Fixing the Technology Isn't Always Enough

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Every IT person has had one of these situations. A user comes to you with a problem. You fix it and announce, "Problem solved" or "Case closed." But you're met with a long, uncomfortable silence or a blank stare. It's an awkward moment that you can end only by

saying something like, "Well, let me know if there's anything else I can do for you," before shuffling away, wondering where you went wrong.

Where we go wrong, more often than not, is in handling the facts of a problem but not the feelings that accompany it. The technology problem is solved, but the feelings that the problem aroused in the user -- anger, disappointment or frustration -- are unresolved.

I can imagine what you have to say to that: "Dealing with feelings is not in my skill set." We geeks are adept at handling the facts of people's problems and notoriously oblivious to their feelings. But if you want to be good at working with nontechnical people, you have to expand your ability to deal with both. Whether they ask for it or not, whether they realize it or not, they need you to help them resolve both to move forward.

So why don't they just tell you that they're upset? Two reasons: At work, people don't feel comfortable talking about feelings. It's safer to complain about facts. And sometimes it's hard to put feelings into words. People may not even be able to articulate the nature of their disappointment.

I happen to think that geeks can handle these situations. We're problem-solvers, and if we just expand our definition of the problems we solve to include both the facts and the underlying feelings, we can deal with them like any other difficulty. Relax; you don't have to be Dr. Phil. You just need to use some responsive words and send subtle signals that show you care.

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