How to be an AskMe champion August 10, 2011 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Why are some people so good at answering human relations AskMe's? How do you do it? And why do you do it?

I like reading the human relations questions in AskMe because I find them so interesting. One thing I have noticed is that I'm continually impressed by the ability of certain mefites to answer those questions so insightfully, and so frequently, beyond mere variations on "DTMFA." Some mefites who come to mind are DarlingBri, Ashley801, the young rope-rider, Brandon Blatcher, EmpressCallipygos, and Miko. And there are others.

I myself have responded to some human relations questions in the past, but most of the time I have no idea how to help the asker even though I genuinely wish I could. I don't know if it's that I feel clueless about many of the Big Things in life or that I just don't feel confident or comfortable having someone rely on my advice, or some combination of the two.

So, how do you guys do it? Do you just have lots of life experience? Are your answers based on life lessons learned? Or are you just naturally good at this stuff?

Also, why do you do it?

More generally, what is some good advice for people who want to become better at answering those types of questions?

I am genuinely curious, as well as envious.
posted by Tin Man to MetaFilter-Related at 12:02 PM (82 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

I think that insight into human experience is an actual human skill that not everyone has. It's a mix between a general understanding of human pschology (both formally and informally acquired), personal experience that create anecdotal insight for a particular situation, and a good imagination. And by imagination, I mean the ability to both empathize (put yourself into the situation of others) and to be able to project a likely outcome from adding variables to a particular situation. Some people can do some of these particularly well, and some can do all of these quite well. In the latter case, you get some really go feedback.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:11 PM on August 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

I guess I have a lot of experience and I like to observe the stuff that goes on around me and ultimately it's hard not to notice patterns in human interactions.

And I like to be kind to people, especially people who are kind of adrift and not doing so great and maybe a bit of kindness would help them in some way. Being able to do that means a lot to me.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:21 PM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

And there are others.

Yep, a call out shout out to ThePinkSuperhero.
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 12:23 PM on August 10, 2011 [24 favorites]

I am oftentimes bored, human relations tends to be the most interesting category to read, and when reading the question, I know what I have to say is, in a manner of speaking, correct. Why? I was (and still am, honestly) socially awkward for years, if not decades: the proverbial wallflower. So there was a lot of time spent watching and listening rather than being involved in social situations. Patterns of behavior just emerge from that if you watch carefully enough, and they're only different in the finer points. That becomes pretty obvious when there's a flood of DTMFA about a minute after a question is posted.

Also, I feel that AskMe is lacking in the "tough love" category. When I need advice in that vein, I hate, hate, hate when people -- not just MeFites, real life is just as bad-- throw in pity, condolence, and all that other stuff. When I want Serious Advice, I need someone to cut to the fucking bone or it'll just be in one ear and out the other. So that's what I try to do, knowing full well there will be ten people with a more cushioned response.
posted by griphus at 12:26 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think the common thread between all the (awesome!) posters you mentioned is that they are, above all, kind. Their responses always strike me as being written with kindness toward the asker (and often to the others involved in the asker's question). They seldom judge.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:33 PM on August 10, 2011 [17 favorites]

A lot of human relations questions have answers that are quite obvious to anyone outside the emotional gravitational pull of the situation. Looking through some of the most-favorited askme responses of the users you highlighted it seems like a common thread is that they all write well.
posted by ghharr at 12:37 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know this seems weird but I think one of the things that good questions answerers do is that thaey don't do any of the bad stuff and they have wisdom about dealing with situations.

So the bad things they don't do

- blame people for whatever bad situation they're in
- turn the OPs situation into some mirror of their own situation and launch a proxy-attack on their past via AskMe answers
- attacking [or just eye-rolling] other people who are trying to answer. It doesn't really matter if you're shocked at other answers, move on
- thread-moderating
- hand-wringing entreaties to do whatever the bad thing is that the OP did that is tangential to the actual question being asked
- repeatedly comment in a thread when your comments are getting removed over and over
- stupid jokes

The good things they do

- Offer advice and suggestions on what the OP might want to do or consider
- Bring their own good and bad life examples to the table
- Bring in the advice of other commenters and make additional suggestions [this is a big thing that gets ignored but I love to see people building on other people's answers constructively]
- Walking away from a thread if it's getting messy or if the OP seems like they're not going to go the way they would personally want them to
- Using decent language towards the OP and other commenters and being generally gracious and kind [as peachfuzz says]

This is true for all types of questions but the human relation ones are more likely to be touchy and go badly if people aren't somewhat careful.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:44 PM on August 10, 2011 [46 favorites]

I do it for purely selfish reasons. I want people to like me, and I like feeling useful :D If I'm dismissive or unhelpful, that doesn't generally happen.

It's also really good practice for other areas in my life. I like trying to solve problems, so anything I can contribute that might help unravel that knot makes me feel good. Sometimes that gets me in trouble for being over-eager or not contributing something that directly addresses the problem at hand.

Having AskMe or similar gives me the ability to step back and assess something, giving myself a quick self-edit in the preview window, before contributing to a conversation. I've gotten better at responding to things In Real Life, and although I still do/say things that could be better -- both in here and elsewhere -- I'm workin' on it.

I find people endlessly fascinating, and I want to be part of their world. Just call me Ariel.
posted by Madamina at 12:48 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd just add that one more thing that impresses me about the MeFites you have mentioned (including the many others that do this too) is their generous willingness to spend time as well as their thought, sensitivity and good sense. These threads tend to arise from long detailed questions, and draw a lot of long responses. The MeFites at issue hang in there anyway, being kind and supportive and wise.

So, just adding my own kudos and admiration for being outstanding human beings.
posted by bearwife at 12:49 PM on August 10, 2011

I want to mark many of these as "Best Answers." I keep forgetting this is MetaTalk and not actually AskMe.

> Yep, a call out shout out to ThePinkSuperhero.

Totally! I forgot her!
posted by Tin Man at 12:49 PM on August 10, 2011

Awww, thank you :) I try to be helpful- and I try to keep my mouth shut when I know I can't be helpful. Any human relations thread you did not see me in, I probably started an answer and gave up halfway upon realizing I had nothing to say.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:52 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think nadawi also offers consistently great advice. She seems to have this ability to boil things down to the most salient issue and then speaks to it with very direct, no-nonsense advice.
posted by lilac girl at 1:02 PM on August 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

I do it for empathy practice because it is easier than observing actual humans IRL and mimicking their emotional responses.

I am only kidding a little bit here, alas. it is hard sometimes being a dorky robot in the human world.
posted by elizardbits at 1:04 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Shoutouts to not that girl, hermitosis and zoomorphic for their consistently good advice!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:06 PM on August 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Wow, thank you.

I think things that help me are:

a) if it's something that's happened to me, I think back to the mindset I was in at the time, and figure out what would have helped me when I was in that state. When I've been in the DTMFA situations, just telling me "DTMFA" wouldn't help -- I would have also needed to hear why I should.

b) if it's something that hasn't happened to me, I see if there's something I can relate to in some way. if not, I shut up.

c) I assume people aren't idiots, and respect their right to ignore my advice.

Before I get a swelled head, though, I should issue the disclaimer that I'm not always the best at FOLLOWING my own advice when I'm in such situations myself. Which ultimately puts me in good company with the rest of humanity -- we all often know what we're supposed to do, but actually doing it is something else again, sometimes. I have tremendous sympathy for that, because I need it myself too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:09 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you for the kind callout. It's nice to hear.

I like that most of my reasons for answering are shared with the others who have commented, sort of indicating there's a common motivation set.

I don't comment in anywhere near every human-relations thread, only ones where I think I have something to add. Often the points are already well covered by others; in other threads I just don't have anything constructive to say. Threads I end up commenting in are ones I sort of sympathize with.

I also was an awkward kid and had to learn to be a normal person by watching others, and/or by making heinous mistakes of my own, so that combination of observed and lived experience has been helpful.

One odd advantage in human relations I may have had is that since my teen years, I've spent a lot of time in large group environments - summer sleepaway camp, arts programs, residential schools - and I also taught school for years. All these places are full of people in intense relationships and are highly social, so they make fabulous petri dishes to watch humans do the things they do and get acquainted with the varieties of experience in life. I do like to write. And it feels good to be of help if you can. Somehow it helps take the edge and sting off the stupid mistakes in my own life if I can somehow turn them into helpful and good advice for someone who can still change their outcome.

That said, I am an enormously flawed individual as well and I work hard to curtail my less wonderful traits - judging, dismissing, haranguing. I don't have perfect control over this yet.

As far as amassing life experience - which does help situations become much more readabale and familar - salvia once asked this great question about 'how to become wise' and I thought a lot about my answer and I still like it.
posted by Miko at 1:21 PM on August 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

I don't spend a lot of time in AskMe yet because I'm trying to go through life doing human relations all wrong, and hoping come out with a bunch of great advice and life lessons for sharing with people on AskMe about on what to avoid and how things could have been done correctly.
posted by Hoopo at 1:24 PM on August 10, 2011

Shout out to scody, too!
posted by brujita at 1:32 PM on August 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

Yes, scody should head the list of great AskMe answerers.
posted by Miko at 1:36 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here are my rules of thumb for answering human relations questions:

1. Read the question closely to see if the OP has (perhaps inadverently) included an especially revealing sentence that sheds light on what's really going on. If 10 people have already answered a question with sensible advice that's similar to what you'd say, you can still post an outstanding answer by delving deeper into the significance of what the OP said in that one sentence. (Of course, it's important to read the question closely anyway, to make sure you haven't missed any important details.)

2. Don't command the OP to do what you would do if you were the OP (except in the rare case where the solution is so obvious or urgent that a command is truly in order). All you can do is offer suggestions. The OP will read your answer among all the other answers and make up their own mind. The fact that you would definitely break up with the OP's SO situation if you were the OP is not a sufficient reason for the OP to do so. I often don't even give a bottom line "here's what I would do." It can be more effective to just make a series of observations, and let the OP come to their own conclusion.

3. Remember the limits of what you can accomplish. You aren't seeing the whole situation. You don't know the people involved. You're just seeing a description by one of the people involved. I'm not saying you should suspect the OP of outright lying, but face it: people distort and embellish and omit facts, especially when it comes to complex personal situations. So even if you might think the answer is totally obvious upon your initial read of the question, sometimes you have to stop and remember that this is only your advice under the assumption that the text you've been given tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Qualify your advice appropriately.

4. If it's a "How can I say this?" question (as in, "How can I tell my SO/spouse/parent/friend that ________"), the answer is usually right there in the question. These questions are usually not worth spending much time on, since the answer is simple: "Tell them what you told us."

5. I don't have any hard test for when I have enough firsthand experience to be able to answer the question. For instance, there was a question written by a bisexual woman about how to find women to date on OKCupid. Wel, I'm not a bisexual woman, I'm a straight man. But I've noticed some quirks of how OKCupid works that could be relevant to that situation, so I gave several specific pieces of advice. If she happens to take my advice with a grain of salt since my username makes it obvious that I'm not a woman, that's fine with me. But I'm not going to hold back from giving what I consider helpful advice just because I'm not demographically identical to the OP. In other words, I'm not afraid of people saying, "How would you know, you're not a woman!" In contrast, I remember seeing a question by a lesbian who was struggling with insecurities having to do with dating a bisexual woman. I didn't answer that question because I had the impression that she was describing an experience so inextricably connected to her gender and sexual orientation that other commenters would have better insights to offer. Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules. I answer if I can think of something good to say; I don't worry about whether I'm drawing directly on my experience or just making it up off the top of my head. (In a certain sense, we're all just making it up!)

6. If the advice that springs to mind just consists of name-calling, don't bother writing it. Saying "He's a jerk" (or the unfortunately more common and vulgar variations thereon) is rarely helpful advice. If my whole reaction to a post is "What a jerk!" (about anyone), I don't post a comment.

As long as we're on the subject, the one commenter I've found to most consistently give the dead-on, A+ answer in human relations questions is someone the OP mentioned: Ashley801.
posted by John Cohen at 1:38 PM on August 10, 2011 [11 favorites]

I think the most crucial things for answering these kinds of questions well are empathy and compassion. I don't even attempt to answer questions where I can't put myself (or past self) in the shoes of the person asking the question. Being a grown up and dealing with interpersonal situations is hard in a variety of ways and sometimes just acknowledging that the situation is hard and messy goes a long way.

The rule of thumb I try to follow (more or less successfully) is that I want my answer to be a stab at trying to make someone feel like they have choices even if they can't see them at that particular moment. I want people to feel strong and empowered and take ownership of what they ultimately decide to do. People have done that for me so many times throughout my life and it was truly a gift I try to pay forward.
posted by Kimberly at 1:39 PM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Besides the ones mentioned, salvia has great answers.
posted by desjardins at 1:48 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, considering I am an online content provider supplying advice articles for many large websites and I read human behavioral/sociological studies about 7-10 hours per day for work, I feel like I've got a pretty good grasp on the human condition.

That, and a master's degree in Humanities -- and unfortunately, a lot of life lessons I've had to learn firsthand myself the hard way that I'd love to spare others from suffering through, if it's applicable.

If I've been to therapy myself for a particular issue and the person asking the question seems therapy-averse, I'll often mention things that I found helpful that the therapist brought to my attention, for example. Though I try not to do that too often, since what works for one person isn't always helpful for another.

I realize I wasn't one of the people called out, but I do feel compelled to help people whenever possible. Hopefully that's what I'm doing in AskMe - but when other people (like the abovementioned Miko, TPS, etc.) have already said what I'd say, I usually just Nod/Favorite and Move On.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:49 PM on August 10, 2011

Jessamyn, Forktine, griphus, rtha, jenfullmoon, desjardins, ThePinkSuperhero and scody should be on the list too, they've offered plenty of fantastic and thoughtful advice in that category. There are others too.

As for me, it's kinda funny you posted this today 'cause I've had multiple answers deleted from a recent AskMe, so fooled you! But thanks for the shout out.

I myself have responded to some human relations questions in the past, but most of the time I have no idea how to help the asker even though I genuinely wish I could. I don't know if it's that I feel clueless about many of the Big Things in life or that I just don't feel confident or comfortable having someone rely on my advice, or some combination of the two.

I looked through your AskMe answers, you are doing fine. You're empathetic and helpful, without talking down to anyone. That's most of the goal right there.

If anything, you're probably overthinking it. If you offer unhelpful advice, the crowd and/or the mods will say something.

How do you do it?

You have to listen, empathize, and speak truth to people without putting them down. Part of empathizing is being able to speak to people in their "language" or it least understand it. For instance, I'm agnostic, but if a deeply religious person asked for help, I'd speak in religious turns, 'cause that's how they view the world.

Life experience is definitely useful. After living a while, you see not only the same situation repeated, but also different sides of the situation. You also learn from your own mistakes and learn about yourself and other people.

You gain a long view. You learn some essential truths about life and people and I do mean learn. Your first heartbreak? Devastating, 'cause you've never felt it before. The 3rd or 4th, it's like "Oh crap, this again. Ok fine, have to go through this, but it'll pass." Everything passes, if you're willing to let it.

I also learned a lot by listening to LoveLine back in the '90s. It was like a radio version of AskMe and it's where I first noticed just how common and similar human relation problems are. In a lot of ways we are not unique special snowflakes.

Also, why do you do it?

I'm think a lot so I need stuff to think about, hence reading and answering questions. I also like doing things and trying to solve complex problems and human relation problems fit the bill. Answering these type of AskMe's is like nibbling on brain food throughout the day while I'm doing other stuff, something to keep the brain gears spinning.

I intentionally stay away from the idea that I'm helping people as that feels like a conflated sense of self in this situation. I'm just another voice in the crowd, feel free to listen or ignore.

Are your answers based on life lessons learned? Or are you just naturally good at this stuff?

Sometimes it's life lessons. Other times it's just picking the route the seems like it help a person be happy or relieve them of pain.

More generally, what is some good advice for people who want to become better at answering those types of questions?

Stay focused. Copy the specific question(s) and answer them one at a time. It strips away all the distractions while getting to the heart of what is needed: an answer.

Listen, i.e. read the entire question, at least twice. If there are already answers there, read those too, twice if you have to. Leave your personal baggage in the bag, there's no need to take it out. You know what's in that bag, so use that knowledge to help someone else.

BE KIND. You're dealing with someone at a low point, they may not be coherent or even likable. That's just how people are. Being nasty to them doesn't help them or you.

Know when to walk away. It's not your job to fix anyone, say your piece and let the OP handle it how they want. Others may disagree with your advice, perhaps vehemently. That's a feature of AskMe, not a bug.

Those were some really interesting questions, thanks!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:03 PM on August 10, 2011 [9 favorites]

I also <3 ThePinkSuperhero's answers- pithy and sensible and kind towards the small enthuasiasms and frustrations in life that often get dismissed as inconsequential and superficial. Salvia often makes me laugh in recognition. jbenben and desjardins and jessamyn all often post comments that are the ones I wish I could give- articulate and kind and echoing some parts of my own experience. hermatosis and loquacious (in askme and elsewhere) have put pieces together such that parts of my own worldview have come into better clarity in surprising and useful ways.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I assigned DTMFA GO LOW CARB COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY to a shortcut key and while I'm no AskMe all-star, I challenge any of you to be more efficient.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:09 PM on August 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

You aren't Freud.

Unless you are.
posted by Jahaza at 2:10 PM on August 10, 2011

tel3path is great for work related human questions.
posted by winna at 2:11 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think Eyebrows McGee deserves a mention, too, if you are looking for people to follow so you can see how it's done. She's well-informed, takes the time to write thoughtful answers, is always compassionate toward the OP. I often--and I mean often--find myself thinking, "Wow, that's a really spot-on answer," or "how insightful!" or "that person is getting it so right that there is nothing I could add," and there is her name at the bottom of the comment, and I think, "Oh, of course."

I love that I was mentioned here. Thanks, TPS! Feelin' good now.
posted by not that girl at 2:11 PM on August 10, 2011 [10 favorites]

I love reading human relations AskMes, and I've noticed a lot of the same people already mentioned as being consistently amazing answerers. Often what stands out to me is their ability to focus on the question. In human relations questions, I think it's important to read carefully and not just dash off a one sentence, knee jerk response. Not taking the time to reread the question leads to people being unkind or just unhelpful.
posted by MadamM at 2:16 PM on August 10, 2011

I did want to second Brandon Blatcher that griphus is on this list. For a kid my age, he's got some great insights and I almost always - even if I don't completely agree with him - think he gives constructive, honest advice. I actually almost earlier today thought to drop him a MeMail saying something to this effect, but then I got all, 'naw, that'd be stupid. Bro in Brooklyn don't need my bro in Portland love.' But I now take this opportunity to say thanks, Griphus.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:16 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think Eyebrows McGee deserves a mention, too

Oh man; as someone who got some really wonderful, thoughtful advice from her on an anon question, yes. She rocks.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:17 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thirding, fourthing, nthing scody, griphus and nadawi. All incredible Answerers. :)
posted by zarq at 2:17 PM on August 10, 2011

There are also topical expertise shoutouts too. I frequent the academic/grad school questions and LobsterMitten, among others consistently give good advice. (If I was on a computer, I'd search for more.)
posted by k8t at 2:19 PM on August 10, 2011

Don't worry, Tin Man. You'll get a heart some day.
posted by Eideteker at 2:23 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

k8t, you also give great advice, especially on the academic front.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:31 PM on August 10, 2011

Oh, you guys! You sure know how to make a dude feel appreciated!

I actually almost earlier today thought to drop him a MeMail saying something to this effect, but then I got all, 'naw, that'd be stupid.

That would have made today a delightfully strange day, indeed! This morning, a musician I "reviewed" (more like gushed over) on my blog a few months back sent me a email stating that he has been reading/enjoying my blog on a regular basis since he saw my site in his referrer logs. Had you sent your plaudit as well, I'd have been tempted to pull a George Costanza and just leave on a high note, never updating my blog or posting on MeFi again. You've saved countless millions today, sir.

Thank you.
posted by griphus at 2:38 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Funny, I was just thinking about jbenben's advice the other day on some post. She always stands out to me; always kind, to the point, and specifically addresses/gives advice that seems personal for the poster. But yes, there are a lot of great advice givers; alot who are mentioned above.
posted by foxhat10 at 2:40 PM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

One of the easiest ways to give good advice on any topic is to have emotional distance from it, as that gives you perspective. And, as it happens, human relations questions are the ones most likely to have a wide chasm in the amount of emotional distance between the asker (and their friends/family) vs strangers on the Internet.

And so, armed with that perspective and emotional distance, smart and thoughtful people with lots of life experience (like those noted) end up giving fantastic advice, that seems even more fantastic to the people who are heads-down in the situation at hand. Those same people might not even be able to give the same quality advice to a friend or loved one, in the same circumstance, just because they won't have the emotional distance.
posted by davejay at 2:43 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I actually almost earlier today thought to drop him a MeMail saying something to this effect...

That's also funny, Lutsslawski, I almost sent a similar memail to jbenben!
posted by foxhat10 at 2:43 PM on August 10, 2011

There are so many people who give great advice, and it always makes me wish I'd had that resource before I disastrously muddled through horrible experiences. I am consistently impressed with jbenben's advice.

Having lived through some lousy life choices, I always hope that maybe my experience can help save someone a piece of the pain I've dealt with.
posted by Zophi at 2:54 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forktine is an amazing advice giver--frank but thoughtful, funny and honest and down to earth, insightful/experienced without being showy about it. Glad he's getting a shout out.
posted by ifjuly at 3:02 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

One superb answerer started here by asking a question where the answers were almost all DTMFA. This person's ability to take this graciously, and later to respond to other questioners with a beautiful mix of intelligence, compassion & creativity, leads me to think that the best answerers have life experience in making their own mistakes, an ability to self-reflect, and to empathize.
posted by b33j at 3:07 PM on August 10, 2011

Not only does Forktine give good relationship advice, he also knows a fair bit about cars and trucks.
posted by box at 3:44 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to everybody mentioned above, I really appreciate zizzle's responses. She's got an even keel and a warmth in her writing. I don't have kids yet, but man, I hope I can have her in my pocket when I do!
posted by bilabial at 3:56 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I feel like I've learned a lot from the folks that answer these questions. I do occasionally post an answer; whatever little insight I have is from watching people and wrestling with my own problems (though I'm also an ABD in Personality Psychology, for what that's worth). I often try to point out a blind spot the poster can't see (e.g., "do you realize how angry you sound?") or try to cut through the 10-paragraph wall-of-text questions to the heart of the matter (which often amounts to, "why are you putting up with this shit?"). I also try to offer a little encouragement; anybody who would put a relationship question up on Metafilter is somebody who needs support. And that's why I answer if I feel there's something useful I can contribute--these folks are suffering and I know what that feels like.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:58 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

For realz, AskMe has taught me a lot. I am a way better person for it. Thanks guys.
posted by k8t at 4:21 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Woo, this thread just made me happy.

I think I base it on experience for the most part-- like the flood question the other day, because MAN do I ever have experience on that shituation. (I typo'd that and I'm keeping it.) Sometimes it's mine, sometimes it comes from being everyone else's freebie therapist because I'm good at that stuff. I am also coming from a more neutral place than the poster most of the time rather than "But I luuuuuuv him!," which makes everyone totally crazy and unable to see reason most of the time. I think of the folks I've known who behaved in similar manners or were in similar situations and how their situations came out, and I have a fairly good idea how life is gonna go if you don't DTMFA, so I can say that I think that's likely to happen if you don't.

Why do I do it? I'm good at it, apparently. If I thought I could handle putting aside my own drama for 40 hours a week to be a regular therapist, I might consider that, but I don't think I'm that good at putting aside my shit (I seriously admire how my shrink will come in and be all, "I'm quitting smoking again and I feel like complete ass and I might be cranky, just to let you know," and then you would never know anything was wrong with her for the rest of the hour. Now that's focus!) , so I just do it on the Internet :P In a way it's fun. If I know something about a situation I'd like to help, and hope it does.

"More generally, what is some good advice for people who want to become better at answering those types of questions?"

1. Think of how similar situations have gone in your life. How did it go? How did it go for your friends?
2. Do you have any background information in your life that's relevant to the question? Special knowledge?
3. You're not going to be able to help with every question. If you read the entire thread and have no clue, or you can't say anything that someone else hasn't already said, let it go. It's not your turn today.
4. Don't take it personally if the person doesn't do what you say. It's their life and not yours and you are not the one who has to clean up that particular mess, break someone else's heart, fight the custody battle, whatever. Remember that you are detached from this situation and while that helps you give advice, that might not necessarily help the person who's emotionally entrenched in it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:27 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


A keeper! Great coinage!
posted by Miko at 4:50 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I agree with a lot of what's been said above; I think that a lot of the reason why those answerers are so great is that they're actually kind, nonjudgmental people.

They also seem to actually read all of the information given and try to synthesize it all, whereas sometimes people respond to just the single piece of a question that jumps out at them (for whatever reasons, personal or incidental), and sometimes ignore information that fully rounds out the picture, so their answers come off as being far less well-thought-out.
posted by so_gracefully at 5:35 PM on August 10, 2011

And, hey, it's so_gracefully, of whom I so often think, "Does she live up to her username, or what?"
posted by not that girl at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2011

Emotionally speaking, I have learned a lot from hermitosis and scody, and I really appreciate their continued presence here.
posted by fake at 7:14 PM on August 10, 2011

Just want to thank Tin Man again for the super sweet callout. It's so nice of you especially since I am so often blown away by other people's answers that I feel sheepish about what I've said. I think what makes AskMe so great and so different from most places online is that the community norm is to read the question thoroughly and understand it, put thought into the answer, and be sincere and even earnest. And that the great moderation keeps the norm that way. The other thing that makes it great is that you get all these thoughtful and sincere answers, and they're all different in their own way and even disagree. It would be impossible to have your mind blown in the same way by any one person. All the time I am amazed by the things people say here - people in this thread and people not in this thread, people who post all the time and people who rarely post. It's fascinating and an amazing resource, that I'm really glad we have.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:16 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to pop in and thank all the askers and answerers for helping me really understand people a lot better--and myself. I'm much better at solving problems in my own life in a large part through my participation in human relations ask.mes--I just ask myself What would metafilter tell me to do? A lot of times it's not the easy choice, but it's almost always the right one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:11 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding winna about tel3path and adding that Meg_Murray should be on the list, always very thoughtful, helpful answers.
posted by mlis at 10:16 PM on August 10, 2011

All the people called out here are awesome. I know I am better for having AskMe and these people in my life. Thanks guys.

This MeTa thread IS a hug!
posted by guster4lovers at 10:23 PM on August 10, 2011

Yay for this thread. I feel like it's the perfect medicine against thread like this one, among others, that diss on Human Relations questions in AskMe.

I'm not a big contributor to AskMe, mostly I lurk, but when I'm in a helping mode I like to jump into Human Relations questions. So to answer the original OP, I think that some people are good at stuff like this because they're good at observing and good at listening, also, good at reading between the lines. I have some academic background in Psychology, but that's not what makes me good at figuring out human behavior. Rather, being good at figuring out human behavior is what got me interested in studying psychology. When we were younger (around our teenage years, much drama to be had), my friends always told me I was a natural at giving advice, and mostly the help I could give came from seeing things from a perspective that they couldn't see.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 11:05 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the nice mention and for a really positive thread. I am often so impressed by the caliber of answers to relationship questions. There are so many people whose names should be added to the list, and I have to appreciate scody, as the first person besides the mods whose name I recognized. Also, we've particularly left out many guys whose answers I'll give a second look -- koeselitz, davejay, Ironmouth, klangklangston, (the departed (but reincarnated, did I hear?)) frogan... Many others of both genders.

I also want to give a shout-out to micawber for a comment that particularly helped me once, not even so much because what it said was The Answer, but because it created a sense of spaciousness and calm around the question. The answer was essentially: you should do whatever is right for yourself, and things are going to be okay. Sometimes it seems like the OP really needs a particular answer, but the latest thing I've been interested in watching is how some answers manage to empower and support the asker in figuring it out for themselves.
posted by salvia at 12:33 AM on August 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't think PhoBWanKenobi has been called out here yet. She offers lots of wonderful, wise, supportive answers. (I promise I thought of this yesterday before she popped into the thread, but I didn't have time to link!)
posted by Miko at 5:47 AM on August 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's all about rolling a high WIS on your MeFi character sheet.
posted by mkultra at 5:58 AM on August 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think that insight into human experience is an actual human skill that not everyone has. It's a mix between a general understanding of human pschology (both formally and informally acquired), personal experience that create anecdotal insight for a particular situation, and a good imagination. And by imagination, I mean the ability to both empathize (put yourself into the situation of others) and to be able to project a likely outcome from adding variables to a particular situation.

Oh, I totally agree with this. It's something I really notice about people; how nuanced and far-reaching their understanding of human nature and human problems are. I know who among my friends is a good person with whom to discuss any problems I might have, and who isn't. Some people just seem incapable of really listening to anything someone else might have to say, are dimissive or too Pollyanna-ish, are too harsh or insensitive, or have incredibly poor judgment. Incidentally, I also really notice it when I'm reading fiction. Some writers have a ridiculously limited understanding of human nature, and others have a jaw-dropping breadth and depth of understanding. One of my favourite novelists is Alison Lurie. I've heard one of her friends who is also a noted writer called her "the wisest woman in America", and she may well be. I never read or re-read one of her books without learning something new about how people tick. And so I really love some of the AskMe threads for the wonderful answers that lie within, because I learn so much from them.
posted by orange swan at 6:20 AM on August 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I used to think the correct answer to every question was "go to Amsterdam, take mushrooms". But you can't get mushrooms in Amsterdam anymore.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:27 AM on August 11, 2011

Sorry it took me so long to come in and say thank you. Every time I tried to write a reply, someone else's reply blew me out of the water and made me go away and think again. I love every single one of these thoughtful, interesting and illuminating replies. Also I am chuffed to pieces to be included on the list of awesome people name checked through this thread.

Do you just have lots of life experience? Are your answers based on life lessons learned?

I'm only 38 so I'm aware that on the grand scheme of things, I don't know jack. Having said that, ages 9 - 29 were more perhaps more *eventful* than I would have ordered had I been given a menu of options. Probably I would have skipped a number of those events if I'd been able to choose, though I would have missed out on the benefits of some 12-step perspective and the wisdom of some 1st rate therapists, both of which I value very highly.

Things I took a surprisingly long time to learn that heavily influence my responses in Ask:

1) Compassion is free.
2) Tolerance is a virtue.
3) This, too, shall pass.
4) There is no The One.
5) Love is not enough.
6) Jealousy is fear of loss.
7) Boundaries are healthy.
8) Actions have consequences.
9) Nobody should keep score.
10) Ask for what you need.

Also, why do you do it?

I enjoy being of use, I like to help people, and I have a whole back catalogue of crappy decisions I would love for other people to avoid if possible. Every now and then I get a MeMail from someone saying that an answer I gave made a significant difference to them, and that's a powerful thing. I try to be very aware that these are not questions on a website; these are real people with real lives and the answers people provide can have real consequences for stories that will play out in ways we'll never see.

Having said that, I certainly don't have it all together and I get as much from reading here as I do from writing. Ask is my favourite online community and I am so glad I get to be a part of it.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 AM on August 11, 2011 [23 favorites]

Wow - I had no idea this thread would garner so many amazing responses. This is awesome.
posted by Tin Man at 6:50 AM on August 11, 2011

You stroked people's egos, Tin Man. Of course they're all going to show up and purrrrrrr.;-)
posted by orange swan at 7:05 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think PhoBWanKenobi has been called out here yet. She offers lots of wonderful, wise, supportive answers. (I promise I thought of this yesterday before she popped into the thread, but I didn't have time to link!)

Aw, thanks, Miko. Schmoopy to you, too. ^_^
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:14 AM on August 11, 2011

This is one of the best threads I've ever read on MetaTalk. I, too, am amazed by these folks who are able to spin thoughtful, kind, beautiful, and incredibly helpful comments seemingly at will, and all these people who've been called out (and many others) are a big part of what makes AskMe (and MetaFilter as a whole) such a great place.

And yeah, as has been pointed out, I feel like the bedrock of a great answer is kindness and compassion. When you start there, the rest comes a little more easily.
posted by ORthey at 8:51 AM on August 11, 2011

I am super-flattered to be mentioned.

"So, how do you guys do it? Do you just have lots of life experience? Are your answers based on life lessons learned? Or are you just naturally good at this stuff?"

I really, really like people-watching. And people-reading. And people-listening. And people-thinking-about. I am deeply, deeply fascinated by human interaction. It plays into my taste in novels, TV shows, type of law I practiced (estates), everything. There's the same fascination for me in reading newspaper advice columns as reading Chekhov for human problems and human drama. I started reading Dear Abby every day when I was 7 years old. I don't know that my personal life is chock-full of fascinating life experience -- I rather think I've been a bit sheltered. But I've read and observed so many OTHER lives that I feel like I have a big store of "here's how humans are" information. (I also, personally, find that it's sometimes a little easier to verbalize other people's experiences than your own; my own experiences may be too deep, or emotional, or as-yet-confused-and-unsorted. Sometimes when the questions are ones that I can personally relate to very closely, I find I can't answer them because I have too much, that's too muddled, to get it out in any coherent way.) My friends like to talk to me about drama, because I clearly love to listen and empathize. I am genuinely interested.

I do think this has made me a more empathetic person, but on the other hand I have to constantly fight the temptation to be really nosy about other people's lives. :) On the third hand, when I was routinely writing wills, nothing could shock me, which I think was reassuring to clients with complicated family drama situations.

I'm constantly fighting the temptations to be clever at the expense of being helpful, and to be way too damn wordy. (I definitely lose that second battle.) I also have to frequently remind myself not to get too emotional (and sometimes fighty) because that never helps on the internet ... but I do feel so strongly for a lot of people who post, it's hard not to get emotional in response. I had such a drama-free and loving upbringing, with such a functional family, that it hurts me that there's anyone in the world who doesn't have that and I want everyone to have it. I guess that's a big part of what motivates me to answer; I want people to be happy and secure and loved, and I know that's attainable.

I learn a lot from those who came through bad circumstances and brought those lessons out the other side and grew as people from that. I listen/read closely so I can learn from them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:57 AM on August 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, yes, I [heart] PhoBWan as well, she always makes me laugh on top of having great advice. I want to buy you a beer, Pho! Also, don't forget LynNever -- very insightful and reasonable!

I, too, gravitate toward the Human Relations questions though I probably tend toward the "buck up, little camper" mentality. My reasons are similar to others. I am an observer by nature and I do like to help people. My mom was a therapist and we had lots of dinner table discussions in my family about why people do what they do. And I read lots of her books as a kid which has made me into something of an armchair diagnostician. However, I was also a military brat so have lots of experience being the new kid, watching, trying to figure out how to fit in and being a constant outsider or fringe person. Bonus, I have the luck of a dysfunctional family and so I think I really feel empathetic to people that have turmoil in their private lives. It's so hard to open up and get help in a meaningful way. Sometimes just feeling like you've been heard is enough.

For all the grar that sometimes goes on here, I think it's am amazing resource and that's due to the amazing people and the moderators who make it happen.
posted by amanda at 9:58 AM on August 11, 2011

If we ever meet up, I will gladly tip glasses with you, amanda! (seriously, megaflattered that I make you laugh. I used to be the MOST SERIOUS and LEAST FUNNY person ever, so it's always nice to know that I've improved!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:21 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

What Jessamyn says, plus: order responses from positive to negative (whenever possible).
I often feel that the process of editing away one's old axes and grindstones is crucial for finding a better answer, so I don't even stay away from answering axe-alert (for me) questions, I just take time for it. (And sometimes fail, obviously...)
posted by Namlit at 12:48 PM on August 11, 2011

What Zophi said about having lived through some lousy life choices and hoping to save someone else the pain of learning the hard way.

I really coulda used you guys when I was a kid. Glad I am here now:))
posted by jbenben at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: Compassion is free.
Metafilter: Tolerance is a virtue.
Metafilter: This, too, shall pass.
Metafilter: There is no The One.
Metafilter: Love is not enough.
Metafilter: Jealousy is fear of loss.
Metafilter: Boundaries are healthy.
Metafilter: Actions have consequences.
Metafilter: Nobody should keep score.
Metafilter: Ask for what you need.
posted by nevercalm at 1:52 PM on August 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm occasionally tempted to reply to some of the human relations questions. And on the increasingly rare occasions that I do manage to tap out a few words, I find it takes a good half hour of agonising over how exactly I should say whatever came to mind to say. And then, nine times out of ten, I end up just closing the window without posting.

So hats off to all you clever (aforementioned) people who have the knack for answering these things concisely and with compassion and sound thinking. I hope it doesn't take up too much of your day.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:15 PM on August 11, 2011

I avoid AskMe since I don't actually know anything.
posted by jonmc at 6:07 PM on August 11, 2011

Just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to marry them, or stay with them forever.



Just because something is going well doesn't mean you're obligated to continue.

Quitting something that is going well is OK when the alternative is waiting for things to go badly.

Quitting something doesn't invalidate what was good about it.
posted by fake at 7:42 PM on August 11, 2011

I used to be the director of a crisis hotline, so it's pretty much instinct these days.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:04 AM on August 12, 2011

I learned about everything in fake's comment first-hand last year.

It was a fun year.
posted by Eideteker at 10:09 AM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's true for everyone but for me I want to answer life questions because there was a time when I posted desperate problems on the Internet and received unexpected advice and support from strangers that sort of literally saved my life. If my ramblings can return the favor in some small part, then I will keep trying.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:50 AM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

The other thing that I think is so great about relationship AskMe is that the answerers are gender-balanced and are a range of ages. So many places on the internet are total boyzone where you mainly get the perspective of maladjusted youg dudes, or almost completely women. It would have been so nice when I was a teenager to have a place to ask things of a huge number of smart, adult men and women, and it's really nice to have it now.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:18 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

How can it be that nobody has yet mentioned Nattie
posted by foursentences at 4:11 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are so many great unmentioned people, honestly. I almost regret listing off names because every time I go on AskMe, I say "oh, what about them? what about them?" and so forth.
posted by salvia at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2011

« Older Who sent up the bat signal?   |   If you really want the help of parents, maybe... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments