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August 03, 2012

The Art of Helping Users

This brief article is just going to highlight one of many ways to help users.

There is one pitfall i see repeatedly when users ask for help - it's what is called the XY Problem. This is not a term which is really well-known outside of programming and support circles, but would go a long way to making the process of debugging and support much easier for everyone involved.

Here's that link again. Really, give it shot.

For those who still won't read : here is a brief summary, straight from the article :

  • User wants to do X.

  • User doesn't know how to do X, but thinks they can fumble their way to a solution if they can just manage to do Y.

  • User doesn't know how to do Y either.

  • User asks for help with Y.

  • Others try to help user with Y, but are confused because Y seems like a strange problem to want to solve.

  • After much interaction and wasted time, it finally becomes clear that the user really wants help with X, and that Y wasn't even a suitable substitute for X.

Simply being aware of when you are engaging in this sort of misdirection is a good start in the right direction toward better communication and less frustration on all sides.