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How (Not) To Ask For Help

“If you know what to do and you don’t do it, there you bloody well are, aren’t you?”

I wrote about this once in I’m not a coder and I need help! It’s come up again.

I was a bit torn about posting this, given that it’s a guy acting like a real jerk in public, and I’m still pretty sure his problem is that he doesn’t understand what we’re saying. But. I think it’s good to have a concrete example of how you don’t ask for help on a forum.

The story so far: WordPress 3.2 was released on July 4th, and we knew there would be some minor issues. Most of them are related to the fact that WordPress no longer supports IE 6, PHP4 and MySQL 4. Before it was released, I decided to be proactive and take the lessons learned from 3.1 and make a Troubleshooting Master List. I posted to the forum mailing list and got advice from everyone there. As soon as 3.2 was let loose, I posted and started checking the forums.

Then I found this guy.

Yes, I did get really annoyed/upset with this guy. Full on anger. My face went hot and I felt myself typing furiously. And I deleted what I’d written at least a dozen times in order to keep as cool as I could. I knew I was mad, I knew I was writing in anger, and I backed away. That’s why my replies got shorter and shorter until, finally, I walked away and let the rest of the community hit him with a brick. I did come back the next morning and close the post, but only because it had become impossible to help the guy. And yes, I would have left it open to help him. It’s what I do.

So taking the cue from his post, let’s run down the ‘what NOT to dos.’

Cursing Cursing

The actual title of his post is Upgrade to V3.2 and my site is f**ked. Except he said ‘fucked’ but we modified that. The URL still says it. Just don’t do that. It’s rude. If I have to explain why it’s rude, you need more help than I can give. And I say this from the point of view of a foul mouthed tart. There is a time and place to swear, and the free support forums ain’t them.

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Mouthing off Mouthing off

Even if you’re not swearing, there’s a huge difference between being polite and being a cretin. People are taking time out of their day to help you. Treating them like they’re worthless and insulting them is not a good thing to do. Being polite, even when you’re very angry and upset, is hard. I’m aware of this. But that doesn’t excuse your behavior. You’re the one who decided to show your fanny. It’s like what they say on Reality TV. The people being filmed will blame the editing, and the editors will point out ‘We didn’t MAKE you pee on Joe Bob there, you did that on your own.’ Yes, selective quoting and editing can make you look worse, but frankly, you’re the one who put it out there.

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Not taking the time to read Not taking the time to read

I think this falls under ‘Not taking the time to think.’ We told the guy multiple times ‘You need to reset your plugins.’ We linked him, multiple times, to directions on how to do that when you can’t log into your back end. Three times he complained that he couldn’t get to the back end of his site before he finally up and said he wasn’t going to.

Most of the issue was that while we told him what to do, he was blinded by his own interpretation of what we meant. He would have been better served by simply saying ‘I don’t understand what you mean by FTP’ … except he did.

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Not following directions Not following directions

This is really simple. If you’re asking for help, you’re assuming the people who answer know more than you. If you refuse to follow their advice, you’re done. Seriously.

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Getting derailed Getting derailed

You may have noticed how he started picking on my language (I used ‘seriously’ twice, and apparently that was too many times), my nationalism (I’m a dual-citizen as it happens), politics (Afghanistan), and so on and so forth. A lot of energy was wasted by his anger and the resulting attitude from it.

The entire reason I did not snap back and point out where his gross assumptions were wrong is because it was not productive. It would just make him madder (yeah, think about that for a second) and make the situation more volatile. Don’t feed the fire.

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It’s NOT all about you It’s NOT all about you

I cannot stress this enough, every single volunteer on the WP forums knows and understands exactly how important your site is to you. I have this problem in my day job too. I work with hundreds of very important people (they actually are – the office would come to a standstill if any one of them broke). They are all incapable of understanding that everyone is just as important as they are. I have been known to snap at people and point out that more than one VIP is having a problem, and I am working on the issue, but if you’d like to tell them that YOU are more important, go for it.

No one ever does. They usually shut up, which tells me that really they’re like a kid who fell down on his tush. He’s fine, just crying for effect. You may think that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but you forget about the boy who cried wolf. At a certain point, we stop listening to you until you come in with a broken wheel.

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What else? What else?

Obviously this list can’t be exhaustive (I’d run out of internet before I ran out of examples). The real basic rule is ‘Don’t be a dick.’ Everything else is an extension of that.

If you’re helping someone who treats you like crap, you’re allowed to walk away. At work or at play, you don’t have to deal with it. Just walk away. Of course, at work, you need to tell your boss, and on the WP forums, I tend to email or ask people directly to step up for me please and thank you. In fact, watching the community get my back in that post was both pleasing and very sad. I was sad it had to happen, and I remain sad that he couldn’t be helped.