Building Rapport – The user isn’t wrong. They’re just not right … yet.

No one wants to be told that they’re wrong. Especially if a user is struggling with their site and already getting frustrated, pointing out that they did something “wrong” can only leave them feeling dejected and hopeless.

Okay, so what if the user absolutely did mess up? What do we say instead?

Simple. We tell them that they’re not right … yet.

Notice the very different implications the two statements below convey:

Oh, you set up your menu wrong.


Oh, you haven’t set up your menu correctly yet.

By framing it this way, we’re subtly encouraging the user not to give up. Yes, we’re telling them they’re wrong, but we’re also implying that they can fix the problem. We’re empowering them to persevere.

Using a statement like this is also the perfect segue into, “So let me show you how you can fix that!”

Give it a shot. Next time you notice that a user has done something morbidly wrong, don’t call them out on it. Tell them they simply haven’t done it right yet. If the user is already feeling frustrated, you’ll be amazed how this slight shift in tone can salvage what little motivation they have left to keep working on their site.

PS: This technique works great with kids, too. If you have a kid who hasn’t been particularly successful at a given task (for instance, they’re trying to solve a math problem and keep getting stuck), don’t repeatedly tell them they’re doing it wrong. Be encouraging and use the “not yet” instead. They might still get annoyed with you, but at least they’ll be less likely to just give up.

PPS: If this kind of stuff interests you, check out this podcast on learned helplessness — how repeated failures kill motivation and lead people to give up even on tasks they can handle.