5 Common Mistakes When Asking for Help

Most of the Facebook groups I’m in are support focused: groups for doulas to talk shop, photography skill building groups, software user groups, that sort of thing. And I frequently see people frustrated that no one has answered their question, or that they are feeling like they’re not getting a good answer. Here are some of the common mistakes that lead to frustration when asking for help.

Mistake #1: Not searching the group before asking.

Almost every group has a question or two that gets asked SO often people are just tired of answering. It’s always good (and faster, to boot!) to take a minute or two to search for your question and see if it’s already been answered. You’ll probably find your answer faster that way, too!

Mistake #2: Being vague in your question

“Help! The Thing isn’t working!” – this is particularly common in software support groups. If you’re working on your WordPress web site and want to ask a question in the WordPress Community for Non-Techies by WPCrafter (my favorite place for WP questions!) be as specific as possible. Name the program/version you’re using. If it’s a host question, say which host. If you get an error message, tell the group what that message says.

Mistake #3: Refusing to Accept the Solutions Offered

Sometimes I’ve invested a lot of time in explaining things and offering solutions, only to have someone tell me they have no interest in taking a different approach. They stubbornly want to keep working on an approach that doesn’t work. Occasionally, they get angry when the answer is something they don’t like. I’ve had people ask “How can I do X, Y and Z for free?” and my answer is “You can do X for free like this, but it’s very time consuming. I would recommend spending a little to save yourself hours and hours. And I’m sorry but as far as I know, Y and Z are not available for free. So-and-so offers a good rate for those services.” When the response is to be angry with me, or when they ignore the answers to the questions asked, I am far less likely to offer help to that person again. Here’s an example of the kind of stubbornness I am talking about, in a totally unrelated and silly example:

Fake "screenshot" of a facebook conversation where the person asking the question gets angry about the answer given.

Mistake 4: Rudeness and Rushing

The internet is full of helpful people. I have learned so much from people willing to take time from their day to explain things to me, teach me new skills, and give me feedback. It’s important to keep in mind that people who are helping you online are doing you a kindness. Your deadlines are not their deadlines, so don’t get angry if they can’t respond quickly. Don’t turn on them if you don’t like or understand their answer. If they don’t have time to give you the in depth help you need, just thank them for what they could do for you and move on.

Mistake 5: Not returning the favor

Online support communities are all about the give and take. If you’ve benefited from a group, stick around, join the community, and offer help to others along the way. It’s a great way to pay it forward and ensure that the community still exists when you have your next question.

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