Tips for Dealing With Inexperienced Computer Users

Geek!This is Michael Trimm’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker in the Spiderman story: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This phrase does not only apply to crime fighting web-slingers, but to us computer enthusiasts as well (a.k.a. geeks). Those of us who understand technology and have mastered the art and science behind making the computer work for us are oftentimes approached by those who don’t quite understand how their machines work. Although it is sometimes tough to explain something for the “umpteenth” time, we have a responsibility to educate those who know less about their technology than we do. Here are some tips for dealing with those who aren’t quite as tech savvy as you are.


It is all-too-easy to lose your cool when dealing with frustrating situations, so patience is vital. The seemingly-trivial questions and answers mean a lot to the person you are helping. At one point, you had similar questions about the stuff you are now teaching others. Don’t get too frustrated when you are asked the same question multiple times – after a short while, they will get the hang out of it. Your patience will pay off and soon they will be able to help others.

Details, Details, Details

When assisting someone who is new to using technology or is not technically inclined, you can never use too many details. As a technology specialist, when I support some customers, I have to tell them the smallest details, including press “Run” for the program I told them to open. Other users may know what needs to be done, but are awaiting your guidance. The more details you use on the location of items (e.g., Control Panel, System Tray) or on the specific process, the better.

Teach them to Fish

There is an old adage that is popular in my office. “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” We try to use that in our support methods. If we just do the task for the user, or walk them through it every time, then they will just keep coming back to us and asking for help. If we have them do the work, look it up themselves, or perform the task on their own, it is more likely that they will actually learn it and not need to keep asking you for more and more help.

Let Them Make Mistakes

These days, there is almost nothing that cannot be undone on the computer (you do keep a backup, right?). Allow the user to explore and play around a little bit. Don’t hover over their shoulder while they are performing the task (my mom taught me that one the hard way). If they make a mistake, it’s generally easy to undo it (plus, you should have a backup and they should have a limited account). Most people learn better from experience than from reading a book or being lectured.

Keeping these simple tips in mind will help you to stay sane while supporting somebody who is new or inexperienced in computing. It will also allow them to begin to learn the joys of computing.