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Listen and ye shall be heard

Chuck Edwards | | February 1, 2010

Are you the kind of person who takes your car to the shop and tells the mechanic exactly what part needs to be replaced or fixed?  Do you go to the doctor’s office and let them know about your condition and probable cures based on what you looked up on WebMD?

How about others’ interaction with you?  In your professional life, have you been asked to do something very specific without context?  Does it make you uncomfortable?  Do you ever think, “Man, I just wish I knew what this was all about?”

We suffer from human nature on both sides of these conversations.  On the one hand, most IT people like to understand details.  We like to troubleshoot and find answers.  That’s what drew many of us to IT in the first place: Problems that have objective solutions, like math tests in high school, are a lot more fun and satisfying challenges than ambiguous issues with wishy-washy resolution.

On the other hand, we don’t like to be told how to do our jobs.  You’re a professional.  I’m a professional.  We got here by working, learning, and digging deep into and around our areas of expertise.  Like the doctor or mechanic, we do our jobs best when presented with the whole challenge instead of a pre-fab solution.  A mechanic doesn’t feel needed if all he does is order a part like he’s told; A doctor isn’t doing much doctoring if she simply writes the prescription demanded by her patient’s own research.  We’re not robots, after all.

Every IT professional and customer should follow 2 simple rules:

  1. When you’re a customer, give your professional service provider the whole picture.
  2. When you’re a service provider, listen to and consider what your customer has to say, and ask for more information if needed.

I appreciate it when a customer researches their symptoms on Google or Metalink before asking a question.  Taking the time to listen, to validate their efforts, to recognize that they probably know more about many aspects of their systems than I do, and genuinely evaluate their solution is an invaluable relationship-building approach.  Treat your customers with respect and they’ll do the same for you; remember that both inside and outside the office, we’re often in the same position of vulnerability that they are when they ask for help.

When I don’t receive all the information I need or when a customer dictates a solution like “Apply this patch!” I find that they are far more receptive to my questions and proposed solutions if I have treated their proposed solutions respectfully in the past – even if they have been consistently misguided.  Besides, how big of an ass do we look like when we reject a proposal out of hand and it turns out to be correct?  Nope, never done that.  Not once.  😉

Mutual respect is the key to any good relationship.  In IT, listen respectfully and you shall be heard.

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