Speaking with Idiots: an Expert’s guide (guest post)

Oct 8, 2009 by     No Comments    Posted under: Attitude, Guest Post, Relationships, Thousands of Stories


This is a guest post from Kirk Starks, providing a bit of wisdom from the other side of the camera/stage. Kirk has worked on pretty much every technical aspect of theatre, and is an all-around technical wiz-kid. His advice is not only useful for you techies out there, but anyone who ever has to deal with an “idiot.” That is to say, everyone. Enjoy.
(P.S. Actors, this might give you a bit more sympathy for those dozens of people clamoring around you at all time trying their darndest to make you look pretty)

I joke that I talk to idiots all day. I am in technical support for a theatrical lighting company and let’s face it, not everyone in our industry is suited to understand the inner and outer workings of the technical side. The truth is that I talk with people in the middle of what they perceive as the biggest emergency of their immediate lives. They can’t get the lights on (or off) and how is the show to go on? While outside of our industry, this seems like the easiest thing in the world (“just flip the light switch”). In reality, it can be very complicated.

Most of my interaction with customers is at a level that could hardly be called idiotic. In fact, there are quite a number of customers that push well beyond the level of expert. But, every so often, there is that “special” someone. Maybe you have your own “special” someone, this post is for you.

Dealing with idiots is more of an art than a skill. Most “idiots” are not actual idiots; they are blinded by immediate problems and simply unable to see past the fog that has rolled in. The trick to working with people is getting them to see your point of view on their terms.

Here are a few tidbits that I have picked up:

Smile on the inside. I answer every call with a grand and exuberant hello. Why? Because it makes people question why am I so very happy to hear them possibly yell at me. Something is broken, why should I care to fix it? Everyone has moments where they are frustrated, exhausted, angry, or simply overwhelmed. They want someone to fix it, and they want it now. But a smile, when it comes from within, is uniquely disarming. It can break that tension and show them that you are really on their side. You are not a threat to their happiness, but an ally who is focused on the same goal.

The truth is out there. It is a given someone will tell you what they think that you want to hear to give them the answer that they want. Whether it is a lack of knowledge or pure apathy, or somewhere in the middle, they will inevitably withhold something. What does that mean for us? It means that we must guide them to the answers we need while giving them confidence and support for their ideas.

No one is that stupid. It seems to be the inevitable fact of talking with a particularly challenging or challenged person that you will think this phrase. And while it will never cease to amaze me what new and unique problems people will come up with, there is a reason that person is where they are. In a difficult situation, you may be stuck working with that person to resolve a problem or complete a task. Here the key is to find the strengths of that individual and use them to enhance your abilities to complete the task. The cliché “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” is generally true but incomplete. You can do anything if you put your mind to it and have the proper guidance.

Lead from the rear. You can be that guidance mentioned above, but leading and guiding are sometimes two very separate things. As mentioned in a previous post, people are selfish. They need to feel that they are in control, they know what they are doing, and that what they chose is the right choice. It is sometimes the right path to allow them to work tangentially towards the solution. Remember that you may also learn something along the road, but also remember not to get too sidetracked by the road less traveled that you lose sight of the end goal.

Know your limits. It is easy to jump right in and attempt to be all things to all people. This is not only dangerous, but brings you close to the line between the person that you are and the person you are trying to help. You must balance what you attempt to do with what you can do. This is not to say that you shouldn’t push yourself further, but you should also be aware of what is too far. It is an easy trap, but asking for help and getting advice can help you avoid becoming stuck.

Ben Whitehair is the Los Angeles contingent of this blog. Find out more information and view his materials on his website, or read the rest of his blog posts.