Reasons for someone to "ignore" you

by Wei_Dai2 min read8th Oct 201257 comments

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I often feel guilty for ignoring other people's comments or questions, and frustrated when other people seem to be ignoring me. If I can't indicate to someone exactly why I'm not answering, or can't receive such an indication myself, I can at least help my future selves and others obtain a better probability distribution over such reasons. To that end, I'm listing all of the reasons I can think of for someone to not respond to a comment/question, to save the effort of regenerating these hypotheses from scratch each time and prevent the possibility of failing to consider the actual reason. Note that these are not meant to be mutually exclusive.

  • They haven't checked their inbox yet.
  • They got too many responses in their inbox and didn't pay enough attention to yours.
  • They are temporarily too busy to respond.
  • They were planning to respond but then forgot to.
  • They don't understand the comment yet and are still trying.
  • They've stopped trying to understand the comment and don't expect further discussion to resolve the confusion.
  • They think it's obvious that they agree.
  • They think it's obvious that they disagree.
  • They disagree and are planning to write up the reasons later.
  • They don't know whether to agree or disagree and are still thinking about it.
  • They think all useful information has been exchanged and it's not worth another comment just to indicate final agreement/disagreement.
  • They think you just want to express your opinion and don't care what they think.
  • They are tired of the discussion and don't want to think about it any more.
  • The comment shows a level of intelligence and/or rationality and/or knowledge that makes it not worthwhile for them to engage you.
  • They already addressed your question or point before but you missed it or didn't get it.
  • They don't know how to answer your question and are too embarrassed to admit it.
  • They interpreted your question as being addressed to the public rather than to them personally.
  • They think most people already know the answer (or don't care to know) and don't want to bother answering just for you or a few other people.
  • They think you are mainly signaling/status-seeking instead of truth-seeking.
  • They are mainly signaling/status-seeking (perhaps subconsciously) and think not responding is optimal for that.
  • They can't see how to respond honestly without causing or prolonging a personal enmity.
  • They consider you a troll or potential troll and don't want to reinforce you with attention.
  • They have an emotional aversion against talking to you.
  • They have some other instrumental reason for not responding.
  • Suggested by shminux: You're on a list of LWers they never reply to, because a number of prior conversations with you were invariably futile for one or more of the reasons described above, and their estimate of any future conversation going any better is very low.
  • Suggested by wedrifid: Technical difficulties. They first read your comment via a mobile device, composed (mentally) a reply that would take too long to type on that medium and two days later they either forget to type it out via keyboard, no longer care about the subject or think that a late reply would be inappropriate given developments in the conversation.
  • Suggested by wedrifid: Previous comments by them in the thread had been downvoted or otherwise opposed and they choose to accede to the implied wishes of the community rather than try to fight it or defy it.
  • Suggested by cata: Not answering promptly caused them to feel guilty, which caused more delay and more guilt, so they never respond to hide their shame.
  • Suggested by wedrifid: They think your comment missed the point of the context and so doesn't make sense but it is not important enough to embarrass you by explaining or challenging.
  • Suggested by Morendil: Your post/comment didn't contain a single question mark, so there's no call to answer.
  • Suggesetd by sixes_and_sevens: They think the discussion is going off topic.
  • Suggested by Airedale: They're purposefully trying to disengage early rather than getting into a fight about who has the "last word" on the subject, e.g., on some level they may want to respond or even to "win" the exchange, but they're purposefully telling themselves to step away from the computer.

If I missed any reasons (that happen often enough to be worth including in this list), please give them in the comments. See also this related comment.

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Many times in the past I have felt like I should respond to someone's message, but I put it off for some trivial reason. Later, I feel too guilty about ignoring it to reply, and then the next time I feel even guiltier, and then I never respond to hide my shame. Seriously.

Since no one else seems to have said this yet: I like getting responses, and even huge delays are not an issue! :)

I occasionally reply to year old posts, and occasionally get replies to year old comments/posts of mine. I enjoy both of these situations - the latter tends to prompt me to revisit a topic, and I'll often have new insights or perspective since I've only been at this 'rationality' thing for a couple years.

5-day-old responses are rarely even noticed by me - I'm used to 1-2 weeks for a reply to m personal email! Not everyone checks the internet daily, and people often vanish for weekends, vacations, or just general being-busy or low-on-spoons.

Edit: I'd also suggest that a community norm of "It's okay to reply, even 2 years later" would be cool - if the person being-replied-to doesn't want to revisit the topic, they can just ignore the reply, after all.

I think we already have that norm on Less Wrong -- I see lots of replies to old comments in the Recent Comments pane, often creating new trails of discussion months or years after the parent comment. I like it very much.

Judging by the comments on this thread, it seemed that a lot of people still felt guilt, so I assumed that "this is okay" is not a clear community norm, despite the actual behavior being quite common. I wanted to signal boost "I am okay with this, and I strongly suspect so are a lot of people" without lying and claiming I actually knew how the community-at-large felt :)

Me too. I get frustrated by forums where old threads are routinely closed, or where participants are rebuked for bumping an old thread.

Or forums where you post something, arguing why open discussion of a certain topic should be allowed, and your comment is rendered selectively invisible a few minutes after you make it.

Or forums where you post something, arguing why open discussion of a certain topic should be allowed, and your comment is rendered selectively invisible a few minutes after you make it.

I'm told it is only worth arguing about such things at Alicorn's Dinner Parties. Although I can't imagine it is the optimal strategy for being invited back.

It's not really that helpful to argue it at my dinner parties, either. I'm at all of them, I oppose the karma tax, it's still here.

I was going to retract that comment... I have No Opinion on the advisability of current moderation policy and practice, in general. It's just this one issue where I hope that the powers will eventually see sense; so complaining about the bare fact that they choose to exercise their authority is not the thing to do.

Edit: I'd also suggest that a community norm of "It's okay to reply, even 2 years later" would be cool - if the person being-replied-to doesn't want to revisit the topic, they can just ignore the reply, after all.

I'd suggest that not only would such a norm be cool, it actually is cool.

I have left more than one online community for similar reason. The flow chart goes roughly like this:

  • receive a question / be addressed in a comment
  • don't have time/don't want to answer right now
  • time passes: now any response will feel weird
  • I can't really answer to other people/threads if I didn't answer the previous one
  • only solution: leave the community for some time

I perfectly know this is absolutely stupid, and I try to avoid this behavior as much as I can, but it still pops up sometimes (still have to fully hack myself).

I suppose that you can use a canned "I have read your comment, will think about it and might or might not reply later" reply to break the pattern at step 3.

This seems a very practical and probably effective approach. I fear that in a more general environment this might come off as rude, but it's also possible that the same thought process that sometimes leads me into the above cycle is making me misjudge the possible people reactions. No way to know if I don't try, I guess.

If I think a comment needs a response, but I failed to get back to it for a long time, I will just reply anyway. I am the same way with email. I must come across as very aloof because I often let a message sit for a week, and sometimes several weeks, before getting back to them.

So far, nothing has exploded.

Again (see answer to shminux comment), it's possible that I'm exaggerating people feelings in this situation, and nobody really cares if I answer late to them. Reversing the situation, I would probably be fine to receive a late answer to a (non-urgent) question.

I'm not sure if this has happened to me with regard to LW comments, but I've certainly experienced this with replying to e-mails.

Yes, this has really fucked me up with emails, phone calls, and letters more so than anything like LW comments. Luckily, I've largely overcome it nowadays through conscious TDT-style reasoning.

It's pretty reassuring to know that other people suffer from the same ridiculously dumb problem.

My problem is that I need to train myself such that whenever a case like that happens, I actually consider the problem in an appropriately rational state of mind and apply TDT-style reasoning. Otherwise, I just make fake commitments that don't register and never get executed.

This sounds like something important to train for in general though.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Indeed! Before I learned about Ugh fields here on LW, I thought I was the only one. If I learned nothing else from all the reading I've done here, it'd be worth it just for that.

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I do this all the damn time with e-mails. Standard LW term is ugh field.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

For me, the main reason why if I don't reply to a comment straight away I don't reply to it ever, is that I forget to. Sometimes (twice a month or so) I re-read my inbox to make sure there aren't comments I meant to reply to but forget to. And when I remember to, I don't click on the inbox icon (so it stays red) unless I'm on a device on which it's comfortable for me to reply.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Have you considered writing those things down? My life got immediately and significantly better after I started writing down all the things I have to do. Even though I didn't know it, forgetting about things had been a huge problem for me, so writing it all down fixed that problem, eliminated most of the guilt I felt for not getting stuff done, and allowed me to work on things in a sensible order instead of just doing whatever things randomly come to mind.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

I occasionally do that, but most often I even forget to do that! I ought to make sure I always have paper and a pencil in my pocket so I can write stuff down as soon as it crosses my mind, so as to overcome the trivial inconvenience of having to get a pencil, which usually makes me just think “I'll write that down later” (and then forget to).

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Well, the idea is to have all the things you have to do written down. (In particular, you should definitely have "making sure I have paper and a pencil in my pocket" on the list!) Do you have such a list right now? How many things are on it? If there are less than twenty, then start writing, and don't stop until you get to twenty.

Once you have all the stuff written down, you won't have to bother remembering anything; you can just look at the list.

Many people can't go into long conversations about each other simply because answering requires more than one click. Even Google can't conceive of a better way of communication than Google Plus. I have to retype my answers to everyone around, whenever I get to meet a new person, I can't easily reuse my previous answers from an autosuggest list, and why not? Here is my idea, which I shared on halfbakery.com:

"Profiles should contain a 'magic FAQ.' Any vistor of your profile should be able to add a publicly invisible question to your magic FAQ; you would be notified, and have an option to answer it, both replying the questions and building your FAQ at the same time (one shot-two birds). The publicly invisible conversation could continue much like hierarchical comments, forming a hierarchy. The next time someone asks a similar question (i.e., adds a question to your FAQ), you could tell the system that it's just another way to ask the same thing, and reuse your previous answer with a click of a button. A different follow-up question? No problem -- the data structure like pHTN (probabilistic hierarchical task network, which is just hierarchically arranged lists with probabilities of each element in the lower level of the hierarchy) can handle this, and even learn to autosuggest you to reuse your most preferred answer (three birds?).

An expected result of this idea, is that even celebrities, who don't have enough time to chat with every fan, would suddenly have time to communicate personally, in this semi-automated manner."

I may have a different Theory of Internet Commenting, because to me not-replying is the default and I need some particular reason to continue a back-and-forth. Do I have something worth contributing to the conversation - something worth adding or clarifying? Is the discussion heading in a worthwhile direction, such that I want to take it further in that direction? Or, is this one of the (relatively rare) cases where I have a social obligation to respond?

There are many exceptions, but in a typical discussion I think that:

  1. There are rapidly diminishing returns to extending the conversation (I usually communicate most of what I have to say in one or two comments)
  2. The discussion is primarily for the benefit of the many silent people reading the comments, not the few particular people who are making the comments (so I don't feel much need to press my interlocutor on what they think, or to clarify exactly what I think, unless it adds something to the discussion as a whole. One cue I use: if a comment has been upvoted then it probably represents many people's views, and is more worth replying to)

My most frequent non-reply cause: "Technical difficulties. They first read your comment via a mobile device, composed (mentally) a reply that would take too long to type on that medium and two days later they either forget to type it out via keyboard, no longer care about the subject or think that a late reply would be inappropriate given developments in the conversation."

For example Gwern recently had to remind me about a reply to a Modafinil tolerance question that had become neglected during travel.

Also add in "Previous comments by them in the thread had been downvoted or otherwise opposed and they choose to accede to the implied wishes of the community rather than try to fight it or defy it." (Given that this one is the primary purpose of the karma system we should expect it to work sometimes.)

Apart from those two the list seems exhaustive.

My most frequent non-reply cause

I'm going to update this from most frequent to most salient. Now that I'm thinking about it I am observing and recalling from the past all sorts of other 'ignore' decisions that just occur almost naturally without active consideration. By the time we reach adulthood many of the countless details of how to interact productively with other humans have been crystallized as social skills that don't require conscious strategic attention.

An example that spring to mind is when a comment has missed the point of the context and so doesn't make sense but it is not important enough to embarrass the author by explaining or challenging. Letting the point pass tactfully can be better, especially when their point would have been valid if the context said what they thought it said. There are a lot of variants along these lines. It can probably be generalized to "They don't wish to embarrass you when the issue isn't important".

Technically the above is a combination of "signalling/status seeking", "instrumental, other" and "prolonging or causing personal enmity"---you are not sending a signal that the other person may take as a challenge and you are not potentially (incrementally) alienating an ally and so are thereby expecting to have higher status while also making the other (incrementally) less frustrated. But just using those generic categories probably misses the point.

An example that spring to mind is when a comment has missed the point of the context and so doesn't make sense but it is not important enough to embarrass the author by explaining or challenging.

I often do this myself (generally not respond to some comment to avoid embarrassing its author), but feel guilty and frustrated about it.

Frustrated: What if I'm wrong, either about my interpretation of the comment, or its merit (e.g., whether it really missed the point), or its importance? If I don't answer then I won't find out. (Of course a lot of the times I can use votes to help me decide, but sometimes not many people are watching the thread and all the comments in it are hovering around 0.)

Guilty: The other person may be wasting a lot of cognitive resources trying to figure out why I didn't answer.

Not sure if this fits one of the reasons on your list, but I maintain a (short) mental list of LWers I never reply to, regardless of what they write, because a number of prior conversations with them were invariably futile for one or more of the reasons you describe, and my estimate of any future conversation going any better is very low.

I am guessing that other people might have similar lists, and if so, I am probably on one or more of those. I conjecture that this is the case from the downvoting pattern on some of my instrumentalism-related comments.

I have on occasion explicitly mentioned when I add a person to such a list, but this is usually detrimental, so I stopped doing so. This is not to say that I always downvote their comments, often it is quite the opposite, I just don't ever engage them.

Oh, and once or twice I noticed an extreme change in attitude from a regular and started replying to them again.

Not sure if this fits one of the reasons on your list, but I maintain a (short) mental list of LWers I never reply to, regardless of what they write, because a number of prior conversations with them were invariably futile for one or more of the reasons you describe, and my estimate of any future conversation going any better is very low.

I have vague memories of you adding me to such a list, I think it was in an anti-Eliezer thread of some kind. I don't recall you replying to me since, I know I'm likely to have remembered any particularly negative exchanges and given the difference of opinion we have on the issues you most notably focus on it is likely that negative exchanges would have occurred were I not still on the list (therefore I probably am).

Anyway, working on the assumption that I am one of the few users you never reply to I'd just like to say that I think you are making a wise decision from the perspective of your own premises and best interests and I encourage others to learn from your example (of course substituting which users are on the list according to their own experiences). Such a policy is usually going to be beneficial to both parties and quite possibly to onlookers as well. Remembering to not respond in such cases and restraining the temptation to fix someone wrong on the internet is often challenging. That being the case and with the aforementioned assumption thankyou shminux, you have done us all a service.

(I am coming from a perspective here where I expect shminux and I would have different reasons for why interaction-minimisation is beneficial for us but can comfortably accept that obviously the other would disagree---no additional disrespect beyond that intrinsic to disagreement is involved. This means my reply is meant purely as complementary support with no snide undertones whatsoever. The great thing is---even if I have grossly misread both the situation and shminux and he does take some degree of offense at what does technically amount to being told "thankyou for not speaking to me because we both know such conversations would suck" then shminux still will not reply to express outrage. No drama will ensue either way!)

Just wanted to add that at some point I thought of making my ignore list public, together with the reasons and examples of why I add someone to it, in case someone would like to clear the possible misunderstanding, but then realized that such an action is virtually guaranteed to backfire. It would probably be misunderstood as inappropriate status signaling and piss off not only those on the list, but many others as well, and defeat the purpose completely. So I took the middle road of disclosing the existence of my ignore list in an appropriate thread.

That said, if anyone cares enough, I will certainly reply to a PM from anyone, regardless of whether I reply to them in public.

Sometimes I will enter discussion wanting to talk about X, but my correspondent seems keen to jump around from topic to topic. They will respond with a question loosely about X, and I feel obliged to respond. We're now talking about Y. They will then ask a question loosely about Y, and I feel obliged to respond. We're now talking about Z.

Before I know it, we're talking about L. I don't want to be talking about L. Fuck L. I wanted to be talking about X. I probably would have been content to talk about Y or Z for a while if we could stay on them for any length of time, but we can't, because there are so many other letters and the person I'm talking to can't resist them. I've learned to nip this process in the bud. Sometimes that's with a polite "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in discussing this". Sometimes it's by ignoring them.

TL;DR: if I feel my correspondent is going to take the discussion on an unproductive wild goose chase, I may stop responding.

ETA: I'm not necessarily blaming my correspondent for being a bad discussion partner here. It may very well be down to different expectations from the discussion. I've probably come across as an attention-deficient topic-hopper myself on more than one occasion.

Here's a common one: your post/comment didn't contain a single question mark, so there's no call to answer.

(Also: thanks for obviating some portion of that "raising the discussion waterline" post I had in mind!)

Reason to ignore you. Reason to not respond to you. Reason to ignore a comment of yours. Reason to not respond to a comment of yours.

The last is really the observable we're talking about.

When I ignore a comment left here at LW, this is sometimes for the reason I often ignore comments sent to me by email. The reason is this. Upon first encountering a comment, I may not feel motivated enough to compose a reply, and as a consequence procrastinate on it for a while. After enough time has elapsed such that I feel motivated to write the reply, I feel that I must include, in that reply, an explanation to my correspondent of why my reply took longer than expected. Knowing that my reply must now include this explanation itself demotivates me further, and causes me to procrastinate even more. This gives rise to a perverse cycle. The longer I postpone my reply, the more elaborate I feel my excuse must be and the harder it is for me to write it. The cycle is usually broken only after a few weeks. At that point the excuse I feel I ought to write is so complex and enough time has elapsed that I become convinced I will never write it, so I simply write the original reply either abstaining from offering any excuse at all, or prefacing it with a very simple, formulaic apology like "I'm sorry for the long delay."

Must your reply include an explanation or apology? It seems to me like you're torturing yourself a bit over something most people wouldn't worry too much about. I'd just post what I was going to post. People are busy & posting things on the Internet is typically pretty low priority. At least, that is my default assumption.

This may overlap with some of the other issues listed, but I think it comes from a slightly different place mentally/emotionally: They're purposefully trying to disengage early rather than getting into a fight about who has the "last word" on the subject, e.g., on some level they may want to respond or even to "win" the exchange, but they're purposefully telling themselves to step away from the computer.

I have consciously done this before. Especially growing up, I was always obsessed with "being right".

Under "some other instrumental reason":

  • They worry about future actions you or others would take after reading their response.

  • The opportunity cost of time spent composing a reply outweighs the expected benefit.

  • The negative signaling value of a reply outweighs the expected benefit.

Specifically for the busier and more illustrious people one might want a response from.

I once started writing a very long reply to someone's comment, but in the mean time this XKCD came out. It did an excellent job of draining my motivation to finish it (it wasn't literally an argument about "literally", but the general principle of the joke still applied). I actually still really want to reply on some level but it's possible I never will.

I think at some point you realise you're only arguing with one person and the whole argument is really a waste of time even though you're compelled to continue it until it's resolved. Blaming XKCD aside, getting burned out and never finishing the reply is something that's not quite on the list. It's close to "They disagree and are planning to write up the reasons later", just without "later" ever coming, and it's also close to the suggestion attributed to Airedale but without making a conscious decision.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

They don't know how to answer your question and are too embarrassed to admit it.

Admitting that I was wrong previously or that I don't know how to answer a question is embarrassing. It's also boring. I don't want to read comments like "I too am not an expert in FAI" or "I'm confused twelve different ways about a settled topic" or "I haven't made any progress at all".

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  • They have a nonemotional aversion to talking to you.
  • They have a nonemotional aversion to the subject.
  • They have a nonemotional aversion to responding to a particular comment of yours.

nonemotional aversion

What is "a non-emotional aversion", given that aversion is usually defined as a "strong dislike" or a "feeling of repugnance"?

I was using Andrew Critch's definition of aversion: "a habit mechanism that steers you away from a thought or behavior".

Oh, OK. That's just not the first definition that comes to mind. To me aversion is a result of a feeling.

What is a non-emotional aversion, given that aversion is usually defined as a "strong dislike" or a "feeling of repugnance"?

Without commenting on whether 'non-emotional aversion' is a practical use of language as conventionally defined, the first of Nisan's reasons reasons actual seems to resolve to approximately the same meaning that you mention. The second is the equivalent of that for subject rather than person. For example there are many who have a short list of subjects (including say "dating/sexism/gender anything") that they refuse to engage with on lesswrong and I doubt all of them do so based on 'emotional aversion'.

  • They have a nonemotional aversion to talking to you.
  • They have a nonemotional aversion to the subject.

The intersection is often used in practice: "They have decided that they do not wish to speak to a given individual on a specific subject" (while they will talk to that individual about other things or that subjected with other people).

If anyone has decided to ignore me, I invite them to tell me why in PM or here. As for reasons I ignore people: Too many comments is the biggest one. High frustration level with communicating my perspectives to people I find it difficult to communicate to (all reasons) is the second one. My frustration level waxes and wanes. I will try to communicate to just about anyone on a good day, and ignore everybody on a bad day, and there are days in between. Sorry to anyone I have not gotten back to. If you were really hoping for a response or for resolution, you are free to ping me about it.

If anyone has decided to ignore me, I invite them to tell me why in PM or here.

This statement seems pointless and/or absurd for all purposes that are not your own signaling purposes.

I'm not sure whether you're telling me "I think this is status signaling and so I disagree with it." or "I disagree with you inviting people to tell you if they're ignoring you". (Not sure what your reason would be if it was the second one.)

I was told by someone that I was annoying to other users. Maybe just a personal opinion but since I have received that criticism, and it is possible that somebody is ignoring me due to being annoyed, it made sense to me to open a communication channel.

If someone is ignoring you, they will probably not stop ignoring you to tell you why. That's what "ignoring" means.

I see why you think it's pointless now. I think a lot of times, people ignore others instead of giving them feedback because they're concerned that it will be rude to state their problem or because they assume the other person will be stubborn. I am much more likely to ignore a stubborn person and much more likely to give feedback instead if I know a person is open to it.

For me, that's a major factor, so I figure there must be people like me.

Not necessarily. I avoid replying to some people in public due to the futility of it and to avoid any drama, but I would certainly reply to a PM.

If someone is ignoring you, they will probably not stop ignoring you to tell you why. That's what "ignoring" means.

Mind you, perfect 'ignoring' isn't something people are especially good at. Many people will answer that question. If you happened to be interested in what such people may tell you it could be worthwhile to ask. The private vs public distinction also matters for many who are aware that giving that kind of public criticism can tend to negatively impact the reputation of the speaker as well as the recipient.

Someone could be deliberately not making public replies to an user out of experience of public threads with that user often turning into messes, while still thinking that the user isn't a deliberate troll and could benefit from private advice.

If I happen to be this "someone" I would appreciate the private advice.