Opinion -v- Advice: Why I'm put off asking for help

Hi all

I love these Forums, and reading others' queries has really helped me on a number of occasions, but..... I wonder how many other 'lurkers' are wary of posting a question due to the backlash they would expect to receive?

I've just read a post asking for some specific help.  Three quarters of the responses *I felt* were berating why a certain approach would be taken, and how this isn't best practice, advisable, how other people would do things etc.  Even of the quarter who did actually answer the question asked, there were still comments about it not being a positive step.  

Is it just me that avoids asking a question, as I know I would get many more opinions rather than the actual help I need?

While many are lucky enough to work in an environment that has best practice at the heart of its HR operations, not all of us are.  I'm in a standalone role within an SME where the MD does things his way - regardless of my opinion.  Sometimes I get a win, and that gives me hope that with time, I can continue to change attitudes, but most of the time, I am left to highlight the risks of a certain course of action - but have to plough ahead regardless.  Now, more than ever, I could do with some help or support, yet I'm wary of asking for any help from this community as I already know the barrage of negative opinions I'd face.  And to be honest, I just don't have the strength to take a beating here, after I've already fought a fight and lost with the MD.

Please, please, don't jump to the conclusion that people asking for help are the ones who have made the decisions, or necessarily feel it's the best way forward.  Some of us are simply doing what we've been instructed to do, having already pointed out the negative effects this may bring.  The last thing we may be capable of doing is defending these actions to the community.  We'll already have plenty of defending to do with our staff, who this actually affects.

If I could ask one thing from this community, it would be to think before responding to a post.  Has the poster asked for help or opinion?  Sometimes opinion and/or debate are exactly what is wanted.  This community is invaluable for that aspect.  But sometimes, people just ask for help with a particular issue.  Please, try to look for what has been asked for before offering an opinion instead of answering the question posed.

Similarly, I frequently see posters berated for being involved in something that the responder decrees isn't their job, but a line manager's role instead.  Again, all organisations are different.  Some of us are in a role where the responsibility for all people tasks falls in the HR remit.  We don't have line managers who manage these things - it's on us.  So please, again, if you don't want to help by answering the question asked, please realise that you're certainly not helping by telling the poster that they shouldn't be asking, as it shouldn't be their job.

Anyway, essay over, but please think when responding to a post - "does this poster want my help, or my opinion?".  It may lead to a lot of 'lurkers' becoming actual active members of the community, confident to pose any question they may have.


  • I guess until /unless the CIPD pays for people to respond to posts on its behalf then this forum is what it is - a members forum open to all and any members who choose to give freely of their time to answer countless questions. As a freely given resource a certain amount of licence on the part of responders is inevitable in how people choose to respond. dies a great job on the few occasions someone steps over the line.

    I don’t personally think there is always or even often in HR that black and white line between fact and opinion. It’s not always possible to say definitely the law say X,Y or Z. I also think that it would be very clumsy to always have to preface any answer with “ this may not be you but your organisation”. But I do think the advice freely given is often first class and for many priceless.

    So I think whilst we all want to encourage as many people to contribute as possible I also think that you get the benefit of contributors wisdom as they freely choose to give it - mostly for the good but occasionally less welcome. But that’s a professional community for you rather than a paid for help line.

    But all just my opinion
  • In reply to Keith:

    In addition to Keith's excellent response, sometimes it's hard to know where a poster is coming from - whilst it may be from the place you so clearly articulate, Mary, where you've done all the background thinking about the position you find yourself in, sometimes it may not and I think contributors would feel they were being remiss if they didn't point out the pitfalls of a particular course of action just in case someone was unaware. Sometimes the questions asked are quite short and don't give a feel for the thought process behind the question. Also, it's not always possible to tell where a member is in their career, particularly if a biography hasn't been completed, so it can be really hard to judge what level of answer is suitable. I think a lot of us cautious HR people would rather we made sure we spelt out the worst case scenario just in case it hadn't been thought of than have an inexperienced member end up in trouble because they hadn't been aware of all the ramifications.
    At the end of the day we're all human whether we're asking or answering a question and all just trying to do our best.
  • I concur, all very well received responses. My questions have always been answered and to be honest sometimes they have made me rethink what I was thinking of doing. Sometimes when you work alone, you just need a sounding board to give you the support needed. We all probably have worked with MD's who really have questionable morals, but we are able to move elsewhere.
  • Hi Mary,

    I have to say I agree with you. I have had some pretty bruising experiences when posting questions on here. To the point where I've sometimes gone back and deleted the post so I don't get further responses.

    But, just to give a gentle warning I'm about to give an opinion :-) . Which I may well regret as it is likely to receive a backlash.

    I do sometimes find that there can be a perception regarding my level of experience based on membership grade. I had been working in HR for more years than I care to admit before I got around to getting a CIPD qualification and when I was posting as a student member I do feel it was sometimes assumed that I had less knowledge or experience than was true. Now I am 'just' an Associate member, (currently without the funds to progress to Chartered) I sometimes feel a little patronised by those with 'higher' grades of membership.

    There was a discussion amongst participants at a recent CIPD event where even a member of the local committee admitted that they don't post on these forums for fear of the response. The consensus there was that those who find it problematic to post were younger females and most of the tricky responses were from older men. I am not brave enough to nail my colours to the mast too firmly on this one but I do believe that people's perception is their truth.

    Perhaps the issue is not whether we respond with advice or opinion but more how it is worded. Even if you believe it is the most ridiculous question you've ever heard or the poster is completely clueless, it costs absolutely nothing to respond with kindness.

    And that is the end of my opinion piece.

    Hope all is well with you and yours in these difficult times.

    Victoria x
  • Mary and Victoria, I think you raise some important points. I’d like to think that now you have expressed your views, people who agree with you will do what you have done and be encouraged to voice their opinions.

    Having said that, I am in agreement with many of the points put forward by Keith, Jacqueline and Jules. As a fairly frequent contributor, I generally tend not to join in on threads where all I have to say is “l agree”, but one of the things that will prompt me to jump in is if I think someone is about to put their foot in it. I would also say that I find I personally get the most learning when my views are challenged. I think the standard of debate is appropriate for a professional forum. No one is allowed to be a troll on here and if someone’s language does get heated over over-emphatic, Steve Bridger will intervene, as will other contributors.

    Ultimately, the tone of the debate is what we all make it. I will be hoping to see your names more frequently as you engage with the communities and help to shape the way we interact.
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Mandy Rice-Davies would have said ‘ he would say that, wouldn’t he? ‘ but I’m going to say it anyway because I’m certain it’s true. That is, that this Forum is just about as tolerant and polite and restrained and well policed as it’s possible for these things to get. There’s always scope for even further improvement of course, and as that court judge once wisely opined ‘ the cyclist must be allowed their wobble ‘ - people on here do sometimes wobble a bit or, eg when they hit unexpected bumps etc., a lot.....

    But, compared with all the rough and tumble that usually comes with being in HR, I do think that this Forum is generally a pretty soothing experience!
  • In reply to David:

    I like the fact that there is always someone here, ready and willing to impart their view and sometimes the comments make me chuckle and bring a smile.
  • In reply to Victoria:

    Having been a member of this community for a very long time I've seen the odd scrap where people have locked horns; but it's very rare and as others have pointed out the moderators manage discussions very well.
    One of the challenges with the written word is that almost anything can be (and sometimes will be) misinterpreted. Did my written response offer a forceful opinion or was it rude? Judgement is in the eye (mind) of the reader. I'm sure nobody intends to be disrespectful.
    It also seems to me that we in the HR community should welcome push back (albeit to a point) and learn to navigate it if we are to become more influential within the organisations for which we work. Indeed, I've seen some threads where the response to push back has been positive with the original poster coming back and saying that s/he is glad people disagree as s/he now has the ammunition to go back to the MD and claim 'the HR community' think his is a bad idea!
  • In reply to Jules:

    Some of us try to add humour but it doesn't always work in black and white
  • Mary

    Advice or opinion? My advice is my opinion - I'm not sure there's too much difference and normally the poster doesn't make the distinction when they post. If they do then I'm afraid I'm oblivious to it. So maybe Thats my problem.

    I will sometimes think what might be the back ground to the question. So I won't necessarily answer the question directly. In fact I think it would be negligent if I did so when they perhaps need to have considered and take into account what happened before the event they are now wanting help on.

    Sometimes in answering I'll also take into account trends, issues and the fact that similar questions have been asked multiple times during the previous days and or weeks. Yes, I must admit this sometimes gets the better of me and that will sometimes colour my answer.

    Its not always made clear whether the poster has been given a poisoned chalice to deal with, and I think it would negligent not to point out the consequences. After all we don't know what the poster doesn't know or already knows unless it is pointed out.

    And even if someone asks a very simple question which could be answered with a single yes or no, it would often be totally negligent to only answer with a yes, or a no. As an example;-

    "Can you dismiss someone without an investigation if they have less that 2 years service?"
    And the answer is;- "Yes, but...." and thats like many of the questions we get asked.

  • There's also another reason why respondents sometimes do not answer directly or make comments which may, to some people be seen as criticism etc. As you know its always best to tailor your answer based on what you know about the other person. Many people on here, myself included have a profile, which lets you know how much and what kind of experience/background they have. Hopefully this allows anyone replying to make a judgement based on what that person may or may not know.

    And no this isn't a criticism of you Mary. :-)
  • In reply to David Perry:

    Knowing something about the poster and their context helps tremendously to tailor appropriate answers, suggestions, solutions, warnings. I have almost given up asking people to fill in their profile to give this basic information.

    PS - not a personal dig at Mary the OP

  • Hello all

    Thank you for all your replies and perspectives. I do appreciate you taking the time to offer your views and experiences. I was particularly bruised last week and was considering posting, just for some support if nothing else, when I saw a post asking for advice on how to work out a calculation. When asked, the poster confirmed that they had staff agreement for the action they were taking, but couldn't get their head round the actual calculation. It was the fact that only two people had helped with the calculation and over three quarters of responses were questioning why she would take that action, that I decided against even mentioning my current situation, and posted what I did instead.

    I will reiterate how invaluable I find this community for sparking debate, sense-checking the way to go, and sharing experiences and opinions on possible pitfalls. I will bear your perspectives in mind when reading responses in future.