The Elements of OLD Style: Etiquette in an Instant Message

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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Oct 19, 2014 6:30 am

kath wrote:Nearly - one thought about that exchange is that it really reads like you are the one controlling the conversation, and like you are Studiously Trying to Have a Good Discussion. I can understand that being a little bit formal to some people on OLD, or that they feel like the conversation isn't flowing. I don't think you need to change your questions necessarily, but I think trying to phrase everything more casually might allow you to get at the same info without making the conversation feel weird. This way it feels rigid, and rigid conversational partners are not much fun. You clearly want a very specific response. Would it be helpful for people to suggest phrasing that might come off a bit less rigid? I'm sure a lot of that will be subjective.

This is a pretty good point. I'm really awful at informal speech, at least of the kind one might expect to see in an introductory PM.

OLD messaging always feels really awkward, but acknowledging awkwardness directly feels like such an obvious and cliche move. It'd be like using Maslow's Hierarchy as your "list of things I can't live without" or describing yourself as "funny" in your self-summary. So that's right out.

I don't think I have specific responses planned out for the people I message; I don't love scripts that much (yet). But I do want to get some kind of response indicating investment in either continuing the conversation or moving it toward some kind of meeting. Or, failing that, some kind of definitive refusal to engage, though I realize that's not super likely. A weak reply reads like "try again; see if you can find a topic that might actually interest me." So I tend to jump between subjects in hopes of making that happen.

I dunno, I assume it should be fairly obvious that when I ask about a thing that somebody likes that I don't know about, and relate it to a thing they like that I do know about, I'm not really trying to get information on whether I should in fact give $thing a try. (I never do, after the conversation "fails" and there's no longer any reason to keep knowledge about it.) I'm trying to get her to talk about herself so that we can be talking about something. This is, how you say, flirting? I thought? scratch

According to people who have no reason to be brutally honest with me, I make interesting verbal conversation....
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Post by Guest on Sun Oct 19, 2014 7:37 am

nearly_takuan wrote:A weak reply reads like "try again; see if you can find a topic that might actually interest me." So I tend to jump between subjects in hopes of making that happen.

You may be shooting yourself in the foot with that. From me, weak responses have meant any of the following:

  • I'm having a hard time finding a way to "hook" off your first message.
  • I'm tired and cranky
  • I'm not really that into you yet, but I'm willing to give you a chance to prove me wrong.


In any of those cases, switching to a new topic from my profile isn't going to help. What's going to help is going deeper into the original topic. If you get a general message back about $thing and $other_thing, follow up with a response saying more about them. "That's cool! What I like about $other_thing is blah blah blah, because awesome stuff is fun, and also this other part."

When I start to see energy, instead of polite interest, I respond in kind. Changing topics means I never have time or space to get invested, and it feels a bit like trying to find the on button, instead of having a conversation.

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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Oct 19, 2014 8:58 am

Well, I can't do anything about people doing OLD while cranky, and if I'm unappealing then I'm unappealing. Sounds like the one I can do something about is throwing out more hooks.

I have a hard time finding a "hook". Most people's profiles are...boring. They call themselves funny and say they like making friends and meeting new people. They like music that isn't country/western or rap. They could never do without their job, or their pet, or their family and friends who they love. They spend time thinking about work and spoons. Ha ha, spoons are random. On Fridays they are working, or else they are done working. I should message them if I read their profile and am not an evil oppressor pig and I too have an appreciation for things nobody will admit to having a strong negative opinion about.

Why message someone whose profile sucks that much? Well,
1. If I didn't, the "try three people per week" gimmick would have lasted one week.
2. If I'd had any luck getting dates at all before, I would never have sought advice and my profile would look like that too.
3. My criteria for "should I try to message this person?" amounts to "do their match questions indicate that they fully understand consent?" and "do their match questions and profile settings indicate that they would at least be open to dating someone with my traits?". And that's a pretty harsh filter to put on the pool of users as is.

My hope is that most people simply don't know what they're doing when they make their OLD profiles and they're secretly much less dull than their essays*. But, since there's rarely anything worth talking about in the essays, I don't know what to talk about or how to go "deeper" into a topic I know very little about. Directly asking for opinions sometimes gets an opinion, but I don't know how to further probe for why they hold that opinion without sounding patronizing or annoyed. Or being patronizing and annoyed.

*I could go one further and give people the benefit of the doubt on certain questions, like they just didn't understand what a consent/sex/love/etc question was actually asking from them, but that seems a lot riskier.
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Post by Mel on Sun Oct 19, 2014 9:35 am

I dunno, I think you're already being very flexible by considering profiles that aren't super appealing to you (and I don't think you should bend your standards more than you already are), and maybe you should cut yourself some slack after the initial message or two. I mean, you're going in aware that this person seems kind of boring from their profile, but giving them a chance to show they're not. If they still come across as unengaging after a couple messages, I think you can reasonably conclude that they're just not interesting enough for you to keep talking to and relieve yourself of any need to attempt to continue the conversation.

Though in terms of what Eliza said about going deeper rather than switching topics, here are some examples from your example conversation linked to above, even where the responses are sort of non-responses:

You: You know, I never did get around to trying $thing and now I'm wondering if I should. Is it like $other_thing?
Them: Yeah it's good and I guess it is kind of like $other_thing.
Possible follow-ups: What's your favorite $thing/what sort of $thing would you recommend a newbie try/where's the best place to $thing (etc., phrased better depending on what $thing is)

You: Hey, what made you decide to go into $career, if anything?
Them: For me it was that I was good at $task and I like helping other people.
Possible follow-ups: Asking more about what $career involves/what kind of people they interact with/Got any fun/crazy stories from work (depending on what the work is)/Do you think you're going to continue with $career or do you have a dream job you'd like to aim for when you can/etc.

You: Anything interesting going on?
Them: Not much lol I'm just working part time and watching Netflix.
Possible follow-ups: What are you watching/Seen any good movies or TV shows lately/I just watched $movie or $show, have you seen that and what did you think/etc.

My feeling is if the other person doesn't ask you a single question in the first couple of exchanges, they're not worth continuing to pursue, but it might be worth seeing if you have better luck getting that more involved conversation going if you continue on the same topic. Definitely you're more likely to dig up something that differentiates them from other people if you go "deeper" on the same subject rather than only getting their most immediate (and so most surface level) response to a variety of topics.
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Post by Guest on Sun Oct 19, 2014 9:57 am

nearly_takuan wrote:Well, I can't do anything about people doing OLD while cranky, and if I'm unappealing then I'm unappealing. Sounds like the one I can do something about is throwing out more hooks.

The first is definitely true, but I think you're going too far into my point 3: I didn't say you're unappealing, I said I'm not really that into you (hypothetical you!) yet.

There's this pattern I see people fall into on this forum and DNL all the time, of saying that person X either likes them or dislikes them, finds them appealing or unappealing. But the reality of the world is that only a small percentage of people fall into either category for most people. Mine are VERY small when it comes to men. I find maybe 10-15% of men actively unappealing, usually because they're assholes. And then I find maybe 5% of people actively appealing when it comes to romantic partners. But when I open up to the possibility and give guys a try, I frequently end up liking people a lot more.

The guy at the bar? I have zero feelings about him either way, but I may try him out on a football question and see if he starts looking better. Random OLD profile with some acceptable keywords? Let's see if we can get some energy flowing. Person messages me, and profile looks acceptable? Sure, I'll give it the old college try.

I don't really do chemistry with people until I start to actually do physical things with them. I don't generally find people attractive in a "want to do him" kind of way, only in a "wow, he is very symmetrical and also his hair is combed!" kind of way. Appealing is not a binary on or off state. It's a spectrum.

I'd also add that looking for a new hook is probably going to be less effective than trying to spin new hooks off the old conversation.

But Mel is also right: if after a few tries, she's still not taking that hook, you're perfectly justified in jumping ship.

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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Oct 19, 2014 10:43 am

ElizaJane wrote:
nearly_takuan wrote:Well, I can't do anything about people doing OLD while cranky, and if I'm unappealing then I'm unappealing. Sounds like the one I can do something about is throwing out more hooks.

The first is definitely true, but I think you're going too far into my point 3: I didn't say you're unappealing, I said I'm not really that into you (hypothetical you!) yet.

There's this pattern I see people fall into on this forum and DNL all the time, of saying that person X either likes them or dislikes them, finds them appealing or unappealing.  But the reality of the world is that only a small percentage of people fall into either category for most people.  Mine are VERY small when it comes to men.  I find maybe 10-15% of men actively unappealing, usually because they're assholes.  And then I find maybe 5% of people actively appealing when it comes to romantic partners.  But when I open up to the possibility and give guys a try, I frequently end up liking people a lot more.

All I really mean is without some kind of direction from them on what I'm supposed to be doing to impress them, I'm just gonna keep doing whatever I would normally do. So I can't really know whether I'm in Case 3 or not, and if I am, then I can't tell what on my end should change to correct that (or make it obvious to both of us that I won't be able to). Does that make sense?

And, well, if they're refusing to engage, I kind of have to assume I'm being boring too. I'll cut myself slack when I do something right.
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Post by eselle28 on Sun Oct 19, 2014 2:10 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:Well, I can't do anything about people doing OLD while cranky, and if I'm unappealing then I'm unappealing. Sounds like the one I can do something about is throwing out more hooks.

I have a hard time finding a "hook". Most people's profiles are...boring. They call themselves funny and say they like making friends and meeting new people. They like music that isn't country/western or rap. They could never do without their job, or their pet, or their family and friends who they love. They spend time thinking about work and spoons. Ha ha, spoons are random. On Fridays they are working, or else they are done working. I should message them if I read their profile and am not an evil oppressor pig and I too have an appreciation for things nobody will admit to having a strong negative opinion about.

My hope is that most people simply don't know what they're doing when they make their OLD profiles and they're secretly much less dull than their essays*. But, since there's rarely anything worth talking about in the essays, I don't know what to talk about or how to go "deeper" into a topic I know very little about. Directly asking for opinions sometimes gets an opinion, but I don't know how to further probe for why they hold that opinion without sounding patronizing or annoyed. Or being patronizing and annoyed.

I have some experience both writing to and going on dates with men who profiles of that sort. Obviously people are all individuals and men with boring profiles may not be exactly like women with boring profiles, so take all of this for what it's worth. At least for the men I met, part of the reason their profiles were boring is that they didn't think that the kinds of things people can tell others about themselves in a profile (tastes, subculture alignments, unusual values, sense of humor expressed through writing) are very important to choosing a partner. Rather, they're looking to meet women who they find physically attractive and who they have interpersonal chemistry with. The stuff that comes before the actual date is kind of a means to an end rather than something closer to flirting.

If you want to make conversation with their female equivalents, I'd suggest going more immediate rather than deeper. Not everyone actually thinks deeply about why they like the things they do, or enjoys conversations along those lines. And, really, that's okay, although it's hard for people with geeky inclinations to grasp because so much of geekery is tied up in that. I did a lot better with men with profiles of that sort when I asked them to tell me about their days at work, or their last vacation, or what the last concert they went to was, or how long they've had their dogs. Those kinds of questions resulted in fairly interesting stories a good percentage of the time, which led to things that could be joked about, which resulted in dates that were reasonably entertaining. Ultimately, I do want a partner who thinks about the things he enjoys more deeply and generally don't bother with these sorts of profiles unless I'm looking for something very casual of very limited duration, but you might find it helpful to do the same if you'd like to get to know some women with dull profiles as well.
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Post by kath on Mon Oct 20, 2014 12:47 pm

Well you can't really know whether you're boring, they're boring, or what, so no reason to assume either that you are horribly boring or they are horribly boring, just that it's not working and there's no reason to force something that's going nowhere fast.

If you don't mind I'm going to annotate the example convo you posted to give you an idea of the sort of squishy aspects that might be there.

Hi, nice to meet you. You know, I never did get around to trying $thing and now I'm wondering if I should. Is it like $other_thing? Can't stay long just now, but I'd love to read more about what you like about it some time.
Yeah it's good and I guess it is kind of like $other_thing.

Here, I think maybe seeming a little more excited might work. It's perfectly polite, and you're certainly asking respectful, well researched questions, but it's pretty perfunctory information gathering. Also I think you could deal with the having-to-leave thing a bit differently - no real reason to put a lot of thought into something that the other person isn't going to stick around for when it seems like they are just asking for the sake of asking. I know you said you aren't really asking to get the information, but when you are asking very info-based questions, but they seem really perfunctory, and you know it's a dating exchange, the other person can tell you don't care that much but that you also don't seem super into the conversation so their response might be like "well I guess I'll sort of answer?"

Would something like this feel genuine to you?:

Hey! I wanted to ask - I thought about trying $thing because $reasons, but I never did get around to it. What's the best thing about it? I hear it was like $other_thing and I like that - did you find them similar?

Re: having to go ... is this IM service always immediately back-and-forth, or could you just rely on the realities of asynchronous communication?

Well, that's good to know. Maybe I will check it out after all, then. Hey, what made you decide to go into $career, if anything? I'd have to admit I kind of just fell into mine, but I usually like it pretty well so I guess it worked out.

One thing is that this response to whatever they said is on par with the engagement level of whatever they just said, so it's not going to help with making them more engaged. You sound like "Great, you gave a correct answer, we can move on," and don't give the impression that it's actually good to know. If you make that a bit more specific to whatever you were actually talking about (which maybe you do in an actual conversation), and possibly use that as a chance to go deeper, I think that would help take away the formal veneer. I also think you don't always need to give the story about you after the question - you could use that as a follow up. That might also make the whole thing seem more engaged. Instead, you can say "Hey, what made you decide to go into $career? I've always wondered about $an_aspect of it [or, $that_aspect of the career seems very challenging].

That certainly seems like a good way to accomplish that. So, I guess things must have been pretty busy lately. Anything interesting going on?
I don't think "That certainly seems like a good way to accomplish that" sounds very sincere, but again this might be down to the example conversation. Even if they say something like "Helping people" is the reason and you are finding that very generic, it might be paired with a profession you don't find super helpful, so you could ask about what's important to them about helping people in whatever way they do, or how their day was, or projects they have on the go, how long they've been in their industry, how they find their industry, etc.

With "Anything interesting going on" - I hate answering that question, and I usually have a project that I can talk about that is fairly interesting. If they don't have anything fairly interesting going on, it's like "well great, I have no good answers this, better pepper in some lols so I communicate that I know my life sounds awful on paper." If you think you might want to meet them and see if they are better conversationalists in person, just ask that now. If you want to make more conversation over instant message, I would see if you can ask them something going more in depth about their job or one of their hobbies - "Where was your last trip?" type questions.

Hey I started seeing someone, [sic] but we can chat some more if that's okay, [sic] if you don't want to I'll understand.
Just want to ask - what in particular are you referring to with the [sic]s?
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Post by nearly_takuan on Tue Oct 21, 2014 2:05 am

kath wrote:If you don't mind I'm going to annotate the example convo you posted to give you an idea of the sort of squishy aspects that might be there.

(snip)

Here, I think maybe seeming a little more excited might work. It's perfectly polite, and you're certainly asking respectful, well researched questions, but it's pretty perfunctory information gathering. Also I think you could deal with the having-to-leave thing a bit differently - no real reason to put a lot of thought into something that the other person isn't going to stick around for when it seems like they are just asking for the sake of asking. I know you said you aren't really asking to get the information, but when you are asking very info-based questions, but they seem really perfunctory, and you know it's a dating exchange, the other person can tell you don't care that much but that you also don't seem super into the conversation so their response might be like "well I guess I'll sort of answer?"

Would something like this feel genuine to you?:

Hey! I wanted to ask - I thought about trying $thing because $reasons, but I never did get around to it. What's the best thing about it? I hear it was like $other_thing and I like that - did you find them similar?

Ah, thanks—that sort of thing does seem likely to sound better. I was having trouble coming up with what "less formal" looks like. Heh.

kath wrote:Re: having to go ... is this IM service always immediately back-and-forth, or could you just rely on the realities of asynchronous communication?

That's something I'm not totally sure of. (And of course I don't say anything like that if I don't have somewhere to be...but usually by the time I've gotten around to writing something, I've spent too much time online already.) I have seen people immediately reply and then assume the worst when they don't get another immediate reply, though, so I started to think I had to reassure people that it's not Meaningful if it takes me another day or two to reply to a reply.

kath wrote:One thing is that this response to whatever they said is on par with the engagement level of whatever they just said, so it's not going to help with making them more engaged. You sound like "Great, you gave a correct answer, we can move on," and don't give the impression that it's actually good to know.
I guess I give the impression that I'm disappointed. Which is accurate, but you're right, not necessarily helping my own case. Razz

kath wrote:If you make that a bit more specific to whatever you were actually talking about (which maybe you do in an actual conversation), and possibly use that as a chance to go deeper, I think that would help take away the formal veneer. I also think you don't always need to give the story about you after the question - you could use that as a follow up. That might also make the whole thing seem more engaged. Instead, you can say "Hey, what made you decide to go into $career? I've always wondered about $an_aspect of it [or, $that_aspect of the career seems very challenging].
Another bad habit, and possibly sign of demanding/arrogant attitude? I dunno, I always kind of hate when people reciprocate a question by asking the exact same question back and refuse (or, I guess, just don't know how) to help move a conversation forward, and that leads me to preemptively answer questions as I ask them. I thought what I was doing was offering them multiple solutions (volunteer an interesting answer, or ask an interesting question) but I can sort of see how that's actually more limiting than focusing on making one thing more open-ended.

kath wrote:Hey I started seeing someone, [sic] but we can chat some more if that's okay, [sic] if you don't want to I'll understand.
Just want to ask - what in particular are you referring to with the [sic]s?
The commas. I know it's kind of judge-y to snark about other people's grammatical errors; just kind of feels like the salmonella-infested icing on the poop cake. And the commas thing is fairly common, especially after a conversation degenerates into lols and who cares.
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Post by kath on Tue Oct 21, 2014 2:19 am

Eh, I'm not to worried about it as a sign of deeper character flaws, just that it might cramp your online conversational style Razz.

That open-ended question thing was something that jumped out at me. The questions you ask seem to be very open ended - the answers aren't yes or no - but in reality, they aren't. The answers have to fit a pretty specific format and scope to satisfy the question, and they don't invite riffs or tangents. One of my colleagues did some training with teachers about asking good questions that was specifically focused on that. In this case, it was asking questions as a facilitator in a learning experience without steamrolling the learner, but it might apply. I'll see if I can get any of her resources and if she's OK with me sharing them.

However, you've expressed being irritated with how people respond and with their perceived unwillingness or inability to be better at the conversation. When paired with the dig about the incorrect comma use, it seems like you go into these message exchanges with a pretty down attitude (or that you adopt that attitude when the first response isn't what you want, even though the form of the conversation may contribute to that). As that's the case, I think it might be best to just call it a day when you start to feel that way. Sure, they might be capable of having a more engaged conversation if you can phrase the questions just right, but if they have to be very skilled conversationalists themselves to make it feel worth your time, why keep at something that seems to just engender dislike and judgmental thoughts?
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Post by nearly_takuan on Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:40 pm

I can go grab some of the particular quotes I'm thinking of later, when I'm on a computer, but the discussion of "challenging" questions has come up in a few places recently. What kinds of things characterize an open-ended question vs. one that demands that people "prove" themselves?

In particular, I'm thinking of the goblins question that came up on Paging. To me, it seems like that is a question that would not move the conversation along very much unless the person on the receiving end made up a clever/creative answer. But it seems like that was regarded as a good sample question, not a pressuring or challenging one. So, er, what's the difference?
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Post by KMR on Tue Nov 18, 2014 10:03 pm

I would define an open-ended question as one that's more likely to elicit a response of at least a few sentences, as opposed to one that could be answered in just one word. Closed-ended questions would be things like yes/no questions ("Have you seen [movie] yet?"), questions with a pre-existing set of choices ("Which do you like better, the book or the movie?"), or questions that seem like they have a lot of potential options but still can be answered in as little as one word ("What's your favorite movie?"). Closed-ended questions don't necessarily have to be avoided, as they can be helpful too, but they shouldn't be the only questions you ask. One strategy is to ask a closed-ended question with an open-ended question as a follow-up. The easiest is to just add "why?" For instance, "What is your favorite movie, and why?"

Questions that demand people prove themselves are typically ones that require some kind of background knowledge to really answer, be it academic knowledge or familiarity with some work of media. If you know that the person has familiarity with something because they explicitly mention it on their profile, this can work out okay. In general, though, it's probably better to stick to questions about people's opinions, interests, and personal tastes, because those can be answered by anyone.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:26 pm

embertine wrote:
thathat wrote:
nearly_takuan wrote:That is the general direction I generally attempt to take my messages in, yeah. I'm attempting to teach myself how to do open ended questions better, though, both in the sense of being actually open ended and in the sense of not making it look like an SAT writing prompt. (The former is harder after some experience GMing, as I've developed a habit of asking questions that allow for interesting-sounding responses but really only present a couple of possible options when you look more closely.)
I think you should just ask them a standard GM question then. "You find yourself in the Cave of Sorrows surrounded by five goblin scouts. What do you do?"
I have no idea what the context of that question is but I would respond to that message.

I break out the Trivial Pursuit. This goes over well with the goblins (who love board games), until they start bickering over who gets to have the pink cheese. They end up murdering each other, at which point I loot them for weapons and leave.

I guess what I'm worried about is that the person I'm messaging might not be willing to put in as much work answering the question as embertine did.

Is it really common for people to make a distinction between "what's your favorite movie?" and "what's your favorite movie, and why?"? I'm still having some trouble understanding what makes those questions different....to the point where if I got the one-word answer on the former, I'd probably assume they didn't want to talk about why and not bother following up.
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Post by eselle28 on Tue Nov 18, 2014 11:50 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:
I guess what I'm worried about is that the person I'm messaging might not be willing to put in as much work answering the question as embertine did.

Is it really common for people to make a distinction between "what's your favorite movie?" and "what's your favorite movie, and why?"? I'm still having some trouble understanding what makes those questions different....to the point where if I got the one-word answer on the former, I'd probably assume they didn't want to talk about why and not bother following up.

I think the difference is that the second question includes a prompt for people who are a bit conversationally dense. That's the piece that I think sometimes gets left out when people give advice on dating and conversation - sometimes the person you're talking to isn't any good at this either. As someone who's occasionally gone out with people who have boring profiles, I would say that one of the common threads is that these people tend to be particularly bad about picking up written cues and expressing themselves in writing in general (when it comes to in person interactions, I'd say roughly half of them were very good at communicating and the other half seem to struggle with conversation in any form). If you want to write to these folks, being a bit more explicit with your questions might help the conversation along.
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