"questions that are not answerable — discussions, debates, opinions — should be closed as subjective"
That's what Good Subjective, Bad Subjective says. And then it goes on to give us 6 guidelines about what makes a great subjective question:
- inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”
- tend to have long, not short, answers
- have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone
- invite sharing experiences over opinions
- insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references
- are more than just mindless social fun
Four of six of these talk about the quality of the answers and not the question. But if we focus on the quality of the answers we end up falling in to a horrible trap -- the root issue is not the answers, it is that the question itself probably wasn't a great subjective question to begin with.
Since becoming a mod, I have been handling flags. As a normal user, I gravitated toward posts that seemed like they would interest me in one way or the other. When you become a mod, you get a feed of places where the community sees problems -- a lot of these are focused on answers.
Thanks to the 'privilege' of being able to focus on a stream of potentially problematic posts, I have a much better grasp on how to avoid the trap that Good Subjective, Bad Subjective can lead users to.
Identifying Bad Subjective Questions
"There are people in this world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that."
- Tom Lehrer
Questions that focus on people are usually bad subjective. They are not answerable, they do not have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone, because they focus on the person the issue is with rather than solving the actual issue itself.
There are two major variations on these questions:
- How do I deal with the fact that I'm awesome and everyone around me sucks?
- How do I deal with this person I work with that I don't like very much/agree with/want to deal with at all?
Both of these types of questions are "questions that are not answerable — discussions, debates, opinions" and they "should be closed as subjective". They are not asking about how to solve a problem. They are looking for a self-help group for commiserating, not a practical, answerable question based on actual problems that you face. They are asking for validation.
Both types of questions tend to ask a question of "How do I get X to do Y?" While this can be a good helpful question to others, often times it is not (1 (10k+ only), 2, 3, 4, etc.). The good questions focus on solving a problem that stems from working with other people in general, while the problematic ones focus on a problematic person in specific. The former are usually lighter on the he said she said explanations, and are easy (for me personally) to relate to my workplace experiences.
In the best interest of the Workplace's value as a resource for people seeking practical answers to answerable questions involving workplace problems, I think these problematic questions ('agony aunt' questions looking for commiseration rather than solutions) need to be discouraged.
The Right Tool for the Job
The closest thing we have to a tool for dealing with these questions is the primarily opinion-based close reason:
Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.
Now in an ideal world, people would connect the dots and figure out that this is exactly the problem with this sort of question. And perhaps in the future it will. But as we grow, we should clearly label this specific type of question as problematic, as it is the biggest source of bad subjective questions right now.
I would like your input to help come up with a method to describe this type of questions to make it clear to both the people asking them, and the people browsing our site, that questions relating to problems with individuals that can't be solved or applied to other situations in other workplaces are not a good fit for our site. My previous attempt (which was not clear enough and not well-received) was as follows:
Questions about how to handle specific interpersonal conflicts are not practical answerable questions. Interpersonal problems should be brought up with your manager or HR department who can actually do something about the person(s) causing them. Please ask questions about solving a practical problem rather than the person causing the problem.
How can we do a better job of expressing this type of problematic question?
Primarily opinion-based would continue to be used for questions that poll for opinion or ask for recommendations, like:
- What is the best font to use in a resume?
- What is the normal amount of vacation days for an IT worker?
- What is the normal per diem for overseas business trips? (etc.)
For clarity, the most up to date revision of this close reason is here.