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Mailbag: Playing the Middle

It’s time to pull out the Jump to Conclusions Mat when everyone assumes you know everything!

This is from Ben in Minnesota and … It’s not about WordPress as much as learning and support, but here is the meat of his issue:

I’m just learning things. I’m really familiar with Drupal and okay with a vps, but I took over a WP install on a dedicated server and I’m way out of my league! I don’t understand half the questions. They treat me like I should know everything already because I’m experienced and tell me to just ask the vendor. But the hardware scares me and I don’t know how to get the information I need to solve things!

Do you have any advice, besides learning faster?

My least favorite role is when I have to play the middle man between two tech groups. Group A has a problem, so they ask me to ask it of Group B, and I have no familiarity with what the subject is. Happens a hell of a lot, and it exposes the lack of depth of knowledge in specific areas.

I hate it. It makes me feel like I’m stupid, and then when I ask for clarification, I get vague, top-level answers and what I need are examples. Much of this has to do with how I learn best, but the other problem is people have a tacit assumption that I know what the hell they’re talking about, when I clearly do not.

Men in the middle of men

Basically? They’re giving me shitty support based on their preconceived notions about how “everyone” thinks. And yes, it pisses me off and I have been at the point of tears of anger me frustration over this before. I’ve been there, man, and recently too. It’s worse probably because I am clever and can pick things up quickly. They assume I know, or will figure it out, so I get half-assed help.

So. What do I do? Well first I quote them. “My DB guy said this [quote]. Do you need any specific information? I’ll ask him, but I’m not familiar with this topic.” Sadly that tends to net me a pretty generic reply like “Just filter it.” It does make me want to scream, you’re not alone there.

Lately I’ve been stopping them before it gets that far, though. When I’m told “Can you ask Group B about this?” I say “Can you explain like I’m 5, real fast, so I can make sure I ask them the right things and make sure that I don’t have to go back and forth really a million times and bug the hell out of you?” If I already understand a little about it, I may say “I thought that ModSecurity could hook into IP Tables and auto-block people who hammered my login files?” to set the tone of what I did know.

Basically the only path out of ignorance is to explain that you are uneducated in this topic, and while you will learn as fast as you can, you need a little more help than that. If they still won’t help you out, take them aside and ask if you’re doing something wrong, because you need their help in a different way than you’re getting. Be firm. Be up front. Be honest.

Good luck, Ben! And just for some fun, here’s a scene from Office Space:

People skills!

One reply on “Mailbag: Playing the Middle”

Love the Office Space clip….this movie is probably filed under fiction but we always thought of it as a documentary 🙂

I have been here and it does, in fact, totally suck! You don’t know what to ask one group from the other. You might be calling something a thing-a-ma-bobber when it’s clearly a thing-a-ma-jig. You get my meaning. The one thing I can say might help Ben is to draw on the confidence that enables him to do support in the first place. I’ll never forget, in my first *real* technical job I was doing telephone support (pre-www internet days) for a DOS & Windows app. The caller didn’t care that I was putting him on hold to go ask questions because he told me after our initial greeting “I feel better already”. I asked him why and he said “You sound confident so I know I’m going to get some help.” This guy had no CLUE I had no clue how to fix his problem and was putting him on hold to ask my trainer for help. This was a big ah-ha moment for me and a confidence booster. While this was my first support job, it wasn’t my first job. I had been in the work force for some time, ran a restaurant, etc and those experiences helped me sound like I knew what I was doing. Hopefully Ben can draw on something similar to finally get the right widgets talking to the thingies 🙂

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