Today we’re going to be talking about how to help people help themselves. So I’ve gotten a couple of emails recently and had a couple of conversations with my co-workers about the problem of what do you do when you have a co-worker or a colleague who keeps asking you questions? I think most of us have been here, either if you’ve been in a role or a company for a long time, you become the expert in the technology, which is great, but of course the downside of that is that you’re the go-to person when people need help. Of course, we all want to feel helpful and useful to our co-workers, but at the same time it can really interfere with getting work done, especially if you are like me and you really need to be in the flow of work in order to be really productive. So, if this is you, here are some tips to help you help others.
So the first one is that instead of just helping someone, for example, instead of saying, “Here’s the answer, go away.” Well, of course, you probably wouldn’t say that. But instead of just giving them the answer, send them a link or tell them the steps that you would take to solve the problem. For example, if they are trying to debug and don’t understand what a method is doing, maybe you would grep through the source code and find where that method was being used and look at other examples and show that to them, or find the answer. So instead of just going and answering the question, take the time to actually write out these steps. Tell them what you would do, tell them what you would look for, tell them where to look, maybe even give them links on Google with the search terms that you would use to find it.
This will do two things. One is that it’s going to help you build up documentation, so it’s going to help you document the things that you’re doing that are helpful, and two, is that you’re going to be giving them the steps to solve their own problems – both educating them and moving everybody in the right direction.
There’s another tool that tends to work really well, which is asking them to wait. So what do I mean? Let’s say you’re in the circumstance where your co-worker sits right next to you and it’s way easier to lean over and be like, “Hey Kate, can you look at this problem for me?” Of course, I’m generally like, “Sure,” because like I said, we all like helping people, but the downside of this is that you’re constantly interrupted. So one way to work around this is to just tell them, “I can’t right now, but I’ll take a look in a couple of hours.” This is actually a really powerful statement, one, because it allows you to keep working, but also because if the person
really needs your help, they’ll wait two hours. But if they don’t and they might be able to figure it out on their own, they’re going to spend the next two hours or less figuring out how to solve their own problem. So this works really, really well. It also allows you to stay in the groove and keep productive.
So hopefully these tips are helpful. If you have other examples or other ways, tools, techniques, anything, feel free to leave them in the comments or point me to other references or useful documentation. I’m always looking
for ways to be better.