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Sometimes when you ask for help, someone will offer a suggestion that not only doesn't actually help, but clearly would make things worse. Let's assume for this question the person genuinely wants to help.

If you tell such a person, "thanks but no thanks" you look bad as a help-seeker.

  • The person might get mad at you for "looking a gift horse in the mouth".
  • Other people will see this and wrongly assume that you don't want help, and be less likely to help you.

Sometimes you can refuse with a more detailed explanation, such as "thanks but your suggestion is even worse than my current situation because..." But this only works if you can provide very clear, objective reasons. If your refusal in any way involves subjective judgements, it seems very hard to phrase things in a way that isn't likely to alienate the person, or other potential helpers.

Other times it's possible to simply thank the helper for their suggestion, and quietly ignore it. However, some helpers are pretty dedicated, and try to follow up and question you about why you're not doing their suggestion. Sometimes this even extends to questioning why you're still asking for help, even though they've "solved" your problem.

Is there a good strategy for diplomatically refusing unhelpful help, without causing undue animosity but also allowing you to continue seeking help?


The situation I describe is surely familiar to any long time user of StackExchange sites, not to mention everyday life. But in the spirit of clarity, here are some examples. Note that these are only illustrative examples -- giving specific point by point rebuttals to the contrived situations I came up with off the top of my head probably wouldn't constitute a useful response to the question I pose above.

  • "I use product X which has good features overall but has problem Y. Is there a better option?" "Use product Z instead!" (product Z indeed doesn't have problem Y, but is also much worse in every other respect) E.g. Product X is an Android smartphone, Y is privacy concerns, Z is using a dumbphone.
  • "I have health problem X. What can I do?" "Just do thing Y." (thing Y has a weak anti-correlation with X, but is a bunch of work and not likely to solve the problem) E.g. Problem X is a major financial emergency, Y is getting a piggy bank.
  • "My operating system has an issue, how can I fix it?" "Change your operating system." (changing operating system would be a huge amount of effort)
  • "I accomplish task X in 3 steps, but it seems like too much work. Is there a faster way?" "Here's the proper way to do it!" ("proper way" takes 10 steps and offers no real benefits and very weak hypothetical ones) E.g. person wants to make quick edits to text files in a terminal, but nano is too complicated, suggestion is to use vi.
  • (question about something on stackexchange) "This question has been answered here: (link)" (linked question sounds related, but upon close reading is clearly inapplicable)
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    I think this is really situation-specific. Who are you talking to? An answer will change depending if you are talking to a close relative or talking to an anonymous stack exchange user. The examples you give do not really specify this and all seem different in context.
    – Jeroen
    Aug 5 '20 at 5:54
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Well, I feel like a lot of this is covered by SE rules and usage actually :

State your problem clearly and leave no implication or seemingly obvious requirement uncovered. For example, if you have privacy concerns but want to remain on Android smartphone, then ask for the full requirement, otherwise suggestions to use a dumbphone could be valid. Or, if you need a sourced answer, then ask a sourced answer on your problem.

Clarity is key, no one can perfectly guess what you consider good or bad help in a one-sentence question with multiple valid answers like "What's the best way to dig a hole ?"

Once the problem stated, comment if you think a suggestion is poor quality on why it is not fitting, sometimes by repeating, clarifying or extending said requirements. "A shovel would not do, I have to dig 100m down"

If a suggestion is good, but not perfect, you can mention you would like to hear other suggestions if any before accepting it as solution.

This is essentially how quality content raise here and should apply to your case.

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