Building Rapport – Educate and Empower

We’ve all been there before….

A user asks for help adding something to their site that makes us shake our heads and mutter to ourselves, “Are you $#&@ing serious?!?”

As happiness engineers, we know what works and what doesn’t work for websites. Users, however, don’t share the same knowledge or experience as us. So they may often want to do something to their site that we know is kind of a bad idea. Or maybe even a really bad idea. A few examples come to mind:

  • Tables or columns
  • Mailto tags
  • Popup windows
  • Auto-playing audio
  • And the list goes on….

So how do we reply to users who ask us for help setting up something that we can’t in good conscience help them set up?

We educate and empower. We teach them how to do it, but we also warn them that it may not be a good idea. And then — and this is the most important part — we let them to decide for themselves. We educate the user, and then we empower them to make their own decision.

You see, many people don’t like being told what to do without being given a reason for it. Even if we have the best of intentions, it can come across as condescending and even rude. As such, our replying, “That’s a bad idea. Don’t do it,” will never be a satisfactory answer.

What I prefer to do instead is to explain how to set up the bad idea the user wants to set up (or at least direct them to a webpage with instructions). But before I give them a chance to reply or click the link, I give them a quick warning:

Here’s how you do that, but before you do so, I need to give you a quick heads-up….

And then I go into my explanation of why what the user wants to do is a bad idea.

Sometimes, the user sticks to their guns, and in that case, I can walk away knowing that, hey, I tried to help. This is one of the most important lessons I learned as a teacher of teenagers, though. If the impending mistake they’re about to make is not life-threatening (or site-breaking, as it were), then sometimes, we just have to let them make the mistake and learn for themselves. There’s no greater teaching tool than making a dumbass move, only to realize, “Okay, I probably shouldn’t do that again.”

Well, hopefully, that’s the takeaway….

I also think that in this case, the way we order the information matters. Do we tell them it’s bad, and then show them how to do it? Or do we show them how to do it, and then tell them it’s bad? I believe we should tell them how to do it first, because science suggests that that order is more effective when we want to change someone’s behavior.

And to that end, Educate and Empower falls in line with the idea of “teachable moments.” It takes a bit more effort, since you have to take the time to explain something, but you may be surprised at the amount of happiness you end up engineering. Because ultimately, people want to know why something is or isn’t a good idea. Here’s an example of a chat where the user ended up thanking me for telling them not to do something: