake but as a sign that the speaker reads a lot.


As a non-native english speaker it's a weird mix of confusion/joy/madness when I see native speakers who don't read spell a word in a horrendous way that only makes sense to me the instant I read it aloud internally. The same language but spoken or written it's two different worlds.


Totally me. I’ve read far more than I’ll ever hear. And I’m terrible at pronouncing things correctly because it’s almost pure visual memory.


Also, to be fair, some words are just plain pronounced wrong.

Hyperbole

Epitome

Worcestershire

They break the phonetic rules of the language and you're kind of expected to memorize it and get on with it.


Yeah but the qualification "unless it's someone who reads" is obviously wrong. Lots of people read.


I meant someone who at least occasionally mentions a book they are reading / have read. This implies that they want to learn, much like a student.


> People will ask for advice if they really want it.

People will even ask for advice even when they really don't want it! So don't say that a girl is fat and needs to diet even if she asks you why she can't get the guys she want and tell you to be honest. Some want to hear that but most don't.


What would you say is the right behavior in that situation, then?


"I have no idea what guys want. Every guy is different. And it's not just you: there are seven billion people in the world, and some of them are not going to be into you no matter who you are. But among those seven billion there are also going to be some who like you for who you are, so don't give up. But be careful about falling into the trap of being gloomy because you think you're never going to find someone, because that can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Then give her a hug.


> Then give her a hug.

Don't do this if you are bad at reading people.


Good point.


Im not going to lie


Omitting parts of the truth is not lying.


I think saying the above is likely worse than the truth.


Then tell the truth or don't answer the question. Those are your three options.


You have to know the person to be sure they are ok with it. If there is any uncertainty then don't be honest about what you think, just give the standard advice like "Just be yourself" or "You are wonderful, just haven't found the right one yet!".

The alternative is to just be brutally honest and that way filter out friends who aren't ok with it. It might hurt a bit, but if you value this kind of communication over having many friends it could be worth it. Just don't do this at your job since you will likely get fired or managed out.


>The alternative is to just be brutally honest and that way filter out friends who aren't ok with it.

I found the inverse to be even more valuable. Finding friends who are not afraid to be brutally honest with you when the situation calls for it is difficult, but worth it so much. Just make sure you actually can receive this kind of criticism first without taking it as a personal attack.


Lying is bad


yes and no. the actual content of a conversation is often not the literal meaning of the words. many conversations are actually meaningless, but serve to anchor participants in the script. when the cashier says "hi, how are you?" and you say "alright, how about you?" even though you feel awful, this is not really lying; it's just a choreographed handshake that begins the transaction.

in the stereotypical "does this dress make me look fat?" conversation, the person is (probably) not asking whether her partner think she looks fat. the actual content here is usually a request for reassurance. even if the partner does think she looks fat, "no, of course not" isn't really a lie; it's just satisfying the subtextual request.

if on the other hand, she says "I have a meeting with some executives today, does this outfit work?", she is looking for a literal answer and responding with reassurance would be unhelpful.


I don't say I'm alright if I'm really not alright.


I can relate to this 100%. The funny thing is though, I actually like it when friends give me candid unsolicited advice -- of course as long as it's communicated respectfully and not in a condescending manner. I take it as a sign that someone is more than superficially interested in the interaction with me, and it helps me understand other people's viewpoints.

“look, I have to tell you something really really important”

See, this is what I mean. In that case it was your friend giving you unsolicited advice and it sounds like it was actually important advice to receive and your life improved as a consequence. Do you now like your friend less?


You are spot on. I have had to learn this multiple times. If the person is not willing to accept the observation with open arms (hint: most are not), you will only push the person away. However, I can't help but see the small irony in your reply.

>[do not] give unsolicited advice to friends, family, acquaintances, or even strangers

>one dear friend [gave me unsolicited advice which helped]


I think the standard psycho-therapeutic "tell them how it makes you feel" advice applies here and accounts for the difference. It's one thing to give unsolicited advice to someone. It's quite another to tell a close friend "Look, I need to tell you something important because I care about you. When you start telling me all the ways I should change to be a 'better person', it really makes me feel bad, and makes me not want to hang around you. It certainly doesn't motivate me to actually make any of your suggested changes."


I don't really think unsolicited advice is even that bad usually. if you see someone struggling with a task and offer a good tip, they usually appreciate it. when someone starts venting about a problem, they are (implicitly) asking for something other than advice: usually just a kind ear. this is basically the worst moment to start offering advice.


Not only that,but people take offense at factual analysis. If I present a fact and reasoning on why I consider it a fact, regardless of how unpleasant it might be I expect people to not take it personally and either contest my reasoning or accept/ignore what I said. However, being correct does not mean I shouldn't be sensitive to my audience. For example, if someone is a flat earther and I tell them why I think they are wrong, the more reasonable my argument is, the more they take it personally and get hurt because they tie their worth and value to their beliefs on those subjects.

Avoid people that can't stand facts? Isolation sucks.


I recently read a book called Mindful Communication that uses a red/yellow/green light model for understanding the state of mind of the other person. In a discussion, there's a relationship; relationships are not fact-based, or in a vacuum. You have to take the immediate context as an input as well, to understand how receptive the other person is.

Or not. However, if the concern is to state facts, then it's not really a communication because it ignores the reception and betrays the actual intention of the fact-stater.


Most of the hand wringing about advice here is overblown.

Definitely pay attention to the audience. If they're bored or off-put by advice, stop it. Maybe slip an apology in.

But part of being yourself, (generally what people advise!) is being OK with some people not enjoying your approach. Other people will enjoy a nice troubleshooting session and they'll stick around.


This is especially important with your spouse/partner/significant other.

At the beginning of our relationship, I can't tell you how many times I heard, "I'm not asking for you to solve my problem, I just want you to listen!"

It can be frustrating, I know, but just shut up and be there for the person that just needs you to be there.


Its easier to just date someone who likes having problems solved.


This is a good start. I would strongly recommend focusing on listening and asking questions when a friend comes to you with a problem or something on their mind. People universally want to be heard and understood. Offer emotional support, if by some chance you really think your friend is in the wrong, that person probably needs to be lovingly nudged rather than abrasively confronted.

Occasionally people do legitimately want your advice & perspective and to be careful about it you can precede it with "would you like to hear my perspective/advice?"


Many people view this as wanting to help solve a problem. Many people it in a much less benign manner, and in fact view it as a possible sign of pride, arrogance, and (past a certain point or in extreme cases) delusion on the part of the speaker if they keep trying to give advice on matters where they aren’t qualified, or without giving the right attention to the context, or taking into account other issues they may not be aware of.


The last part seems on point. I imagine a lot of advice people give is pretty obvious and the person with the problem has already considered it but can't action it because of some other reason the advice giver didn't think of and the person giving advice is sick of having to explain why all of the suggestions given will not work.


I've started to ask my girlfriend if "she wants me to solve her problem" or just "want me to listen" quite often. If you tend to fall into this trap, like I do, I can really recommend this approach.


And how does she respond to you usually?


"I just want you to understand"


Almost always she just wants me to listen.


Unsolicited advice feels like criticism. It almost never is intended as such, but that's often how it feels. It's also almost always self-serving; the advisor wants to be a hero, and the recipient picks up on this and ends up feeling alone. Really recommend the book Messages: The Communications Skills Book by McKay.


I think that's overgeneralized.

"If you cut across on Maple, you can skip that slow light on Main Street."

"Nice. I'll try that next time."


The other side of this is expressed in the classic comedy video, "It's Not About the Nail" (1:41).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg


I'd rather just not talk to someone like that so if they don't want to be friends anymore over being suggested a mechanic when having car issues or something then good. There's a youtube video about those kind of crazies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg


Yeah,

I struggle with this a lot. My life is so focused on problem-solving that my mind doesn't generate anything else. Sure I can say a few empty words of empathy and sympathy but that leaves a lot of empty air to fill and using tools is all I got and I can't remember a time when I wasn't like this.


Sometimes people just want someone to listen. Sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.


Sometimes people just want someone to blame. If you listen, you might become that someone.


Extend a little empathy once in a while. I promise people aren’t out to get you nearly as much as you seemingly believe.


In actual experience, the people in question weren't "out to get me". They complained about things going wrong (due to their own actions), and I listened. Now their failures are my fault, according to some bizarre logic I can't understand, or so I heard through the grapevine.

I don't think any malicious intent was involved. They just tried to protect their fragile egos, and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, I was stupid enough to listen.


There's the other side of this; If you're a constant complainer and you don't want to hear other people's advice or perspective - but just want them to commiserate with you, take it into account that it requires a lot of patience, energy and good intention from the other person to contain you - especially if you're constantly doing this. Complaining can easily become addictive, by which point you will see the whole world negatively, and might push those around you further away.


The most important reason why I give unsolicited advice -- is to get feedback on my own advice (what mistakes does my advice contain?)

If a person does not want to discuss my advice - they cannot give me feedback about my advice.

If I cannot get that feedback - why do I need that person in my life in the first place?

So when I give unsolicited advice -- I implicitly encourage people I do not need in my life - to disconnect from me. That frees my attention to people who are good with using advise as a tool for improvement.


Giving advice is a domination game

Ref: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20752088


This goes double in some situations.

When somebody has lost a loved one, never say "I know just how you feel, blah blah".

In fact, this is when you MUST say you can't imagine how they feel. Then listen.


I rarely even believe in "advice", mostly people will just know and do what they want. The collection of learning from their experiences informs those decisions nearly 100%.


I was told last year I can be way too optimistic / silver-lining-finding in negative situations. I used to always look for the solution to a problem as opposed to providing whatever the sharer of that problem wanted (usually validation/assurance).

It has been somewhat difficult to turn off that "always helping" part of me - and to be frank it will probably never go away completely which I don't think is a bad thing - but substantial progress has been made.


This is very hard, especially when you make ground-breaking strides in life and notice someone making the same mistakes you made previously. I personally had the epiphany last year that a woman's attraction to you cannot be bought or negotiated. It's a conscious effort to keep my mouth shut when seeing other men breaking their backs trying to buy their way into a woman's heart with wild experiences and fancy gifts.


I lost a friend by giving unsolicited advice. They complained to me about being tired/feeling unwell for the umpteenth time and I suggested they take better care of themselves. I was lambasted for giving, "unsolicited advice."


If this is important to you, I strongly recommend you to explore short courses on active listening and coaching.

As part of the process you learn that you’re not there to offer solutions, you’re there to listen and let those people find their own solution.

You know, like the rubber duck.


I doubt that this is really your problem; more likely that you're trying to fix people in a grating way. Try saying something like "have you ever considered ___" and asking if they'd like to learn more.


Thank you. Honestly, this is something I already learnt but I hearing it with such clarity from a stranger makes me feel like I’ll stick to it better. I am a “fixer” and it’s no surprise I code :-/


It is probably better to offer "if you need some help with X I have some experience with it". If they come back to you, you are then free to give advice. Otherwise shut up!


Noted, thanks.

Also, I believe you're right. I've experienced both sides.


Sounds like the people you hang out with are narcissistic assholes. Maybe they have something to do with your predicament.


Your advice is to avoid giving advice. Isn't it self-contradictory?


The advice people give is often the advice they wish someone told them.


So he gave you unsolicited advice.


> not give unsolicited advice to friends, family, acquaintances, or even strangers.

I strongly disagree here. Friends should try and help friends IF they have the skills to do so. And we should all try and learn how, while recognising our limitations (I'm an engineer stereotype so I don't pretend to myself I am very skilled).

I agree that knowing when to keep your mouth shut is obligatory, and I completely agree it is extremely difficult to help without alienating.

You should know some people who do have the skills to gently and successfully help others, often older and less obvious. I personally try and learn that skill by copying their tact and non-judgement. Beware that many people completely lack the skills even though their job should need it (I've seen nurses, psychologists, social workers etc with nearly zero ability - Dunning Kruger?).

> People will ask for advice if they really want it

Yet there are plenty of counter-examples, especially when people lack the insight to even see their own problems.

> I’ve lost friends over this

I've risked losing friends over this when I've felt strongly about it. Take time to myself to think about whatever the issue is. Losing a friend can be better than not trying to help a friend.

Acquantances are different: personally I let most people do what they will - who am I to judge their path? How can I help if I don't know them well, and I am not around as needed? I guess there are people that can and do help in a short encounter, but either they are uncommon or I don't recognise the skill.


I'm taking notes.


...Cliff's Notes?


100x this


Empathy


Another perspective (I learned from a therapist), is that we might already possess the innate ability to be great conversationalist, it's just performance anxiety that gets in the way. So for me, as someone who consumed loads of self-help material without much improvement, it wasn't about learning more skills or anything, it was about giving myself permission to be dumb, boring, lame, and still accepting myself at the end of the day. And once I'm able to do that, there's no more anxiety, and then everything becomes much easier. I feel like this is a path to a more natural sort of confidence, although you might get there by practicing social skills directly too. Very painful though, and I'm still working on this.

Not saying this applies to everyone, but I think it's helpful for people who approach their social anxiety with a type-A mentality.


It's important that this applies to virtually any endeavor, from coding to being social or dating.

You are going to be dumb, lame, awkward, etc at pretty much anything you haven't done before; the only path to not being that way is to just tough it through that awkward phase.


One problem is that you aren't allowed to make mistakes in social situations anymore without facing extreme consequences, and you're right that it isn't the sort of thing you can learn by reading about it. There's really no chance for young'uns to learn in this day and age.

It's tough, and the worst part is that there's no way out or hope for things to improve. And you can't complain or seek help, or you get treated like someone who must be broken to feel that way. It's an impersonal and judgemental world that we live in today, no matter who you are or what your views are like.

No wonder so many people seem to feel that our current culture and society are so vehemently toxic that they aren't worth even trying to participate in.


What do you mean by "extreme consequences" for mistakes in social situations?


For awhile now, everyone has been one viral moment away from mob justice. You might lose your career, or you might get harassed day and night, or worse just for slighting the wrong person.

But you also can't opt out of online socializing if you want to meet and keep in touch with people.


This is ridiculous. R Kelly performed for years as a known pedophile with an adoring fan base. Cancel culture is mostly a myth. You’d have to do something pretty damn bad, way worse than “slighting”, for your behavior to go viral enough you’re “harassed day and night”.

Social rejection is how you learn to be social, and it ain’t gonna ruin your life. It’s just painful.


Remember the NASA scientist who got so much shit for wearing a shirt?


No... nothing on google either.

Edit: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/14/rosetta-come...

He wasn’t even fired. What is there to complain about? Cancel culture is a myth.


The guy was brought to tears for wearing a shirt his female friend made. Just because a company doesn't fire someone (and rightfully so) doesn't mean there aren't pitchfork waving mobs screaming for the head of some comedian/artist/random guy.

A great example of satirizing the movement would be 30 Rock's "Idiots are people two!"

Edit: also that you dismissed it, even though googling my comment verbatim would've given you a source, shows that you're starting at your conclusion then working backwards. Trolling isn't appreciated


He wore it in public and as a representative of a state agency. The fact that a woman made it doesn’t impact anything; he had a complete lack of sensitivity, and he apologized, and he didn’t get fired. What is there to discuss?

FWIW I preserved my original comment in good faith. I don’t appreciate your not recognizing my edits.


Do you know how many people wear stupid shirts every day? Probably millions. You're talking about a story that's literally 1 in a million that happened what months ago? A year ago?

I believe you're overblowing the frequency of this happening.


OP might be referring to "cancel culture": https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/style/cancel-culture.html


>One problem is that you aren't allowed to make mistakes in social situations anymore without facing extreme consequences

This is what happens when children aren't allowed time to play with fellow kids. They'll won't learn much needed social skills when the social/emotional cost is low.


> One problem is that you aren't allowed to make mistakes in social situations anymore without facing extreme consequences

Wasn't this more the case for our ancestors? You make a mistake, and you're banished from the tribe or you don't reproduce. In modern times, the stakes aren't as high, but our emotions haven't yet recalibrated.


Tip from first hand experience (for dating):

Think you're the only one being dumb/lame/awkward? Regardless of actually you being one of those things, chances are the other person is actually thinking the same.


Thank you for this. I will try to look at things this way.


Why are social skills always focusing on the positive? A lot of programmers often seem to be more nice guys than anything else, and need to be able to be more assertive / aggressive.

Everyone tries to distinguish these two, it's mostly just in the eye of the beholder - IMO aggression is just assertion when it's judged to be inappropriate or incompetently done - a drill instructor being assertive looks different to a police officer in a stand-off which is different to how you talk to co-workers - the distinction is highly contextual and subjective.

I think a lot of people with poor social skills thinks the aggression / assertion line is all about being angry or shouty or rude. Assertion uses a bunch of tools (including potentially - a louder or quieter voice, appearing angry, threats, manipulations, etc) to achieve a goal. Doing so in an inappropriate way is seen as aggressive (e.g. threatening to quit over a minor issue). Overusing any given tool (e.g. swearing a lot instead of realising a different tool is needed) is seen as incompetent (or losing control) thus it's seen as aggressive. But fundamentally there's no real objective difference.


Yes. That’s why I find dev.to and to be a rather uninteresting place.

It’s 90% niceties and explaining .map over and over again.

Similar things can be observed in many meetups and some companies. Everything is awesome. Everybody is nice. People shy away from deciding anything. Even the simple act of two people wanting to go through the same door at the same time is an impossible conundrum.

No matter how important psychological safety is (and it really is), a constant state of coddling serves nobody.


> Even the simple act of two people wanting to go through the same door at the same time is an impossible conundrum.

Tangential, but I hit this issue very often with couple of friends during university years; two of us wanted to go through a door, and get stuck in a "you go", "no, you go", "I insist" loop. At some point I said, "you know what, let's do rock-paper-scissors, if you lose you go first". It immediately caught on with my friends, and ever since that, when attempting to go through a door at the same time, we'd just exchange looks, and immediately play a wordless round of rock-paper-scissor to resolve the conflict, while the rest of the class looked at us and asked "WTF just happened?!".


> Even the simple act of two people wanting to go through the same door at the same time is an impossible conundrum.

I believe that the optimal solution to this problem is to offer, and then if there is a counter-offer, take it. If the other person is offended then they have followed the letter of the social law but do not understand it in their hearts. In addition, it is often polite to take what is offered to you.


  La extrema urbanidad y cortesía
  agota y cansa la paciencia mía.
  Figúrate lector, y es un ejemplo,
  que entrar queremos en sala, alcoba o gabiente
  y que somos por juntos seis o siete.

  ¿No es un feroz y bárbaro tormento el
  "pase Usted primero" y "faltaría mas, caballero"?
  Y han así de pasar horas galanes y señoras[1],
  estando todos ellos convencidos 
  de lo inútiles que son tales cumplidos.

  Voy a dar aquí un mínimo consejo[1],
  y mírese quien quiera en este espejo:
  cuando te digan que pases adelantes, 
  no te hagas rogar, pasa al instante.

                      Figueroa
[1] Paraphrased, I don't remember this verse right now.


it's not just polite to accept offers. It allows the other person to feel good for the act of giving.


That's absolutely true. But I think it's worth noting just how often polite acts are specifically for making others feel good. The two things are meant to be fundamentally linked.


So you took a negative result (deadlock) and solved it in a mutually beneficial way (break deadlock + in-group reinforcement). That's awesome.


This is known as a "Canadian Standoff".


Disregarding the amusement from the game you might get, why waste time when attempting to go through a door. The rest of the class might be annoyed at waiting while you decide who goes through the door first...


When we started to do rock-paper-scissors, the process became really quick - about two seconds to notice the situation, exchange the looks, shake our fists three times and show rock/paper/scissor. Sometimes it took a bit longer if there was a tie in the first round - but never long enough for anyone else to be bothered.


Haha, that reminds me of whenever one of my friends and I used to come across a door. We'd both hold it open and say "you first, I insist" and stand there. One time, I believe it went on for a solid 20 minutes.

(Other... "unusual" behaviors include standing in the pouring rain for an entire hour till the other gives up, passing the party leadership onto each other for a solid 10 minutes until one of us starts the game queue...)


At some point I decided there's generosity in knowing how to gracefully accept a gift. From then on I didn't get caught in these kinds of paradoxes. When the offering party's sincerity is established, I shift into thankfulness and everyone wins.

Rock, paper, scissors might work too. Haven't tried that.


I think the main danger is when truth and improvement is compromised in favor of niceness. Sometimes you are wrong, and that's definitely not a comfortable position to be in. It's not going to feel good to have it pointed out. And yet it's imperative that it is communicated. Wise individuals should not attribute the discomfort to the person pointing things out, but to mistakes themselves of course.

There are cases where marking errors is done to belittle, offend, portray incompetence, etc.; however it shouldn't be too hard to avoid those perils -- it's just a matter of showing how mistakes are (mostly, and to a measure) inevitable, not disqualify the person for the mistake (i.e. recognize it's something that is not inherent and can be fixed). Avoid broadcasting mishaps (communicate one-to-one), be supportive when pointing things out, and the environment is going to be better for everyone.

Superficial niceness might be worse than sincere harshness indeed. But the best is bold sincerity and support, which ultimately creates trust and robust, enduring relations.


> IMO aggression is just assertion when it's judged to be inappropriate or incompetently done

One can be assertive without being aggressive and aggressive without being assertive. They are different characteristics.

Assertive and not aggressive - deciding to speak up instead of being silent. "Excuse me, can you explain this decision to me?"

Aggressive and not assertive - being passive-aggressive, giving people the silent treatment / cold shoulder / "cancel culture", and similar behaviors.


So is a polite legal threat assertive or aggressive?

edit: I'm saying - where you draw the line is about things like whether it's competent, and whether it's "OK" within the contex. A polite "excuse me" is both competent and almost always "OK". A polite legal threat might not be "OK" (and it might not be competent either) so whether you judge it to be aggressive will depend on your point of view.


It's not a line. Something can also be both aggressive and assertive. That they are different does not make them mutually exclusive.

One can also be awkward but not polite, polite but not awkward, and politely awkward. They're just different characteristics.


Being assertive and aggressive are not variations on the same thing. In fact if you observe people with actual power they tend to rely less and less on aggressive behavior, and more on suggestions and persuasion.

I think it would be a mistake to characterize assertiveness as just a subset of aggression, defined as all aggressive acts less the inappropriate ones, or the reverse, as you seem to be arguing here. I think it's more accurate to say there's a very small set of cases where they overlap.


Yes, this is pretty much it. Learning how to be assertive without looking weird, creepy or a lunatic. It's just a lot of practice.

Most advice given to men how to be more socially adaptive is actually advice how to best be taken advantage of. It has nothing to do with their own best interest.


This is true of pretty much all such advice to anybody. Society's interests and your interests are often unaligned.


Succinctly put. Realizing this is very painful if one has been raised idealistically.


Aggression is violent and seeks to harm or at least disregards the recipient's well-being.

Assertiveness is considerate and has compassion for the recipient, considers how our assertion may affect the recipient, may offer understanding and empathy for their situation, then asserts our need by taking personal ownership and using "I" language, etc.


This is a curious statement. Assertiveness does not require that you be explicitly or even implicitly empathetic nor does it require you to use "I" statements. In fact, deliberately using language where you are making a topic personal (by using "I" language) is the opposite of assertive in this context.


I agree with this. I value high-friction environments where people are encouraged to compete and fight to support their ideas, where they feel valued for fighting for themselves, rather than patronized...

The real world doesn't coddle you. Work should reflect that to some degree - with some respect to being a decent person in general. Just knowing that you know your shit, and it's okay (preferred even), if you fight to be your own advocate.

There's a balance between negative and positive reinforcement. We can't simply look at being "nice" to each other all the time as an optimal solution. It's a great way to get completely side-swiped by someone who is even only slightly aggressive.

If I have a terrible idea, I'd rather hear someone tell me that it's a shit idea than patronizingly tend to my "feelings" on the matter.


The real world doesn't coddle you, but your close acquaintances definitely do.

A week ago I saw an animal documentary where a lion was attacked by a pack of hyenas. A while later, another lion saw the situation and ran to help; the hyenas knew they couldn't take two lions so they fled. Afterwards, the lions cuddled. Both lions benefited: the first one might help the second one out in the future.

I would argue that one of the reasons why humans have taken over the world is that we help eachother and work together. If Bob has a bad knee and can't hunt, it doesn't mean Bob is useless and we should kill him. Bob can stay home and build weapons for the hunters.

Of course, if Bob is taking advantage of the situation and does fuck-all, positive reinforcement won't do anything. However, it does not mean the environment has to continually be abrasive and competitive, especially not for the rest of the group who are doing their job.


Certainly. There is definitely the need for balance. If your work environment is all in-fighting (been there done that myself), it sucks... But if your environment promotes a patronizing amount of coddling and trying to make things fair for everyone all the time, I find myself equally unhappy.

If my idea is better than my coworkers, I want that celebrated. If theirs is better, I want that celebrated, even if that means telling me that my idea isn't great.

Edit: Also, if Bob is doing fuck-all, he should expect to be kicked out of the group. He can find another tribe that accepts his bullshit (until they eventually drop him as well), or learn to carry his own weight before being reaccepted - by means of crafting weapons or providing in some other way as you mention. "Safe spaces" to me, are akin to allowing Bob to stick around and mooch off the group indefinitely because kicking him out wouldn't be very nice. Nature says you provide for the group, or you go. It's harsh, but real.


In my experience, the problem with environments like that is that the best fighters win, not the best ideas. The best fighters are usually the people who can project the most confidence, talk the loudest, and who are the most popular.

By contrast, environments that provide psychological safety enable people who may have better ideas, but may not be as brash and overconfident to contribute.


You have to be careful about those safe environments, as they often simply shift the weapons from loudness and brashness to sweet-sounding talk and subtle negative suggestions. It changes the breed of social warrior who wins from the "Conan the Barbarian" type to the "Mean Girls" type, but that doesn't help good ideas. One example of a dysfunctional strategy that only works in safe environments is the technique of subtly poking at someone's emotions until they say something off-limits or use an unacceptable tone of voice. Toxic individuals are always at work, and changing the rules sometimes does nothing better than changing the ruling toxic personality type.


There are many ways to implement "safe environments". I'm a person who easily speaks up and is pretty assertive but back when I worked in Scrum I really liked the retrospectives where people first silently wrote down their thoughts on post its, then each and everyone went and put them up; explaining what it meant. During this you were not allowed to disagree with but you could ask for clarification. Then you would vote on what seemed most important and go into deeper discussions.

I always felt that those sessions were more productive than just going around the table or people just speaking up.


That's a great point, and one I've seen in action. I haven't seen the particular strategy you describe, but I've seen others. People can absolutely weaponize efforts to create psychological safety. IMO psychological safety is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for being able to disagree about ideas and come to better ones.

I think great leadership is when someone notices that happening and shuts it down.


Goodhart's law applies to psychological safety. It is a good measure of a culture until people starts to actively work towards psychological safety. I feel like most of these tips and tricks people use to improve their social skills are just making it harder to rat out the toxic people, it doesn't actually make people less toxic.


I understand your perspective. Unfortunately, however idealistic, I don't see that being a great benefit in the long term for anyone.

I prefer environments that teach you how to advocate for your ideas. Build you up as a good self-advocate.

Environments that say "Hey everybody! It's Timmy's turn to speak. Pass him the talking stick" are patronizing and disgust me at the onset.

Better to have someone by your side saying, "Timmy, speak up! You have a great idea. Tell everyone"


I think you're actually missing his point, which is not so much a matter of perspective but rather a direct application of Goodheart's Law. When you are trying to incentivize by proxy (e.g. promote good ideas by rewarding vocal and assertive people), you better hope that there is a very tight correlation between the two.

His point is that there isn't much correlation between good ideas and assertive personalities, so if you incentivize the latter you won't necessarily get the former. I'm inclined to agree with that.


> Goodheart's Law

A man of culture!

I think we can call in the Pareto Principle here. After a certain point, assertiveness / aggressiveness becomes zero-sum (or worse). But getting to the point where everyone worth listening to has had a chance to speak gives you a lot of bang for your buck. You can either have an environment which enables this (everyone gets the talking stick) or train everyone to have a baseline of assertiveness skills.

The baseline shouldn't just be "excuse me, I have a question" scenarios though. The baseline has to be sufficient to handle stuff like "I think my boss is screwing up big time".


> I think you're actually missing his point

You are probably right.

I don't have a good argument for getting your good idea recognized by others, if you are not an assertive type, other than learning to fight harder for it be heard, or finding someone to fight hard for you.

There may not be a correlation between good ideas and assertive personalities, but if you aren't at least somewhat assertive, I just won't hear your idea.

It's like playing a song in your basement and wondering why no one is praising your musical talent. Get yourself out in the real world and play in front of people, loudly enough for them to hear you!


Communication and technical implementation are skills that exist on two separate axes. You might find that many of the best implementers are not also the best communicators, and vice versa. It seems to me that the whole software industry is designed around solving this problem. Make the good implementers your engineers. Get the good communicators who can figure out what these engineers are talking about to be your project managers. The unicorns who can communicate and implement should be able to get a gig managing all these people/projects and keeping everyone honest.

This is an idealized version of the system and a million things can go wrong, but it seems like the only way that makes any sense.


"His point is that there isn't much correlation between good ideas and assertive personalities, so if you incentivize the latter you won't necessarily get the former. I'm inclined to agree with that."

Having worked at IBM Austin in the '90s, I'd tend to agree. The management style was very much "the loudest person in the room makes the decision." It did not end well.


"Environments that say "Hey everybody! It's Timmy's turn to speak. Pass him the talking stick" are patronizing and disgust me at the onset."

I actually personally think its useful to say that in order to shut up overly opinionated people without publicly pointing them out and putting them immediately on the defensive. Opinionated people are also incredibly opinionated on their opinions, of course, and it's more efficient to sidestep that altogether.


Pretty incredible exchange you are having with people right now where you are just straight up ignoring valid points or sweeping them aside as idealism...


Think of it as a free lesson in self-advocation if you'd like.

I'm engaging in the conversation by bringing my points to the table. I see it as an idealistic proposal that doesn't match my understanding of reality. It is very plausible that I am wrong - please explain to me how you disagree, I'm happy to listen. Seriously.

Just because someone has an idea doesn't mean I have to immediately agree with it or like it. Feel free to disagree with me on this, as it would prove my point. It's your right after all.


They did explained what you ask for in very simple terms, you just ignored it and reiterated that you are effectively superior.

It is not that you gave contra arguments, you just ignored.

Which is exactly issue with most confident win system.


In my experience, "high-friction environments where people are encouraged to compete and fight to support their ideas, where they feel valued for fighting for themselves, rather than patronized..." are dominated by people who enjoy competing and fighting for their own sake. The value of any ideas presented frequently takes a backseat to who can win the political fight. (This is actually one of the most common, and most frustrating, failure modes of academia and one of the major reasons I'm no longer interested in being in that environment.) Or, the value of the ideas takes a backseat to who benefits most from the one chosen. Or, any of a dozen other reasons irrelevant to the ideas.

You may regard an alternative as "idealistic", and it may be, but the alternative is how many existing environments are supposed to work, if you press those involved hard enough, and is frequently pretty bad at sorting ideas.


>Just because someone has an idea doesn't mean I have to immediately agree with it or like it. Feel free to disagree with me on this, as it would prove my point.

Exactly. I am very happy to be proven wrong, given the arguments against my position are good. A lot of people shy away from criticizing ideas, thinking that a person will take it as a personal attack (gotta admit, I am guilty of this too, if I don't know the person well enough to assume they take criticism well).

When it is the fight for the best idea or solution, I don't care how wrong I am, I care about finding the "truth" aka the best solution given the situation. As long as the criticism is directed towards the idea and not the person, I am just as happy, regardless of whether my idea won or not (as long as the idea that won had better arguments for it).


A group consisting of only quiet people (to put it simply) is susceptible to one brash person to trample over them. I also find them to be sneaky environments.

Further I don’t think a loud environment (again, putting it simply)and psychological safety are mutually exclusive.

One can be loud and assertive without tearing each other down.


Optimal is nice aggression: push forward for the goal in the nicest way possible, and resort to more confrontational style only when absolutely necessary.


Resort to confrontation if you are justified.

Being justified in a social setting means other people need to agree with you.

It involves directly addressing the matter at hand; why it is you are justified in confronting somebody. It can also be tactful if you get the person you are confronting to be very specific on the details and why they did something worth being confronted about.

The crowd will decide on their own, but if you truly are justified in confronting somebody then you should have solid foundation for debate.

Now, certain crowds practice mob justice, but that's another thing entirely.


If you do it right it will be labeled "assertion" not aggression.


I find people who are normally not assertive/aggressive overcorrect and lose even more respect.

Just advocate for yourself and the things you care about. It's not always easy, but that doesn't necessarily mean aggression.


It's not just "overcorrect" it's also doing so in an incompetent way.

It's like asking out someone on a date. If you have less experience, you'll probably do so in a dumb way and are more likely to seem like you're harassing them.

There's a lot of gaslighting that the line is aggression / assertion line is primarily about your internal state (mind reading arguments are often a good sign people are wrong), but the line is often about competence.

Pretending people should never be assertive means we aren't letting them develop competence except through experience. Developing competence through experience (without any clear direction) is like letting people learn to drive by letting them crash a bunch of times and learn from it which is hardly optimal.


I've always thought of aggression as something qualitatively different. To me assertive behaviour is behavior in pursuit of some objective, whether or not it's sensible or effective, while aggressive behaviour is about the experience of aggression itself, not needing a goal. Things like road rage, school bullying, wrecking stadiums and yelling at players after football matches, where the behaviour isn't intended to achieve anything except the direct effects of being aggressive (expression of anger, feeling big, making others suffer or feel afraid). I would say that someone can be incompetently and rudely assertive, or quietly and competently aggressive.


I feel like Jonathan Blow's most recent talk[0] touches on why communication is important from a selfish perspective, for us as "artisans"/creatives. It's doesn't have to be about pleasing someone higher up in the hierarchy, it's about communicating in such a way that the diff between what's in your mind, and the other person's mind is as small as possible.

In doing this, we can more often achieve what we want, and have more support to do so. As Jon also touches on, there will always be people who just aren't interested in giving you the benefit of the doubt, but more often than not, based on the explanations you give them, they extrapolate to something completely different then what's in your mind at the time.

0: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVb6-Rkz7W4


Username checks out. Thanks for the link, I love Jonathan Blow's talks :)


I read some "pick up artist" literature in college: about two thirds of it is misogynistic garbage, but the remainder has some good tips on general platonic social interaction (and a major issue with insecure men is learning to interact with women in a casual platonic way without acting odd and creepy because they are hoping for more).

- If you aren't good at speaking in a captivating way, literally write out your best stories. People who are good at telling stories get this way from practice: introverts naturally get less practice and thus tend to be less talented at speaking. You can do a significant amount of practice on a story without a partner - develop a few 2-3 minute anecdotes about yourself that have a clear beginning, middle and punchline, and cut all extraneous information that doesn't enhance the listeners enjoyment or teach them something positive about your character. If the conversation with a new person touches on something from one of your anecdotes, you will be able to quickly go into your anecdote and be engaging. The process of editing a couple stories will teach you to revise future stories without writing them down explicitly.

- The Cube is a really great icebreaker when meeting new people and conversation is petering out. https://oliveremberton.com/2014/how-to-connect-deeply-with-a... A couple times, I've captivated groups of 4-6 strangers for about an hour with this. Everyone likes talking about themselves, and it gives people a framework to discuss their self perceptions in a fun way, and everyone learns some things about each other. (The mappings are somewhat arbitrary, I learned it with ladder as work and flowers as friends)


That really has to be one of the more ridiculous ice breakers I've ever seen. I'd ascribe about as much meaning to those supposed relationships as I would to a grocery store horoscope, and in much the same way. If you're inclined to do so, you can go back as you read the explanation of what each thing "means" and pick out all of the bits you agree with to convince yourself that it makes sense.


The key is to tell them what it means, and then ask if they think it is correct. You learn about them from their interpretation of their own results, the symbology is pretty arbitrary.

"I imagined a small dark cube with a light in the middle".

"Cube represents self, do you think small and dark with light in the middle is a good representation of how you perceive yourself?"

"Not really because I'm actually much more ____" When given this context, I found many people will give surprisingly long and interesting justifications for or arguments against their answers.


Obviously this isn't an accurate psychological test. Yet it's a very interesting social tool, because it's more subtle than it seems:

- First, the most shallow interpretation, it sorta works. Not really of course, but I could believe based on empirical evidence that the "mind projecting itself on abstract objects" isn't totally BS. - Second, when you get explained the supposed meanings of each element, you enter an introspective phase. You think about whether it does apply to you, "am I actually a fairly transparent person?", "do I expect my partner to be a part of me?". It doesn't really matter what you answered at first, it's your reflection about it that should lead to a mildly interesting self-questioning - Third, and that's what people good at "basic social skills" have understood, it doesn't even matter if you personally didn't get any insight on yourself, or even if nobody around did. It's a door-opener, a way to engage with people around you, to get personal with them. Is it a shallow outlook on them? Doesn't matter, it's a start, a bond that you can strengthen continuing the discussion.


We obviously have different social circles. I know exactly two kinds of people. The first kind would openly mock me when I got to the "explaining what it all means" part (if they let me get that far at all). The second kind would eat this up and absolutely believe it to be some deep and accurate spiritual insight.


I'm irked after reading that bullshit The Cube thing - probably says a lot about my personality.


>Everyone likes talking about themselves

I do not.


Ironic


If he truly did not care about talking about himself... would he have said so?


> If he truly did not care about talking about himself... would he have said so?

He said that he does not like talking about himself - perhaps that is even why thfuran's comment was short and concise. He did not say that he does not talk about himself.


Could he only cares about correctness, then it becomes the opposite of ironic.


My cube was an ice cube that melted (we're in a desert) before I got to the ladder question. Trying to figure out what that says about me...


You're a smart aleck who likes to break things by bending rules? /s

More seriously, start off cold but adapt to your surroundings and warm up quickly?


Mark Manson's "Models" is a great read if you're looking for a non-PUA book about dating and attracting women in a healthy way.


Calling Mark Manson a non-PUA is about as accurate as calling Obama a non-politician. He’s firmly within the mainstream of that literature. There are 20 pages of results for “Mark Manson” on r/seduction.


Your link to the Cube is great but how do you bring this up in a conversation? I'm trying to imagine being in a social setting, after having a long conversation with someone that's starting to peter out, and then ask, "So I've got a funny question: First I want you to imagine a desert...".


"Hey I read about this personality test game thing on the internet the other day and I've been wondering if it actually works. Do you mind if I try it out on you?"

When I've done it for multiple people, I have each person give their answer for an item before moving onto the next section. This keeps it so everyone feels like they are participating (and usually I've had to talk very little besides reminding the prompt and keeping the circle moving, maybe ask some probing descriptive questions for short answers). Then once everyone has given their answers, reveal the 'meaning' of each thing one at a time, and ask people whether you think it is correct for them. The beauty of the test is that even if it's completely wrong - you'll learn about the person from their explanation of why the reading was off base.

Similar one "walk in the forest" https://forum.gateworld.net/threads/20610-A-walk-in-a-forest


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