Now To Help (And NOT to Help)

Expertise is often a foundation of networking, both professional and personal. If you are willing to share your expertise or opinion with someone who is seeking same, you may find yourself a very grateful new contact who will be there to help you should you ever require it.

There are any number of ways to achieve this, whether online or in person. Trade shows. Message boards. Even blogs and Twitter. But to me there is a surefire way to drive away at least half of the people that came to you for help in your area of knowledge, regardless of the medium.

If you want to never be asked for your help or advice again, make extra sure to ignore the particulars of the one asking for your assistance.

Help is, after all, not a one size fits all concept. Different people have different levels of understanding, different resources, and different goals. When you assume that every person you help is at the highest level of each of these, your “help” becomes more like a exhibition of how much you know. Which is quite different from lending assistance.

Let’s look at a hypothetical. I am sure that many of you have encountered this sort of thread in a message board or other similar media. Maybe you have even had the displeasure of dealing with such a person in real life. But for now, let’s pretend we are visiting a reputable message board for discussing digital video. (The problem I talk about does seem to happen most often with computer oriented problems, but it is not limited to same.) An entry appears as follows.

“Hello all. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I’ve recently purchased a Lava 3 digital camcorder from a friend. I love it and it does exactly what I need it to do for my family picnic videos and a few other family activities. But now I’d like a chance to make something special for my grandmother, who couldn’t make it to our house this summer. (A little music in the background, a text title here and there, she’d enjoy that!) I bought TriloMorph on sale, and was installing it, but I can’t quite get my hard drive to read some of the extras. I know it works, because I’ve seen others use it with these type of computers, and I have done a lot with it at work. I’m comfortable with the interface, and that’s why I chose it. I’m not a techie, so any help would be appreciated.

Now let’s look at a common sort of response such people get.

“Step One: Gather your receipt, put it in a bag, get in your car, return to the store IMMEDIATELY and return the garbage..err, I mean TriloMorph and get your 40 dollars back.

Step Two: Take that 40 dollars and invest it towards the $375 you’ll need to get SnipCrystal, which is an actual video editing software that produces quality videos your grandmother might, I don’t know, actually want to watch. Seriously, TriloMorph runs a CXT based system which may be good if you are making a 5 minute YouTube clip of a cat farting, but it has no graphic equalizer, no saturation compensation, minimal layering, and, thus far, no SmartPhone App to go with it. SnipCrystal has all of these things and more. The price is much higher, by you get what you pay for, and those who sit down to watch your videos will thank you later.

Oh and if there is anyway to use anything OTHER than a Lava 3 for your videos, like say, the Neptune 40X, that wouldn’t hurt either.”

Does this guy get a commission for selling stuff or what?

What we have here is someone that is obviously very knowledgeable in the subject, and someone who frequents the help boards for same. He has no problem expressing his knowledge. But the problem? He has not in the slightest way helped the poster who asked for it.

Okay, one could argue he was sort of helping in an obtuse way by suggesting what he considered to be better software. That is often the defense of people who reply in this fashion. But let’s take a look at how this guy’s expertise was of no use to the one who sought it.

–For starter’s he was sarcastic about it. The whole “get in the car and get a refund” bit is, sadly, a real example from my experiences seeking help from others.

–He ended by taking a swipe at the poster’s camcorder, about which the poster did not even ask a question. The expert has a hard time believing anyone would be happy with a Lava 3, even if they directly say, as in this case, “I love it“.

–The “expert” makes pretty broad assumptions about the poster’s technical knowledge. He mentions many things about systems, stabilization, and other options, and instantly makes those the selling point of SnipCrystal. But had he really paid attention to what was being asked, he’d realize that the poster wasn’t concerned about any of that. He already knows what TriloMorph can do, and that is what he wants. Perhaps because he understands it already, and isn’t sure about all of the other stuff.

–The poster didn’t ask for advice on the best video editor out there. He already expressed that he was comfortable with using TriloMorph, and had been totally happy with the results. He already owns the software. Certainly he knows his own grandmother, and that she will be happy with the results of TriloMorph. . But in this expert’s mind, there is only one best. Even if SnipCrystal is in fact the state of the art software at this time, he is still assuming that everyone everywhere wants the best. He operates under the assumption that any advice anywhere should be designed to obtain one thing and one thing only…industry best.

And that’s part of the problem. All of the assumptions that are made. People come to you for advice because they have a pre-existing set of circumstances. They are unsure how to proceed, so they seek your expertise. But your expertise is of no use to them if your first goal is to change their circumstances. You may have the best of intentions, but if you don’t take into consideration what it is the person wants, and what they come to you with, you are basically just mentioning how inadequate they and their goals are to you.

What if someone on that same message board had responded this way?

I haven’t used TriloMorph in a few years, so some of my knowledge may be outdated here, but from what you are describing, you seem to be missing a patch that came out about a year ago. You should be able to download it at the TriloMorph website ( A lot of it of course depends on what kind of computer you have, too, so if you try to patch and it doesn’t work, let us know the specifics of your device, and we will see what we can do from there to get TriloMorph up and running.

This person is also one of expertise. But unlike the first example he has taken into account what the poster is, has, and hopes to do. And he has used his knowledge to pull together an answer which will address the specific needs of the poster, as opposed to the objective pursuit of the highest quality home video production equipment. In other words, this second answer was focused on the one needing help, and not the one giving help.

Now of course, beyond a certain point, a person may have to upgrade, or change their tack with something. We get to a point where what a person comes to us with just simply will not work. But there is a difference between something being impossible, and something being less efficient, or less popular. Some people, myself included, like to master what we have, find its strengths and weaknesses, and over time, if we feel the need, move on to something else. If people like me jump right to the most expensive, biggest, loudest, trendiest widget or approach or class out there, we are just going to end up falling behind, or worse, resent how much information is being thrown at us all at once.

If someone is Too XYZ to take the highway, but you do in fact know a detour, share that with them. Show them the way to their own success, even if it is not the way you yourself would go. If you do that, you become people based, regardless of the topic, you will be seen as helpful. And, best of all, you will be seen as worth helping in the future when you need it.

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