Blog Post

How to Deal with the Difficult Forum User


It has happened to us all at one time or another.  We are trying to help someone on an online forum and they won't cooperate when asked for more details regarding the problem they are experiencing.  You may have written some code and they come back and say it doesn't work, but they won't tell you what was wrong.  The may question your advice regarding an approach to solve a problem.  What do you do?

Well, you could throw in the towel and walk away.  If this is a user that you have had frequent issues with over several problems or questions, you may even add them to your personal black list, those forum posters that you will simple ignore in the future.  You may even let your frustration get the better of you and say things in the heat of the moment that you may regret later.

Before you do any of those things, let's stop and think a minute.  I'd like to thank RBarryYoung on for articulating two of the principles that can make dealing with difficult individuals easier.

The first is to treat the individual with respect.  Do this even if they are not showing you that same respect in return.  It isn't easy, but it shows strength of character, and eventually the individual may see that and begin to show more respect in return.

The second, the individual has come looking for help, do your best to help.  This doesn't mean we should do their work for them, but help them figure out what is going on or how to do something better or easier.  Sometimes, this does mean providing code, but hopefully with some explanation as to how and why it works.  Other times it may just be asking them to read an article or certain sections in Books Online.  When doing that, let them know that you are still available if they still have questions after doing the reading.  It may help them, but they may still be confused or have new questions about what they are doing or the problem they are trying to solve.

The third principle is that you, yourself, need to have someone one you can go to and vent your frustrations with when you feel like exploding.  This may be a coworker, or another member of the forum that you can contact separately.  By allowing yourself an avenue to release your own stress, you won't take it out on the individual you are trying to help.

And as I write this, a fourth principle comes to mind, and that is to ask others to help as well.  You may be struggling with an individuals problem, and can't seem to figure out what they want or need.  Ask for help from other members of the forum.  It could be as simple as misunderstanding the individuals requirements, to a language barrier.  Most of the SQL Server user sites are English language sites, but by nature of the Internet the people asking for help, English may not be their first or even second language.

Hopefully this makes some sense, and will help when you find yourself dealing that difficult forum user that is asking for help.  Remember, you were once on the other side of the coin.