There's a particular kind of widespread human behavior that is kind on the surface, but upon closer inspection reveals quite the opposite. This post is about four such patterns.

 

Computational Kindness

One of the most useful ideas I got out of Algorithms to Live By is that of computational kindness. I was quite surprised to only find a single mention of the term on lesswrong. So now there's two.

Computational kindness is the antidote to a common situation: imagine a friend from a different country is visiting and will stay with you for a while. You're exchanging some text messages beforehand in order to figure out how to spend your time together. You want to show your friend the city, and you want to be very accommodating and make sure all their preferences will be met. So you simply ask them: "What do you want to do"? And maybe you add "I'm completely fine with anything!" to ensure you're really introducing no constraints whatsoever and you two can do exactly what your friend desires.

People often act like this, and they tend to assume they're doing the other person a favor by being so open and flexible. After all, this way the other person will have to make no trade-offs and can spend their time exactly as they please. The problem with this however is that it's computationally unkind: it offloads all the effort of coming up with ideas and making decisions to the other person. So while it is kind on one level (respecting their object level preferences), it's unkind on another (effort, and respecting their possible meta level preferences about the planning process). And particularly if the friend's preferences about what exactly to do are not that strong, it now gives them a difficult and uncertain task for very little payoff.

So what's the computationally kind way of approaching this situation? You could name a (not too long) list of concrete proposals of how you could spend your time. If you know the person really well, you could suggest a full-fledged plan. If you don't know them that well, you could ask a few clarifying questions about their general preferences and then come up with a plan. And on top of this (rather than instead of it) you can make sure to point out that you're open to anything and are happy to change plans in any way. This way, the other person can decide themselves how much cognitive effort to invest. They can just say "yes" to your proposal, or can suggest some adjustments, or even come up with an entirely new plan if they really want to go that far.

Responsibility Offloading[1]

A somewhat similar pattern to computational kindness is that of offloading responsibility. Imagine Alice and Bob, two friends who are just getting to know each other better, are hanging out at Alice's place. It's getting late, but they're having a fun time. Bob is unsure about whether and when Alice wants him to leave, but he's fine with staying much longer. So he playfully says "By the way - feel free to throw me out any time! I've got tomorrow off, so am flexible, but just let me know when you've had enough of me".

Sometimes this is indeed a good move. Particularly when Bob knows that Alice is an assertive person who doesn't shy away from stating her preferences. But there are cases where this puts a big burden on Alice. Imagine Alice is generally rather insecure and indecisive. She now has to feel solely responsible for terminating the hangout. This is now something on her plate that she has to think about and decide, and communicate to Bob eventually in a non-offensive way. There are Alices out there who would be rather stressed out by this, and who would prefer Bob to carry that responsibility, or to have the two of them figure it out together. And there are Bobs out there who have no idea that some Alices may feel that way, and these Bobs may think that saying "Throw me out any time!" is the kind thing to say, blind to the drawbacks this comes with.

A related situation I've encountered quite a few times is this: I'm hanging out with some people, and one of them pulls out a pack of cigarettes and casually asks into the round "do you mind if I smoke?". My honest answer in such situations is that I mind a lot and have a really strong preference for people in a 10m radius around me not to smoke. But when I'm put on the spot to now basically decide whether the other person can do the thing they happen to want to do, or to put in my veto and hence prevent them from doing so, I'm much more inclined to go with the socially so much easier option of saying "I don't mind", at which point they're happily out of the equation because it's now fully my responsibility to deal with being in a situation I don't want to be in, and I can't even blame them for it.

I assume some people would now counter that it really is my problem if I'm too shy/careful/afraid/whatever to just say what I want to anyone anytime. Ask culture would be strongly in favor of the cigarette question, and probably of responsibility offloading in general, as technically this makes sense, is very explicit, avoids ambiguity and creates common knowledge within a group of people about where a certain responsibility lies. These are certainly real advantages! But it's also the case that this type of responsibility offloading tends to come at a cost for people with certain personalities, or people of (self-perceived) lower status in a given setting.

So what can we do about it? I think there's several options:

  • When asking for something, go out of your way to make extremely clear (beforehand, not after a person has already answered; see next section) that a no is perfectly fine and really comes at no risk to the other person.
  • Instead of flatly offloading responsibility the "throw me out whenever" way, invite the other person to discuss the modalities of the question together, by e.g. raising the question of when you should leave and then figuring out together what factors this depends on and how you want to make that decision.
  • An approach that may not be well received in all social circles, but probably in those closer to LessWrong, is to not ask binary questions such as "is it fine if I smoke a cigarette?" but rather quantitative ones such as "on a scale of 0 to 10, how irritated would you be if I smoked a cigarette now?". Ideally you would think of a threshold beforehand that would be acceptable to you. Probably the actually kind threshold here would even be 0. But even if you, being the utilitarian that you probably are, have a higher threshold, and somebody answers "3" and you decide that this level of irritation is acceptable in exchange for the utility you yourself get out of smoking: at least there's now shared knowledge about the other person being mildly bothered by your actions, arguably even doing you a favor by enduring your smoking, which is much fairer than them having to secretly suffer in silence.

Opt-In vs Opt-Out

The distinction between opt-in and opt-out is quite well known from nudging and choice architecture. The idea is that when people make some decision, e.g. have to set a checkbox in a form, many of them will stick to the default (whatever it is) instead of deciding on the other option. This phenomenon is usually discussed in policy contexts or group decision-making, but it's also present in close-up social settings.

Imagine that Arthur and Beth are both attending an event that is a bit further away. Arthur is planning to go there by car and invites Beth to join him. After their return, Beth expresses her gratitude and asks one of two questions:

  1. "Do you want me to cover some of the fuel cost?"
  2. "How much do I owe you for fuel?"

These two phrasings are pretty close to opt-in (1) and opt-out (2). The first question suggests that the default is that Beth was taken along for free, but if Arthur prefers to be compensated then Beth would be willing to pay him for the ride. The second question takes as a given that Beth will pay for the ride, and simply tries to clarify what amount would be reasonable.

In this case, the second option is much kinder to Arthur. In case Arthur does want compensation, he can very easily state the number. In case he doesn't, he can still say "Oh no, I'm happy to take you for free!", which gives him some kindness credit.

The first question on the other hand implies that the normal response for Arthur would be to not require any money from Beth. So if he says "no it's fine", he doesn't get any money, nor any social credit for being nice, because he's just doing what's normal and apparently expected. And if he does want some compensation, this implies he's stingy and unkind. One could go as far as saying Beth here claims the kindness credit to herself, by offering payment even though that would not be the expected thing to do.

Note that this says nothing about Beth's actual intentions. I'm sure people with the best intentions frequently ask opt-in-style questions in such cases even though they really would be perfectly fine with compensating the other person. But it's still important to be aware of the implications of the phrasing one chooses, and that it may affect the other person's response.

The Fake Exit Option[1]

Here's a situation I found myself in at an event of my EA local group a few months back: I was facilitating a giving game[2] with ~6 other people. Originally I was planning to provide the funding for it myself, but it turned out that a few of the present people were happy to add some money to the donation pool spontaneously. This then organically turned to one person after another stating if / how much money they would like to add. One of the attendees was pretty new to the group, and when it was their turn, I noticed that this was really not an ideal situation: it's certainly possible they experienced some pressure to follow the apparent standard of adding some money to the pool, and probably an amount similar to what the other people went with, even if they may have actually felt rather uncertain about it, or generally would have preferred to not spontaneously have any unplanned expenses that evening. Of course nobody would have minded at all if they had simply said "no I'd rather not add money to the pool" (in a way I would have even preferred that), but they had no way of knowing that for sure. So before I had really processed the whole situation, that new person had already agreed to provide a not so trivial amount of money.

Now, at that point, I could have said something like the following: "Ah, wait a second. It's really amazing that you're willing to add some money as well! But I notice that the situation maybe wasn't ideal and you maybe felt a bit pressured into it, because all the other people were giving money as well. I just really want to point out that it's completely fine for you to keep your money, it's no problem at all!" - but this would be what I'd call a "fake exit option": I'm technically offering this person the option to revise their decision now. But I'd argue that the vast majority of people, even those who did make the decision out of pressure and who may already regret said decision, would not change their decision at that point. And the reason is simply that changing your mind after such a statement would seem really embarrassing. You would basically acknowledge that "yes, I did make that original decision only because I felt some pressure to conform, and actually I wanted something else, but I was too scared to reveal my true preferences. But now that I have your permission to decide in a different way, I will do so". I would argue that the type of person who would be willing to admit such a thing is precisely the kind of person who would not succumb to the initial pressure to begin with.

So at first the person made a decision under pressure and maybe decided differently than they would upon reflection. But by then pointing this out and asking if they really want to make that decision, you in a way force them into committing to their original decision even more, and publicly and explicitly so. On the surface, asking them for confirmation this way and allowing them to change their mind seems like the kind thing to do. But in practice you just make the person own their initial decision, while once again shifting the responsibility for this whole situation fully to them.

So what can we do? What would a "real" exit option look like? It's hard to say, and very much depends on the concrete situation and people involved. Ideally you would think ahead far enough to avoid ending up in such situations to begin with. If it does happen anyway, some sensible things might be:

  • Talk it through with the person in private rather than in front of a bigger group, which reduces the social cost of them changing their mind.
  • Suggest a time-out, and ask them to postpone that decision for some time, to ensure they have more time to reflect (and to maybe even come up with an "excuse" that allows them to revoke their decision without losing face).
  • Possibly make the decision for them, e.g. in the scenario above I could have said "Oh it's really great you want to add money to the pool! But I notice that this was really spontaneous, and all the others knew ahead of time that this was coming as they've participated in giving games before; so I wouldn't feel so comfortable taking money from you right now." (and then probably talk to them again after the event and apologize for the mildly awkward situation) - on the other hand, some people might find that patronizing and a bit stupid.
  • Talk to the person later, e.g. the day after, to allow them to reverse their decision. Ideally giving them some time to think it through, rather than asking for a response in person on the spot.

Isn't This Just Overcomplicating Things?

This post certainly has a bit of a "you shouldn't do all these things" vibe. But maybe taking so many ifs and buts into account just makes you a hopeless overthinker who never spontaneously communicates anything because there's always some risk that what you say or ask may make people uncomfortable.

The degree to which one should[3] keep such risks in mind surely varies a lot. It depends on questions such as whether you want to be "kind" to the people you interact with, on your role in different interactions, and on your own predisposition to occasionally experience the downside of such behaviors from others. If for instance you've often been inadvertently pressured into decisions and didn't feel comfortable to stand up for your preferences, then you're probably more aware of this issue in your own communication. But a lot of people, a lot of the time, don't consciously notice these patterns, so we keep bumping into them blindly, which is not a great situation to be in[4].

  1. ^

    As I didn't find any established term for the concept, I made one up.

  2. ^

    "Giving game" means that we had a certain amount of money available to donate, and wanted to collectively decide which charitable organizations to donate this money to. This was one half of an evening event, so took something like 1-2 hours.

  3. ^

    Although in the end this post is not meant to be normative and not meant to make any such should-claims. Rather it is about describing some not so obvious complexities of social interactions in order to make them easier to recognize, and thereby prevent (if so desired).

  4. ^

    Particularly for those of us who are involved in any kind of community building.

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26 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 3:25 AM
[-]Liron1mo286

So you simply ask them: "What do you want to do"? And maybe you add "I'm completely fine with anything!" to ensure you're really introducing no constraints whatsoever and you two can do exactly what your friend desires.

This error reminds me of people on a dating app who kill the conversation by texting something like "How's your week going?"

When texting on a dating app, if you want to keep the conversation flowing nicely instead of getting awkward/strained responses or nothing, I believe the key is to anticipate that a couple seconds of low-effort processing on the recipient's part will allow them to start typing their response to your message.

"How's your week going?" is highly cognitively straining. Responding to it requires remembering and selecting info about one's week (or one's feelings about one's week), and then filtering or modifying the selection so as to make one sound like an interesting conversationalist rather than an undifferentiated bore, while also worrying that one's selection about how to answer doesn't implicitly reveal them as being too eager to brag, or complain, or obsess about a particular topic.

You can be "conversationally generous" by intentionally pre-computing some of their cognitive work, i.e. narrowing the search space. For instance:

"I'm gonna try cooking myself 3 eggs/day for lunch so I don't go crazy on DoorDash. How would you cook them if you were me?"

With a text like this (ideally adjusted to your actual life context), they don't have to start by narrowing down a huge space of possible responses. They can immediately just ask themselves how they'd go about cooking an egg. And they also have some context of "where the conversation is going": it's about your own lifestyle. So it's not just two people interviewing each other, it has this natural motion/momentum.

Using this computational kindness technique is admittedly kind of contrived on your end, but on their end, it just feels effortless and serendipitous. For naturally contrived nerds like myself looking for a way to convert IQ points into social skills, it's a good trade.

The computational kindness principle in these conversations works much like the rule of improv that says you're supposed to introduce specific elements to the scene ("My little brown poodle is digging for his bone") rather than prompting your scene partners to do the cognitive work ("What's that over there?").

Oh and all this is not just a random piece of advice, it's yet another Specificity Power.

Hmm, I think people have occasionally asked me "how's your week going" on dating apps and I've liked it overall - I'm pretty sure I'd prefer it over your suggested alternative! No doubt to a large extent because I suck at cooking and wouldn't know what to say. Whereas a more open-ended question feels better: I can just ramble a bunch of things that happen to be on my mind and then go "how about yourself?" and then it's enough for either of our rambles to contain just one thing that the other party might find interesting.

It feels like your proposed question is a high-variance startegy: if you happen to find a question that the other person finds easy and interesting to answer, then the conversation can go really well. But if they don't like the direction you're offering, then it'd have been better to say something that would have given them more control over the direction.

Context is a huge factor in all these communications tips. The scenario I'm optimizing for is when you're texting someone who has a lot of options, and you think it's high expected value to get them to invest in a date with you, but the most likely way that won't happen is if they hesitate to reply to you and tap away to something else. That's not always the actual scenario though.

Imagine you're the recipient, and the person who's texting you met your minimum standard to match with, but is still a-priori probably not worth your time and effort going on a date with, because their expected attractiveness+compatibility score is too low, though you haven't investigated enough to be confident yet. (This is a common epistemic state of e.g. a woman with attractive pics on a dating app that has more male users.)

Maybe the first match who asks you "how's your week going" feels like a nice opportunity to ramble how you feel, and a nice sign that someone out there cares. But if that happens enough on an app, and the average date-worthiness of the people that it happens with is low, then the next person who sends it doesn't make you want to ramble anymore. Because you know from experience that rambling into a momentumless conversation will just lead it to stagnate in its next momentumless point. 

It's nice when people care about you, but it quickly gets not so nice when a bunch of people with questionable date-appeal are trying to trade a cheap care signal for your scarce attention and dating resources.

If the person sending you the message has already distinguished themselves to you as "dateworthy", e.g. by having one of the best pics and/or profile in your judgment, then "How's your week going" will be a perfectly adequate message from them; in some cases maybe even an optimal message. You can just build rapport and check for basic red flags, then set up a date.

But if you're not sold on the other person being dateworthy, and they start out from a lower-leverage position in the sense that they initially consider you more dateworthy than you consider them, then they better send a message that somehow adds value to you, to help them climb the dateworthiness gap.

But again, context is always the biggest factor, and context has a lot of detail. E.g. if you don't consider someone dateworthy, but you're in a scenario where someone just making conversation with you is adding value to you (e.g. not a ton of matches demanding your attention using the same unoriginal rapport-building gambit), then "How's it going" can work great.

This is actually the default context if you're brave enough to approach strangers you want to date in meatspace. The stranger can be much more physically attractive or higher initially-perceived dating market value than you. Yet just implicitly signaling your social confidence through boldness, body language, and friendly/fun way of speaking and acting, raises your dateworthiness significantly, and the real-world-interaction modality doesn't have much competition these days, so the content of the conversation that leads up to a date can be super normal smalltalk like "How's it going".

Bonus points in a dating context: by being specific and authentic you drive away people who won't be compatible. In the egg example, even if the second party knows nothing about the topic, they can continue the conversation with "I can barely boil water, so I always take a frozen meal in to work" or "I don't like eggs, but I keep pb&j at my desk" or just swipe left and move on to the next match.

Can confirm, I also didn't have good experience with open-ended questions on dating apps. I get more responses with binary choice questions that invite elaboration, e.g. "Are you living here or just visiting?" and "How was your Friday night, did you go out or stay in?".

Outside of dating, another example that comes to my mind are questions like "What's your favorite movie?". I now avoid the "what's your favorite" questions because they require the respondent to assess their entire life history and make a revealing choice as if I'm giving them a personality test – not everyone is prepared and vulnerable enough to do that. It's also impossible to decline to answer without coming along as impolite ("I'm not telling you") or unsophisticated ("I don't really have a favorite"). 

Instead, I ask "Did you watch any interesting movies recently?", and sometimes add a justification for the question that lowers the stakes ("I'm looking for something new to watch"). This allows the respondent to either answer something their memory readily gives them right away, or simply answer "Not really", in which case I might reply with something I've seen recently and recommend it.

Yeah nice. A statement like "I'm looking for something new to watch" lowers the stakes by making the interaction more like what friends talk about rather than about an interview for a life partner, increasing the probability that they'll respond rather than pausing for a second and ending up tapping away.

You can do even more than just lowering the stakes if you inject a sense that you're subconsciously using the next couple conversation moves to draw out evidence about the conversation partner, because you're naturally perceptive and have various standards and ideas about people you like to date, and you like to get a sense of who the other person is.

If done well, this builds a curious sense that the question is a bit more than just making formulaic conversation, but somehow has momentum to it. The best motivation for someone to keep talking to you on a dating app is if they feel they're being seen by a savvy evaluator who will reflect back a valuable perspective about them. The person talking to you can then be subconsciously thinking about how attractive/interesting/unique/etc they are (an engaging experience). Also, everyone wants to feel like they're maximizing their potential by finding someone to date who's in the upper range of their "league", and there are ways to engage in conversation that are more consistent with that ideal.

IMO the best type of conversation to have after a few opening back&forths, is to get them talking about something they find engaging, which is generally also something that reflects them in a good light, which makes it fun and engaging for them while also putting you in a position to give a type of casual "feedback", ultimately leading up to a statement of interest which shows them why you're not just another random match but rather someone they have more reason to meet and not flake on. Your movie question could be a good start toward discovering something like that, but probably not an example of that unless they're a big movie person.

I'd try to look at their profile to clues of something they do in their life where they make an effort that someone ought to notice and appreciate, and get em talking about that.

Those are just some thoughts I have about how to distinguish yourself in the middle part of the conversation between opening interest and asking them on a date.

I notice that this is a standard pattern I use and had forgotten how non-obvious it is, since you do have to imagine yourself in someone else's perspective. If you're a man dating women on dating apps, you also have to imagine a very different perspective than your own - women tend to have many more options of significantly lower average quality. It's unlikely you'd imagine yourself giving up on a conversation because it required mild effort to continue, since you have less of them in the first place and invest more effort in each one.

The level above that one, by the way, is going from being "easy to respond to" to "actively intriguing", where your messages contain some sort of hook that is not only an easy conversation-continuer, but actually wants them to either find out more (because you're interesting) or keep talking (because the topic is interesting)

Worth noting is I don't have enough samples of this strategy to know how good it is. However, it is also worth noting is I don't have enough samples because I wound up saturated on new relationships a couple weeks shortly after starting this strategy, so for a small n it was definitely quite useful.

Forget where I read it, but this Idea seems similar. When responding to a request, being upfront about your boundaries or constraints feels intense but can be helpful for both parties. If Bob asks Alice to help him move, and Alice responds "sure thing" that leaves the interaction open to miscommunication. But if instead Alice says, " yeah! I am available 1pm to 5pm and my neck has been bothering me so no heavy lifting for me!" Although that's seems like less of a kind response Bob now doesn't have to guess at Alice's constraints and can comfortably move forward without feeling the need to tiptoe around how long and to what degree Alice can help.

This is an extremely relatable post, in both ways. I often find myself on the other side of the these interactions too and not knowing how to label and describe my awareness of what's happening without coming across as Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm.

I really liked this post! I will probably link to it in the future.

Edit: Just came to my mind that these are things I tend to think of under the heading "considerateness" rather than kindness, but it's something I really appreciate in people either way (and the concepts are definitely linked). 

Just came to my mind that these are things I tend to think of under the heading "considerateness" rather than kindness

Guess I'd agree. Maybe I was anchored a bit here by the existing term of computational kindness. :)

Thanks for writing this post, I really liked it!

Due to the high upvotes, I figure it has a decent chance to feature in the LW Review for 2024, so I figured I'd make some typo & edit suggestions. Feel free to ignore.

An approach that may not be well received in all social circles, but probably in those closer to lesswrong, is -> An approach that may not be well received in all social circles, but probably is well received in those closer to LessWrong, is [I feel like an "is" is missing in the middle, but this edit makes the sentence a bit awkward due to the "lesswrong, is" follow-up]

in exchange for the utility you get out of it yourself -> in exchange for the utility you yourself get out of smoking

The idea is that when when people make some decision -> The idea is that when when people make some decision

instead of deciding for the other option. -> instead of deciding on the other option.

even though that would not be expected thing to do. -> even though that would not be the expected thing to do.

opt-in style questions -> opt-in-style questions

Although in the end this post is not meant to be normative and make any such should-claims. -> Although in the end this post is not meant to be normative and not meant to make any such should-claims.

Thanks a lot! Appreciated, I've adjusted the post accordingly.

imagine a friend from a different country is visiting and will stay with you for a while. You're exchanging some text messages beforehand in order to figure out how to spend your time together. You want to show your friend the city, and you want to be very accommodating and make sure all their preferences will be met. So you simply ask them: "What do you want to do"? And maybe you add "I'm completely fine with anything!" to ensure you're really introducing no constraints whatsoever and you two can do exactly what your friend desires.

An additional angle on situations like this: Your friend may be hoping to choose something that's positively enjoyable for you.  Saying "I'm completely fine with anything" may not meet that bar, and doesn't give any hints as to what would.  To illustrate directly, compare "There are ten restaurants nearby and I'm fine with any of them" vs "There are ten restaurants nearby, I've been to them all and I love them all".  I think there are people who would respond to the second with "Great, I'll look them up and pick my favorite" and would find the first frustrating (and may respond by probing, "Well, are there any that you particularly like?"  [And if you really don't care about food, then their hope to find a restaurant you enjoy is destined for frustration.]).

In this case there's also the aspect that, since you live there (likely for some years) and they're from another country, you likely know a lot more about the local offerings than they do (not guaranteed—perhaps you're an ascetic who doesn't explore such things and they're a tourist who has researched your town—but likely), so in a division-of-labor sense it's likely appropriate for you to volunteer info first.

That second aspect is indeed about the pure computational problem.  The first aspect is a combination of the computation/search problem and an emotional negotiation element.

There seems to be one particular situation that gets on my nerves and fits into this category. It goes something like these two ways: 1) at the end of an event, everyone is asked unexpectedly to make a short speech about the success of the event, or 2) in the middle of the event, everyone is abruptly expected to produce some creative output. Number two is, of course, worse, and can make the whole event a complete hell for half the participants. Number one is just annoying. Perhaps it would be better to ask if anyone has anything to add at the end, so that we can hear from the few people who really have something to add? Usually, however, this is resolved by practically everyone saying meaningless trivia in a couple of sentences. Even though many people can feel okay with their own triviality, others feel embarrassed that they had nothing meaningful or witty to say and that they therefore wasted people's time.

Really love this post. Thanks for writing it!

What you say doesn't matter as much as what the other person hears. If I were the other person, I would probably wonder why you would add epicycles, and kindness would be just one possible explanation.

Fair point. Maybe if I knew you personally I would take you to be the kind of person that doesn't need such careful communication, and hence I would not act in that way. But even besides that, one could make the point that your wondering about my communication style is still a better outcome than somebody else being put into an uncomfortable situation against their will.

I should also note I generally have less confidence in my proposed mitigation strategies than in the phenomena themselves. 

I kind of agree. And I probably do like a more confrontational approach than you do. (A tangent. I have deliberately put strangers into situations that were really uncomfortable for everybody, within the boundaries of 1) law and 2) common sense. Nobody was there for honest discourse. I was there for the thrill, they were there for the money. It was interesting, though, how we all still respected some lines in the sand without having to name them, like "give a warning for the first offence" or "go for the camera and not for the eyes".)

People often act like this, and they tend to assume they're doing the other person a favor by being so open and flexible. After all, this way the other person will have to make no trade-offs and can spend their time exactly as they please. The problem with this however is that it's computationally unkind: it offloads all the effort

Computational kindness by this definition is equivalent to Emotional Labor, no?

CK, as used here, seems more transactional and situation specific. Emotional Labor is usually referring to a pattern over time, including things like checking for unknown unknowns, and "making sure X gets done" Both ideas are playing in similar space.

I've got to admit, I look at most of these and say "you're treating the social discomfort as something immutable to be routed around, rather than something to be fixed by establishing different norms". Forgive me, but it strikes me (especially in this kind of community with high aspie proportion) that it's probably easier to tutor the... insufficiently-assertive... in how to stand up for themselves in Ask Culture than it is to tutor the aspies in how to not set everything on fire in Guess Culture.

Por que no los dos? It's a minority of people who have the ability and inclination to learn how to conform to a different mileu than thier natural state.

There seems to be one particular situation that gets on my nerves and fits into this category. It goes something like these two ways: 1) at the end of an event, everyone is asked unexpectedly to make a short speech about the success of the event, or 2) in the middle of the event, everyone is abruptly expected to produce some creative output. Number two is, of course, worse, and can make the whole event a complete hell for half the participants. Number one is just annoying. Perhaps it would be better to ask if anyone has anything to add at the end, so that we can hear from the few people who really have something to add? Usually, however, this is resolved by practically everyone saying meaningless trivia in a couple of sentences. Even though many people can feel okay with their own triviality, others feel embarrassed that they had nothing meaningful or witty to say and that they therefore wasted people's time.

Instead of flatly offloading responsibility the "throw me out whenever" way, invite the other person to discuss the modalities of the question together, by e.g. raising the question of when you should leave and then figuring out together what factors this depends on and how you want to make that decision

This fails the sniff test of "bad moods as a fragility test for social norms".  You critique Ask Culture for responsibility offloading, but ignore its upside-- much greater computational kindness than "inviting the other person to discuss the modalities of the question together". The primary characteristic of a bad mood (I'm using this term for "normal" bad moods like hungover, tired, caffeine crash) is lowered computational capacity.  

I wonder if Responsibility Offloading and Computational Kindness can be thought of as a position/velocity tradeoff; i.e, that one can not perfectly have the one without losing the other. 

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