My System Is Trying to Communicate With Me! What Do I Do?

What you should not do is ignore whatever you see on the screen. If you don’t trust computers, remember that they were created and programmed by humans like you. And if something pops up while you’re working, it’s either because you are about to do something important that needs validation, or because the system encountered an error.

There are two major types of messages that you can get: warning messages and error messages. Let’s take a closer look at what they represent and what you should do when you see them.

Warning Messages

Wouldn’t it be nice to get a warning message if you were about to step on a banana peel? Something like: “Are you sure you want to step on a banana peel? Click Yes if you want to break your neck, No to avoid it, and Cancel to ignore this message.”

Well, business systems warn you that you are about to do something important and ask you to confirm your actions. This only happens when those actions can have a serious impact on the system, like voiding invoices, exporting hundreds of orders, or doing an inventory count.

So start by carefully reading the question or the warning. Your answer will very much depend on that. Speaking of answers, you must understand your options very well. It might seem obvious, but it’s not always just “Yes” and “No.”

Sometimes no is another type of yes. Let me explain. If you change the price of a product on an invoice, you might get this message: “Would you like to change the price for similar products on this invoice?” And the options you have are: Yes to change prices for all products, No to change the price for the selected product only, and Cancel to do nothing. “Yes” and “No” will both generate a change in the price, but “Cancel” will not.

Error Messages

The advice I gave you for warning messages is still important for error messages: please read the message very carefully! When it comes to error messages, though, this will not help you very much. What does “Boolean parameter for function S471PD in sp_inventory not found” mean?

If you don’t know already, don’t even bother to find out. Let your technical support staff handle it. The problem is that if you press the OK button or close the screen and the message disappears, trying to explain what it was to a support representative will be quite a challenge.

I know you’re busy and cannot wait for the support team to connect remotely and see what’s on your screen. So take a screen shot. No, you do not need sophisticated tools for that; you can just use the Print Screen key on your keyboard and then open any image editor and paste the results (CTRL + v).

For those of you who are capable of fixing such problems on your own, some database providers share their error codes with you, including the possible cause and the action that you can take. Oracle has thousands of error messages, and you can find them all here. For Microsoft SQL Server, go here, type the error number, and see if it helps.

“Miracle” solutions like closing the system and opening it again, as well as rebooting your computer, might work, but are not recommended. For ease of use, many systems do not have a save button, so when you close a window or a software application, it will save automatically. This is probably something you don’t want to do, and most of the time there is no “undo” button or functionality.

Errare Humanum Est, Sed Perseverare Diabolicum (To Err Is Human, but to Persist Is Diabolical)

The Romans did not have business software, but they understood that when you make the same error twice or more, maybe the user is the problem rather than the system. Warning messages can prevent bad or illogical things from happening, but error messages will let you know that it’s probably too late.

Whether or not it’s an error or just a warning message, ignoring it is like failing to listen to your spouse: sooner or later, it will turn against you. A computer cannot make you sleep on the couch (yet!), but it doesn’t understand that you’re (only) human and therefore not perfect, and will not forgive you when you make mistakes (and ignore its warnings).

How do you deal with warnings or error messages? Do you panic, ignore them, use them as an excuse to take a break? Do you think the system you’re using has too many of these messages or maybe not enough?
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