This applies whether you’re working with a client, running a business, doing customer support, trying to be useful within your team or simply trying to help someone out.
“Be useful.” As I’ve said many times here, I live by this rule. It’s what inspires my product, my work and my life day-to-day. Admittedly, it can take effort. Looking out for myself and my own time comes more naturally than going out of my way for others. And despite my best intentions, the efforts I do make aren’t always as helpful as I imagine they will be.
Through it, I've learned what works and doesn't work when I'm trying to help others, no matter the context.
Get to the point.
Cut out the disclaimers, small talk, excuses, buzz words or lengthy introductions. Help as soon as possible, as clearly as possible.
Especially when it comes to emails, we tend to pad our messages with fluff. Rather than helping, this wastes your time and the receiver’s time. Just give people the answer or the assistance they need from the start.
Don’t make assumptions about the person you are helping.
Our biases blind us. We assume people are using our product a certain way, or need a specific solution, or are struggling in a way we’ve personally struggled, and we act based on those assumptions.
This only wastes time and leads to errors. Instead of assuming you know what the painpoint or solution is, ask questions. Dig around about and seek other perspectives. When it comes to your product or company, this is even more important. Every time you help someone, you learn how your product can be better. Making assumptions about your users removes that possibility.
Don’t make people do more work for your help.
Aim to make it as easy as possible for the person you’re helping:
Try to answer your own questions before you ask them. Anticipate the other person’s questions before they ask them. Try to go as far as possible with the information you’ve been given. Don’t make people chase you down for the help you promised. Deliver your help in the time period you said you would. When possible, exceed expectations and overdeliver.
Don't avoid or bury the bad news.
People can sense bullshit, and they don’t respond well to it. It may be tempting to circle around the truth, but it will usually backfire and lead people to lose trust in you or your business.
When you make it an unwavering policy, transparency is surprisingly easy. You find yourself in a tricky situation with your back against the wall and instead of panicking and scheming, you immediately know what to do: Tell the truth. Of course, you should have tact when you do so, but don’t mistake bullshitting for tact.
A good rule: If you find yourself working and reworking your message to get it just right, you're probably bullshitting.
Talking around the negatives causes more confusion and frustration. Honesty makes you appear confident and builds trust.
Apologize when necessary. And when not necessary.
Hearing an apology from someone (sometimes, even if no one is at fault), goes a long way for the person in need. If you’re not apologizing for something you actually did, be sorry they are frustrated, sorry the information was unclear, sorry your product didn’t meet their expectations. If you actually did something wrong, acknowledge it quickly and genuinely, then and immediately offer your best solution.
Swallow your pride and strive for genuine empathy. It can make all the difference.