Five tips for working with difficult users

It's easy to fall into a pattern of complaining about annoying users and assume there's nothing you can do about them. But one tech has found a few workarounds to lessen some of the aggravation.

Grumbling about various aspects of our jobs, especially our users, is all too easy to do. Everyone does it, and it can have some therapeutic and entertainment value. But perhaps our energies would be better spent devising solutions to our problems instead of complaining about them. Here are a few suggestions for coping with common user situations.

Note: These tips are based on the article Solutions to the top 10 peeves of a support tech.

1: Users who can't provide useful information

Is it reasonable of us to expect the average user to know the right way to report a computer problem? Probably not. But a little education can go a long way. One simple method of training our users to accurately report problems is by asking them appropriate questions, just like a good car mechanic or doctor: "Can you show me where it hurts?"; "How would you describe the noise it was making?"; "Does it happen when you're coasting or only when you have your foot on the gas?" Instead of becoming impatient with the user, we can use appropriate questions to coach them and elicit the information we need to solve their problem.

Consider the following interaction:

User: "The e-mail server is down."

Tech: "Hmm, I'm so sorry you're having a problem accessing your e-mail. What exactly is happening that makes you think that the e-mail server is down? Are you receiving an error message when you try to log in? Are you able to access other applications on the network?"

In just a few seconds, the tech is able to validate the user's concern, extract the information needed to resolve the problem, and start the process of training the user to accurately report computer problems.

2: Users who deny having done anything that may have caused the problem

If you genuinely want to find out what they did, you have to make it okay for them to have done something wrong. This can be problematic because you don't want them to think you're condoning their actions, especially if they have violated company policy.

The process of finding out what users did to their computer is rather like finding out where your teenager really went last night. Sometimes, to discover the truth, it's necessary to remove the threat of retribution or punishment, perhaps by offering amnesty in return for honesty. Once you've discovered what the users actually did, you can use other methods to discourage this type of behavior in the future, such as by informing them that the problem will take a while to fix and giving them the much slower loaner to use in the interim. (The teenagers are another story.)

3: Users who hover, distract, and interrupt

Again, taking the time to train users may help with this situation. But if you're trying to troubleshoot a particularly intractable problem and constantly being interrupted by questions and suggestions, you could consider one of the following approaches:

  • Take the computer back to your office to work on it in private.
  • Troubleshoot remotely.
  • Involve users by assigning them a role in the troubleshooting process. For example, ask them to try to reproduce the problem on someone else's computer or to make notes on what you're doing; this will either be beneficial to you or they will suddenly remember something else they had to do.

4: Users who crash your lunch break and ask for home computer support

I have not found a consistently effective method for dealing with this, as I do not like to be rude and unfriendly. In some instances, it's easy to plead ignorance and direct these users to other resources, such as their local computer store. In other cases, I've suggested that if they buy me lunch, I'll be happy to give them 30 minutes of advice. Another time, I traded computer knowledge for tax advice. It's hard to generalize about this situation, as it really depends on your relationship with particular users and how they approach you.

5: Users who summon you to their office with an urgent problem, then keep you waiting

When this happens, it's reasonable to wait for a few moments. But when users shows no sign of ending their phone calls or pulling themselves away from what they're doing, leave a note on their desk asking them to call you when they are free -- and walk out. I had one user who did this on a regular basis. I would write a friendly message on a post-it note and then call her as soon as I arrived back at my office, interrupting her phone call. Depending on your relationship with these users, you could also try telling them how you feel.

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My personal favorite user to hate is the one who calls you with an emergency. You rush over and sit down to start working on it. As you are working, the user leaves. Needless to say, you are finished and they are still missing. You need them to log back on, verify that the fix is OK and explain what you and/or they did. You are left steaming until they bother to come back.. Hank Arnold (MVP)


Regardless, the USER IS NEVER AT FAULT. Software cannot cause hardware failure. It may look that way but with the right drivers, loaded in the right order, things will work correctly. Hardware incompatablity is always an issue with newly added hardware to an otherwise fully functioning system, but unless there is a fully tested and supported list of compatable hardware and software, it will always remain an area of question. Learning how to do your job dispite the interuptions and need to explain yourself to users who don't really understnad your approach to a specific failure will be a challenge but should not be beyond your work scope.


I used to do deskside support years back, and I eventually got sick of it (as most IT folks who do it eventually will). Regarding the lunch break, if you don't want any interruptions then it's probably best to get out of the office during your break. Regarding users talking on the phone or generally making you feel like second fiddle when you arrive to help them, this is how it is with some folks. Many end-users perceive IT people (ie. tech support) as plumbers who take too long to do the job. Advise to just focus on doing the best you can, and get your satisfaction from helping people and knowing you are smart/capable enough to do the job. Some users are certainly annoying or unappreciative, so try not to let it get you down!


Both the article and darkstar's reply are on the money. However, I found out many years ago that it helps me to focus on one side of the issue, depending on the user; If they're pleasant to deal with, then I focus on satisfying them. In all cases, I'm still fixing a tech-related issue, but I may spend more time 'training' if they're nice. If they're not, then I focus strictly on the technical issue. Either way, I get the satisfaction of resolving the reported problem.

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