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Questions regularly ask how to deal with a situation, rather than how to improve a situation. My understanding of the phrase "deal with" is that there must exist something that is causing a problem or making things difficult.

Why do users seemingly embrace the notion that a situation must be dealt with, rather than improved?

Surely starting from the latter perspective would instil a more positive mindset, which is typically beneficial.

I interpret deal with to be suggestive of a problematic person, which seemingly disregards the possibility of an interpersonal problem. Whereas improve seemingly acknowledges the possibility of an interpersonal problem. Now, of course, problematic people exist, so dealing with a situation may be appropriate. (E.g., extracting oneself from a toxic relationship.) But, surely such people are in the minority.

Is this forum focusing more on problems caused by problematic people? Or do questions disregard the possibility of interpersonal problems?

My question is likely ill-phrased. (Finding the right problem statement is the hard part!) I'm trying to get a better grasp on the underlying causes of problems that plague academia (from this forum's perspective). In particular:

Are interpersonal problems being ignored in favour of a blame culture?

Equally, is my perspective absurd, ill-informed, misguided, or similar?

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    I fail to see a big difference here. Questions about dealing with a situation imply that the way you deal with the situation is improving things. Conversely, questions about improving situations usually only get asked here if there is a problem to be dealt with. Of course there are some cases where the answer is that the underlying issue is not what the asker thought and there are cases where the asker makes a mountain out of a molehill (and vice versa in “run; don’t walk” situations), but I do not think language or attitude are the issues here, but rather lack of perspective. – Wrzlprmft Oct 28 '20 at 8:55
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    What if a situation can't be improved? What if the asker wants to entirely eliminate the situation's existence, or to get out of it completely? Neither of these would be improvement of the situation, but dealing with them is definitely the goal. – Nij Oct 28 '20 at 10:55
  • @Nij Sure, I've edited to clarify, but such askers are surely in the minority, unless this forum is dedicating a lot of energy to solving problems caused by problematic people. (If it is, then focusing on the cause would be beneficial to all.) – user2768 Oct 28 '20 at 11:52
  • @Wrzlprmft I fail to see a big difference here It seems rather nuanced to me and perhaps I'm failing to express myself. My edit perhaps helps: Dealing with seems to disregard the possibility of an interpersonal problem, whereas improving seems to embrace that possibility. (I may be reading too much into language, but I've been around this forum long enough to believe I am not, which gave way to my question.) – user2768 Oct 28 '20 at 11:55
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    "I interpret deal with to be suggestive of a problematic person, which seemingly disregards the possibility of an interpersonal problem" - this seems to be a bit idiosyncratic. I certainly don't read it that way. There are certainly questions here where people don't seem to realize they may be part of the problem (maybe this is what you mean by "interpersonal problem"?), but I don't think "deal with" is the key phrasing that identifies these cases, and I think typically at least some answer points it out. It's certainly something I aim to do when appropriate. – Bryan Krause Oct 28 '20 at 16:16
  • The CIA model can prove useful. There are things you Control. There are things you can Influence. And finally there are things that you must Accept. You can only improve things you Control or Influence. Yet you still must Accept many things - those you must deal with. Now, one may also choose not to improve things that are under your Control or you have Influence on, but that is another issue. – Jon Custer Oct 29 '20 at 22:21
  • I also dislike it when people use "deal with," but generally it's not worth editing. – Azor Ahai -him- Nov 1 '20 at 19:33
  • @AzorAhai--hehim I'm more interested as to whether there's a deeper issue at play – user2768 Nov 2 '20 at 8:49
  • @user2768 I don't think there is. People come here with problems, and I think in general people listen when we mention interpersonal issues. I do change "deal with" when it's egregiously rude. – Azor Ahai -him- Nov 2 '20 at 14:54
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To provide some data. Google's top 10 results for this site and the search term "deal with" are:

  • How to deal with a colleague who always puts you down?
  • How to deal with racial insensitivity in an academic ...
  • How to deal with a colleague who won't accept they're wrong?
  • How to deal with animosity between different "factions" in a ...
  • How to deal with unbalanced collaborations?
  • How can I deal with a professor who refuses to communicate?
  • How can I deal with being pressured by my department to...
  • Dumb moments in independent research and how to deal with ...
  • How to deal with an academic 'stalker'?
  • How to deal with arrogant e-mail of a student?

While for "improve", we have:

  • How to improve the language of my master thesis by myself?
  • How to improve my English from Academic papers....
  • How do I improve my rewriting and editing skills?
  • Improve software code when reviewing paper
  • What are good tips/ways to improve my writing on chalkboards
  • Improve learning skills
  • Is there a way to improve my grade after graduation?
  • How to improve English quality of my paper ...
  • How to improve chances of graduate admission following major
  • What are some good books to read in order to improve my ...

Based on these examples, people tend to use "deal with" when the premise of the question is that the situation is inherently bad (from stalking, to racial insensitivity, to bullying). Asking how to "improve" one's relationship with a stalker, or a racist, or a bully might be a bit strange.

On the other hand, answerers do frequently challenge the question's premise. For example, the consensus found that the "arrogant student's e-mail" (in the list above) was not so arrogant after all, and that there was nothing that needed to be "dealt with." This seems to be aligned with your view -- sometimes, askers think the problem is another person's behavior, when the problem is actually elsewhere.

As for your other concerns, I would point out that there is a bit of sampling bias in the questions asked here (especially the most highly viewed ones). Most of our users are well-educated adults, and so they know how to handle routine human interactions. By the time someone is posting here about how to "deal with" another person, odds are high that we are dealing with an interesting "edge case" (or even a "problematic person") rather than a garden-variety interpersonal conflict. So, I would avoid making broad conclusions about "blame culture" (for example) based on the situations considered here.

  • Agree with most of what you wrote except possibly the last paragraph. Yes, there is a sampling bias here, but I don't know that the things that lead people to academic research are quite the same as those that help in routine human interactions. There are also huge puzzles to solve for academics who find themselves working in a cultural context that differs from the one they grew up with, where social norms may be completely upside down. – Bryan Krause Oct 29 '20 at 16:17
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    I agree on both counts; academia is by no means exempt from interpersonal problems. My point was merely that the vast majority of interpersonal conflicts are quickly resolved and never make it to our board, so we should avoid making broad conclusions about "blame culture" based on the situations considered here. – cag51 Oct 29 '20 at 16:39

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