After Hours

10 things that drive your users crazy

When users get angry or frustrated, your job becomes a whole lot harder. But if you know what's likely to set them off, you can keep things on a more even keel. Here are a few common emotional triggers to watch out for.

When users get angry or frustrated, your job becomes a whole lot harder. But if you know what's likely to set them off, you can keep things on a more even keel. Here are a few common emotional triggers to watch out for.


Like most of us, users have certain buttons that it's best not to push. Unfortunately, it's not always clear exactly what those buttons are. For the users' sake -- and certainly for yours -- it's a good idea to learn to recognize and avoid as many potential annoyances as possible. Here are 10 of the more common user buttons be aware of.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Being talked down to

For many users, facility with computers is hard to attain, and what competence they do achieve is constantly being eroded by rapid change. Make no mistake, they resent this, and they'll take out that resentment on you if you give them the chance. If you let them infer that you think they're idiots too lazy to learn, or let the "I'm talking to a six-year-old" tone creep into your voice, you'll be in a hole before you start.

2: Being talked up to

On the other hand, it's a delicate balance. If you overwhelm users with technical information or questions, you may be overestimating what they know or -- more likely -- how much they care. Chances are, to them, their computer problem is just an irritating detour on the path to getting the job done. All they really want to know is how long it will be before they can get going again. Anything else, no matter how important to solving the problem or preventing its recurrence, is secondary. So choose carefully what topics you get into and to what depth. Less may be better.

3: Hearing that what they want can't be done

The problem here is that computers do so many improbable things that users are predisposed to think you're just blowing them off. Rather than leave them thinking you don't know how to do it or you're just too lazy to do it, qualify your response and give them one or two plausible reasons why what they want might be prohibitively expensive or difficult. If you can't come up with reasons at the moment, acknowledge the potential value of their suggestion and tell them you need to think about it. This lets them know you're not ignoring them and gives you time to work out the reasons. Think of it as doing your homework early -- if it was asked for once, likely it will be asked for again ... possibly by your boss.

4: Dealing with people they can't understand

Users' knowledge, training, and experience are so different from ours that we're already speaking two different languages. They don't even see the same things we do when they look at the screen or at recalcitrant hardware. And if they have to deal with an impenetrable accent or a baffling dialect on top of that, difficult turns into impossible. Nothing irritates a person with a problem as much as being unable to make themselves understood -- or being unable to understand what they're hearing. This is often out of your hands, but when it's not, addressing it can make a huge difference. Once you recognize that you don't understand the user, or the user's not understanding you, do what you can to lessen the problem. If there's someone available who might be a better linguistic match for the user, get them.

5: Having their input ignored

Granted, if users understood their problem, they probably wouldn't have a problem. Still... it's likely they know the situation better than you do, and no one likes to be ignored. A little patient and nonjudgmental listening can help you tease out (a) what actually happened and (b) what they actually want from the tangle of frustration, misunderstanding, and exaggeration that often greets you.

6: Being treated arbitrarily

No one likes this, but users are particularly sensitive to it when they have a computer problem because they already feel like they're being treated arbitrarily -- by the computer. Day after day, their computers do incredibly complicated tasks routinely and flawlessly until -- for no apparent reason and with little if any warning -- they don't. Sure, we know there's almost always a reason, and often some warning, but they don't see that. So they're already irritated by an arbitrary "Act of Computer," and it won't take much to transfer that irritation to you. Give reasons for your actions or instructions and explain why the thing you're suggesting will help fix their problem.

7: Being told the problem is "incompatibility"

Blaming incompatibility for the user's problem might be the right answer, but it can still get you in trouble. It just sounds too much like "Because!" -- an answer designed to cut off further debate. It can help if you don't stop there but go on to explain, for example, that it's like the two programs speak different languages. Without translation, it's never going to work. If they ask (quite reasonably) why everyone doesn't "speak English," you can try telling them that the unconstrained nature of software produces a sort of New Guinea of programming languages, standards, and approaches. Papua New Guinea has more than 800 languages in an area the size of California. You're still giving them a "Because!" answer, but with a bit of explanation and sympathy. We don't like incompatibility any more than they do; we're just more used to it.

8: Being asked to change without adequate input, warning, or explanation

As representatives of a rapidly evolving field, IT people frequently end up as the agents of change. And change is always painful. Patterns and procedures that took time and effort for users to establish and fine-tune get scrapped and have to be painstakingly re-created. The only good reason for them to change is anticipation of future benefits. If you can, solicit their input and give them plenty of warning. Even if you can't do that, at least connect the dots for them -- show them how the change will lead to benefits for them. If you can't, reconsider the change.

9: Being scolded for how they use their computer

Many users regard how they use their computer as largely a matter of their personal choice, not company business. Hardware and software manufacturers don't help us here. Even if your users don't know the "P" in PC stands for "personal," they're constantly barraged by ways to customize, personalize, and otherwise "own" their computers and programs. It all encourages them to think, "It's my tool, and how I use it is my business." So tread warily when approaching this issue. If they really do need to be scolded, don't do it yourself. That's what their boss is for.

10: IT people messing with their stuff

Asking permission to open users e-mail or look at their folders or files is a good idea -- especially if you don't need to. Nothing shows respect for other people's privacy like making an effort you didn't have to make. Computers have become so much a part of your users' lives, at work and at home, that they can't help feeling proprietary about "their" computer and "their" stuff. It's an unavoidable problem when the same tool is being used for work, communication, and entertainment. On the plus side, this is becoming less of a problem, as now people tend to bring their own communication/entertainment devices to work. That, of course, causes problems too -- but in most situations, they're not IT's problems.


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19 comments
maclovin
maclovin

In response to those that disagree: So, what you're saying is that you have no problem taking care of logging people out of their accounts every day when they "forget", or shutting down their machines every day that they are supposed to...b/c they are the customer and they shouldn't have to lift a finger if it has to do with the computer if they don't want to. Because that, after all, in YOUR opinion, is the definition of the 'essence of IT' in the workplace...and abroad. Shoot, when I was on a help desk we even had a scope of support that we couldn't cross or we could get reprimanded, if not fired. So don't say that customers are above this either in every sense....b/c they are not. I'm just speaking from experience. Obviously, some are not. And, clearly the individual that wrote this article hasn't been in as many situations as even I have been, at my young age. For all you know, he could be someone that doesn't even work in IT, and just wants to "get the word out".

harleycat75
harleycat75

I don't think anything drives our users more crazy than the dreaded: "You'll just need to restart your computer". While it's not always the cure all, it does fix many problems quite easily.

maclovin
maclovin

As an addition to the long-winded mini-book I wrote above... I DO have to say I'm tired or Business and IT being at odds with each other all the time. Even better, I have to directly report through the CFO instead of making proper decisions that I KNOW will help everyone be more productive...as long as they want to be.

maclovin
maclovin

...with what they're saying about many IT professionals needing to be more understanding, I have to say, that seems to say that WE are the only ones that need to change, not make it a joint effort on both sides. 1. Well, they don't want to be talked down to, then read a book, or, check the internet to understand a little more about what we do. 2. (See #1)...Which one is it, already you seems to be contradicting yourself. Although, you did recover by stating that obvious: "It's a delicate balance". How true that is. What "delicate balance" means in reality: There's not going to be any resolution on this for quite a while. In fact, there are some relationships that build the tension much more than User V I.T....say North Korea v The World for instance...so, I say, not to sound cliche: It could be worse. 3. These are the same people that preach about how long they've been alive and the things they could and couldn't do, and they justify it by saying things like: "That's Life!"...Well, shoot on me. What the "fsck" am I supposed to say to this one. I guess this is kinda like the modern Catholic Church's point of view: hypocracy. Anyone want to ruin the life of a child today??? On this again, it requires mutual understanding. But, please don't tell me that you've been alive for 60 some years, and explain "how things go" and then come back with this! 4. I noticed the bit about accent, etc. This is known as worldiness, and the understanding that not everything revolves around you. In the past few years, I've developed much more respect for the individuals accross the multitude of "ponds" that scatter our great world. Three or four years ago, you wouldn't hear that from me at all. This goes back to the age/experience combo they keep citing...only when it serves them of course. This relationship between IT and Users is much like a relationship between parents/children....scratch that...exactly like it...Guess which ones are normally the children. 5. While I won't deny I used to have my days of doing this, it also could mean that grabbing me by the arm while I'm walking about after trying to run through 10,000 some lines of code trying to figure out which "fscking" semicolon/period needs to me moved one space over isn't a good idea. Nor will I remember either thing when I get back to my desk....E-mail Me. Then it's in writing, which works for them too, b/c then I have no excuse. 6. It's called technology, it's a bunch of electronic boxes created by men/women (politically correct before someone jumps down my throat on that one). So, it's only as good as it's creator...y'know the child labor victim in Taiwan. Like I stated earlier, there are greater tragedies in the world. We've all heard once or twice that technology is only as good as the people who create it. 7. This is the fault of software vendors. Mainly MS, b/c they continually screw people on OS software/patches and everything else they've ever created (someone will also get me for this one) since the beginning of their inception. Do you see anyone creating a Parallels for Windows so you can build a virtual Mac image and then run Mac OS (legally) on there...no. That's also Apple's fault too, as they'll have a bitch-fit if someone doesn't buy their hardware. However, Apple's software beats the pants off of MS, b/c they check to make sure things run smoothly before releasing software, more often anyway. I'm not saying Apple is perfect by any means. If Woz was still there, maybe things would be a bit different. He was the visionary that got things for Apple going in the direction that eventually put them on a path to make things the way they are today (good & bad, I know). Bottom Line: It's not the IT guy's fault, he didn't become a billionaire from fscking people all day....that's right Gates/Ballmer/somewhat Jobs. I'm sorry what number am I on??? 8. Many of these points sound like LIFE, if you've heard of it. If these people had reacted to change the same way they react to a different e-mail program in any past situation, I'm surprised they wouldn't have killed themselves. They make such a simple change sound like the end of the world....y'know 2012...:D 9. That's right, they SHOULD be scolded when they're uploading porn and taking up 10GB of network storage just to store their entire family's memoirs. And, yes, I DO read your e-mail. Which means that chick that gave you herpes last night...well, both of you are gonna have a wall post on Facebook tomorrow to wake up to that you may not be happy about :D...jk. The machine belongs to the company, and I work for the company. My role is to manage/maintain ALL of these machines/network infrastructure, etc. Now, if you so choose to fsck with me...so be it. I WILL cut off your access to the internet if I have to. Also, I thought these were "Big Boys and Girls"...Which bears the question: Why the HELL can't they stay on task for at least 6 out of 8 hours??? HMM??? Your Facebook account is NOT THAT important. And don't tell me you're on there for work...that's a freakin' crock and you know it. In fact, the only work-related reason for being on Facebook, would be to (yep, you guessed it): FIND A NEW JOB!!! ...nice try slick 10. Ahh yes, I'm messing with their stuff. Well, I can understand if your files are gone/moved or something and I don't explain, as I've seen that happen plenty of times. For this I have to say one thing: it's work, NOTHING is private. If you have private $81t to do, do it at home, not on my network, and NOT ON COMPANY TIME. I wish I could spend half my day playing games and fscking off, but geez, I've gotta clean up/fight all these spammers that keep sending online poker, online games, and Viagra messages to you. I have NO clue why signing up for that newsletter on a page I got to after I clicked on an ad on a craigslist ad that sent me an e-amil with a link to a porn site that went to a video page and let me watch an episode of some shitty show like Lost would have caused any spam problems..... ANY IDEAS WHY??? oh, and that was after I sent this guy in Africa my bank account information so he could wire me money DIRECTLY TO MY CHECKING ACCOUNT for the craigslist ad I posted about trying to sell a computer locally WITHIN THE CITY. Basically all I ask is that these people listen to themselves once in a why. By these people I mean the ones that bitch and moan about the other. Honestly, nobody knows everything. So, please WRITE DOWN the process I showed you on how to create a ZIP file if you think you're gonna forget it. And, don't think that because I work for the company, that it auto-applies to your personal computer like a fscking Windows patch or something....nothappenin'. I've done my share of these deals in the past...because I really am a nice guy.

Henriquez
Henriquez

I think perhaps you misunderstood my response -- I was agreeing with you. Co-workers, as opposed to customers, absolutely have a responsibility to make an effort to learn to use their hardware and software, and not just dump any trivial problem in IT's lap.

mcadwell
mcadwell

I've started asking "When was the last time you rebooted?" instead of "Did you reboot?". They they have to stop to think about it. The plus side of asking this is it also seems to prompt them to ask how often rebooting should be done.

Henriquez
Henriquez

Telling them to restart drives them crazy? Why? I would have thought they'd like it -- after all, as you say, often it Does work. And it's easy to remember. :)

Stephen Borchert
Stephen Borchert

It may not be appropriate in this conversation, but I've given up asking some users if they tried rebooting. They'll often answer "Yes" as if I'm asking a rhetorical question instead of trying to troubleshoot a problem. If they'll like to their own doctor, they'll surely lie to you, too.

Henriquez
Henriquez

On #5 [Ignoring Input], I didn't mean users should be able to harass you at any place at any time, just that when you're working on their problem, it can be helpful to listen to their input -- and it can be trouble if you don't.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

1. " ... read a book, to understand a little more about what we do." In the workplace, everyone has a job or skill set. Are you willing to read books or surf the web to understand every job your users perform? Do you expect them to read up on the job performed by every other employee? When you have a payroll problem, should the finance department expect you to study tax withholding law before you ask them for help? 4. " ... This is known as worldiness, and the understanding that not everything revolves around you." And yet in point 1 you expect others to study up on your field before calling you. If that isn't thinking the world revolves around you, what is? As to accents, when I'm paying for support, I expect that support to conform to my expectations. If I'm the customer, then the world DOES revolve around me.

tsheehan
tsheehan

?being a pseudo psychiatrist is part of working with people who don't understand and don't care about IT; it's our job to make them understand so they do care because only IT knows the importance of IT. Ignorance is the enemy, as shown in your write up, but expecting your users to read a book is not going to happen. In order to continue moving IT forward we must master the skill of translating IT jargon into business jargon.

mredgar2005
mredgar2005

Since the computer is the tool that is required to do your job, I think everyone MUST have a basic understanding and respect for their "compooter". For the love of Darwin, at least when you're calling/emailing me - don't just cross your arms and say "It's not working! It was earlier!!". I call these users DRONES, it makes me slightly less annoyed in helping them. After all, you don't go to a doctor and say "IT HURTS, but i won't tell you where. When is the pain gonna go away?"

maclovin
maclovin

There is a difference between customer and co-worker, so please don't say customer, when I never spoke once about customers. I was speaking of the other people in the office that require assistance from IT to complete their jobs (even though I've already explained it like 20 times and they still haven't written it down) Again, the bottom line is that for us to be able to provide the proper availability of services, etc., we need to understand the daily operations of these individuals job functions. And, for them to understand why they can't just come up to me and ask things on a whim, they need to have a minor understanding of why exactly that is so. If they continue to do that, they'll just get annoyed because I might just forgot. Whereas, if I have an e-mail in front of me, I have no excuse to forget. Plus I get a nice little text reminder of what I have to do, and I can add it to the calendar/task list. I just think that it's everyone's responsibility in a working environment to know what there role is, but also to know where in the structure of the organization they fit in. EX: I may not ever have the chance of being a Battalion Commander in the Army, but it's good to know a little about the role so I can understand how the structure of the unit works.

maclovin
maclovin

I may be backtracking a bit, but I do agree that that is what is needed. Recently I've been working with the President/VP to develop documentation for users. This, of course, includes them, as they are part of the group that largely misunderstands how things work. While I get frustrated, and DO still somewhat think that adults should be just that, I have to say I see both sides of the argument, as I try to do with everything in life. So, this developing ability gives me the chance to be much more empathetic to the users' plights while trying work. Aside from all that, being younger is probably the main hindrance I have, as I'm in my mid 20s. It's good though that I am getting this kind of exposure early so I can even things out for later in my career. (...so long as the world doesn't end in 2012) :D

eclypse
eclypse

The Lord helps those who help themselves - and so do I. And I don't mean someone who calls once about an issue gets blasted for being stupid for needing to call me. However, I think that jahsupport means (as do I) the people who continue to believe that it is okay for them not to know how to be competent users of a tool that they are required to use to do their job - especially after the tenth call about the same issue. You wouldn't tolerate that out of a welder who didn't know how to properly operate his welding machine and didn't know how to make proper welds after being shown or told how on multiple occasions. Why is it expected that people should not learn how to use their computers properly? The welder may not know how to fix every issue with his welding machine, but he shouldn't need to call maintenance every time he needs to add another roll of wire or change out gas cylinders or something else it needs routinely in or on it. Or basic maintenance of the tool he uses to make his money with. It should be the same with computers. I would not expect users to be able to troubleshoot faulty drivers or hardware or reinstall their OS or whatever, but basic usage and maintenance tasks should not be beyond them. Depending on who you work for, your users may be said to be your customers and for the most part, I think they should be treated as such. However, you can mostly decide whether-or-not you want to serve a particular customer, but that is generally not as easy to do for a user or co-worker.

Henriquez
Henriquez

IT serves both customers and co-workers -- a point I didn't clarify in writing the OP (my bad). However, they're not really the same. Your co-workers have some obligation to work with each other (including you) in pursuit of common goals. Customers, on the other hand are, at best, only obligated to be civil.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Anyone you support is a customer. "other people that require assistance from IT" is the very definition of customer.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"There is a difference between customer and co-worker, ..." No, there isn't. The company you work for is paying you to provide support to that co-worker. Any notion otherwise is an outdated view of the role IT plays in supporting the workplace.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

"so long as the world doesn't end in 2012" If one believes in the prophets of doom, the world already ended at least hundreds of times. Various doom prophets and groups have been predicting the end of the world; soon, tomorrow, or on some specified date, or at the appearance (for example) of twelve eagles, etc; for at least as long as we humans have had written, recorded history. And who knows how many times someone or some group has predicted the end of the world that we don't know about because the person or people involved didn't have a written form of their language? Predicting the end of the world "any time now" would seem to be a favorite hobby and avocation for some humans. And if one has studied much history one would know that it has been predicted countless times. And each time it would seem there are adherents who believed whichever prophecy of doom. Who knows? Maybe each time, dating from far before zero B.C. until recent times, the world DID end for those who believed. Or at least, the end of the world as they knew it. As for myself, I'll take each day as it comes, and believe in the end of the world theories only when and if it occurs. Or maybe not until the day after. :-) As concerns the advice given in the original article to which you responded, its pretty good. But applies to far more than just the IT world. Many trades and professions are stuck in a position where it is very difficult to explain things to a user/customer in a way that they'll accept and understand.

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