Ten Simple Steps for Dealing with the Tech Illiterati

Every office has them; the people who seem to freeze as soon as they’re exposed to new technology. They throw their hands up at the first sight of anything wrong with their computer, always assume it’s “been hacked” and furiously click the mouse or bash at their keyboard louder rather than look for the virus-scanner that’s slowing down their machine to a glacial pace. They’re the tech illiterati.

I must have a friendly personality because, while I’m not in the IT department by any means, I seem to be anyways have been a first port of call for tech support (especially on Macs) in offices I’ve worked in. I usually don’t mind helping out, really!

I used to find myself grinning at the thought that someone needed to be shown something that seemed so obvious to me. Then just over a year ago, I discovered the Quickbooks accounting software, and felt humbled again. It was my turn to have NO idea what I was doing. With monk-like patience and a few pointers from my brilliant accountant, I managed to learn my way around so that I’m now reasonably proficient with Quickbooks.

The experience made its mark though: Learning something you’re new to when you’re scared of screwing up is tough!

Now imagine being freaked out by technology in general rather than just Quickbooks or Photoshop? That’s the relationship many (most?) people have with computers, even today. The difference between them and us is that we’ve developed the confidence to try things, knowing that (generally) it won’t break the computer.

So how about taking 15 minutes to sit down with your tech illiterati colleague to show them how to do something this week? Think of it as time investment: If they learn how to do it and gain confidence, they’ll stop panicking every time that task arises.

How to successfully teach a tech illiterati

  1. Before starting, make sure you’re in a good, open, positive mood.
  2. Before starting, make sure your illiterati is also in a good, open, receptive mood.
  3. Remove distractions: If you can, forward their desk phone to someone else, close email and “misplace” their Blackberry. Without their full attention, you’re wasting your time.
  4. Ask them what they need to achieve and where they’ve been stumbling. Listen to their answer to see what spooks them most.
  5. Take a deep breath. Take another one. Then start teaching.
  6. Go at half-speed: Speak slowly, avoid jargon and show them where you’re clicking. You may know the software or website by heart, but they don’t, so let each step sink in.
  7. Encourage them to take notes: Your student should make their own notes, since your notes or step-by-step most likely takes certain things for granted, skipping steps that are essential in their eyes. For particularly complex tasks, print a screenshot of the page and let them scribble directly on it.
  8. Do it again: After you’ve done the steps once, if you can, let the student do it a second time under your supervision but without any hints/tips from you. This will help the process sink in, yet provide them with the confidence that you’re there to ensure they don’t screw up.
  9. Praise: Give them encouragement, but don’t be patronising.
  10. Go grab a glass of wine and have a giggle at Eddie Izzard’s video on technojoy & technofear.

5 responses to “Ten Simple Steps for Dealing with the Tech Illiterati

  1. excellent advice, I find unless you are dealing with someone under 20 yrs old it takes three tries to get it sunk in. Most people tend to think they are stupid and everyone else is clever, they don’t realise that everyone is in the same boat. A kind teacher can put them right, and it sounds like you are doing a great job. Common sense and kindness go a long way. well done.

  2. I agree, one of the most calming phrases is ‘you can’t break it’ when it comes to tech stuff. Oh, and I’m stealing the Eddie Izzard video clip for my blog – thanks for the laughs! http://runningforfood.com/node/121

  3. Matt

    Great post! People tend to think ‘I have a way’ when dealing with the illiterati so tend to come to me rather than other people in the office with their IT issues. I’m a software engineer rather than an administrator, so it may be I have more in common with them. My advice is play down your own knowledge and don’t assume they know *anything* but don’t be patronising about it!

  4. Great post! I will have to get my dad to read this post.

  5. Gavin

    Ace post… I’m going to send it to a few people!

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I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

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