Helping Others Online

Computer savvy people long have had a history of being pompous, egotistical, righteous, snobbish jerks who look down on others for not having the same knowledge level or not knowing how or where to RTFM. With online forums many people use aliases and that anonymity seems to encourage jerk behavior in some people. That is unlikely to ever change.

Even when people are not trying to be a jerk, all people have bad days and jerk behavior often creeps into a forum post.

I am no exception to having bad days and letting jerk behavior creep into my posts. Nonetheless, when helping others online I try to follow some basic sanity checks.

  • Step away when a post triggers any kind of emotional response. Do not reply until the emotional trigger subsides.
  • Stick to facts. Minimize personal biases and opinions. This tends to be a challenge for many people because almost everybody wants to share opinions. Human nature 101.
  • Refrain from posting a reply when not having a helpful answer.
  • Many forums are English only. This creates a barrier for people who do not use English as a first or second language. Many such people have to resort to some kind of translator to help post. Don’t presume such people are stupid just because they are forced to converse in a foreign language and their posts tend to sound like gibberish from an uneducated four-year old.
  • Online communicating is more challenging because there are no body language and facial expressions to help. Written conversations are easily misinterpreted. A healthy strategy with this challenge is to presume best intentions. Do not presume somebody is purposely being a jerk.
  • People from different cultures have different customs and idioms. A healthy strategy with this challenge is to presume best intentions. Do not presume somebody is purposely being a jerk
  • Be patient. Often several exchanges of questions and answers are needed before getting close to having sufficient information to actually start helping.
  • Don’t presume what the other person is seeking. Don’t try to be l33t and outguess what the person seeks. Do not presume an XY problem. Just answer the fine question.
  • Often the best strategy when replying to a jerk is not to reply. Teaching pigs to sing just wastes time and irritates the pig.
  • There is an old adage that arguing with a fool denigrates to a point where observers cannot tell who is the fool. If the urge is strong to reply to a jerk, refer to the first item in this list. Take time to craft an intelligent reply rather than posting an emotional trigger.
  • Don’t be eager to press that Enter key on the keyboard. The world is not going anywhere. Take time to post something helpful.
  • Use an external text editor to draft a post. Edit, edit, edit.
  • Never ever let the jerks discourage your enthusiasm or desire to help others. Jerks will always be jerks.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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