As many of our readers know, I belong to a world-wide organization which appeals to those who would prefer having a root canal to giving a speech in public. Recent dialog with a fellow Toastmaster in technical support from New Zealand—and personal experience— leads me to believe that even today there are those who would rather have a root canal than try out a new computer application.
Why is that true?
Many people who entered the workforce in the 1960’s and 1970’s and were forced to use computers they did not understand. Not only did they not receive one on one training but they self-taught themselves the bare minimum keystrokes needed to perform only the functions required to do the job they were hired to do. Supervisors punished employees for exploring alternative ways to learn how to use computers. Technical support staff who were far more interested in shiny new toys than they were in answering the same technical question several times over contributed to growing computer-fearing and computer-hating employees.
There is a fix for this problem—and it has to come from an enlightened technical support community that receives as much praise for learning end-user mentoring as a tool as it does for passing technical exams. Stop reinforcing the geek stereotype that regards users as “stupid people.” They are simply people who don’t push the buttons in just the right order, even though they haven’t been told what that order is. They are afraid of having to admit they don’t instantly know the answer.
Interestingly enough, the Toastmasters International organization is full of people who enjoy mentoring others. I myself benefitted greatly by being mentored in technical services by a Toastmaster who happened to be in technical services. And as my friend from New Zealand said recently, “Simply show they can do it, that they can enjoy doing it – and that if they break it they can get help without judgement. The last is crucial and often needs the personal touch (which way too many in IT are AFRAID to give) – but it is the key to building their confidence. Often you are dealing with adults who are “technical children” – and mentoring is NEVER doing your children’s homework for them, right? But you DO celebrate their successes.”