Coaching (problem) writer?

Subject: Coaching (problem) writer?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 10:17:35 -0400

Cindy Kight reports: <<A writer was hired to write training materials for
our software products... Although hired for a high-level position, it turns
out the writer's skills are very weak across the boards. But the real
problem is the writer's attitude - it's all someone else's fault. Rather
than owning up to simple mistakes (which nobody cares about anyway) this
person has gone so far as to say Word must've magically changed the template
and also inserted duplicate pages at a later point in the document.>>

Having worked with Word for some time, I suggest you don't rule out the
possibility of malevolent software. <g> Seriously, though, if the writer is
blaming Word, sit down with them and watch them write--assuming they'll let
you do this. Maybe they're simply using the software the wrong way, and
observing them will reveal this so you can explain the problem and help them
to solve it. (Helping someone solve a problem is almost always more
effective than solving it for them, because it empowers them and doesn't
turn you into someone who's somehow "superior". That can feel awfully
demeaning, even if you present the solution well.) End result: you become
someone helping them to solve the problem rather than the person criticizing
(attacking!) them for creating it. Of course, an attitude like this may also
not be something you can change, but you won't know until you try; sometimes
defensiveness and anger results from the fear caused by being unable to do
something. (Psychobabble explanation #1 for the day. <g>)

<<I haven't even been able to approach the real issues because even the
smallest things are met with such defensiveness.>>

Again, the solution may be to get yourself seen as the solution to a
problem, not the person who's raising the problem and coming down hard on
the writer. Sometimes the "good cop, bad cop" approach works, with your boss
or the training department raising the problem and you being the friendly
manager who helps the writer solve the problem--and sometimes that's seen
for what it is, namely manipulation. Very tricky to do right, particularly
if the person won't get past their defensive reaction and let you help them.

(Psychobabble explanation #2 for the day:) Speaking as the veteran of many
(but decreasing in number) battles with my kids over similar situations, the
problem often isn't what it appears to be on the surface; the defensiveness
may be masking something deeper (e.g., the fear that they're not living up
to the standards you expect and might lose the job, job stress), and letting
the person vent while you listen sympathetically often gains you enough
credibility that you can see hints of the real problem. Once you've
established your credentials as someone who can listen and empathize,
without imposing a solution (that's the part I always find hardest), you
start to acquire the "right" to either lead the person to find their own
solutions (better) or persuade them to ask you to propose a solution (okay).
Of course, this person is nominally an adult, so the problem personality may
be so deeply ingrained you can't change it, but again, you won't know until
you try.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"I vowed [that] if I complained about things more than three times, I had to
do something about it."--Jon Shear


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