Our “What would you do?” column is a forum for sharing your knowledge and experience in dealing with the softer side of computer support. Every two weeks, I will present a scenario that requires more than a technical solution. Each situation will be an accurate description of an actual event, with the names and other identifying factors changed to protect the innocent—and sometimes not so innocent.

I will first present the outcome and discussion of a scenario from a previous week. Then, we’ll jump right in to the next problematic situation. So without further ado, here are you responses to our first column, “Help a frustrated tech remain neutral in end-user feud.”

Members offer advice on handling an end-user feud
Our first column presented a problem between two users who weren’t getting along. The support tech later discovered their reported e-mail failures weren’t caused by technical difficulties, but were actually the result of one user purposely not sending important e-mails to another. Most of the member responses to our first scenario fell into three broad categories:

  • Remain a neutral party
  • Take an active role
  • Exact revenge

Get the facts–just the facts
Many members emphasized the importance of both political and personal neutrality. They suggested the tech should approach the situation from a strictly technical point of view, setting aside his personal knowledge of the situation.

Once the tech is satisfied that no technical problem exists, he should document his findings and distribute that documentation to the appropriate parties, including his manager and the manager of feuding users. If our tech wanted to go the extra mile, he could even offer to educate the feuding users in the use of distribution in lists. “Impartiality is critical,” wrote member Dlw6, “both to solving the current situation and to positioning the help desk to retain its credibility for the future.”

Get involved
Opposed to this IT-as-Switzerland approach were members who believe this tech should take a more active role. Although the problem may not be technical, the user who first contacted the help desk and her manager both believe the problem to be technical. It is therefore the responsibility of the help desk to address the problem and offer a resolution. That resolution should both preserve the help desk’s reputation and not reduce the user’s confidence in the e-mail system.

“If you are worried about being drawn into office politics—too late,” wrote Ken. “You already became involved the moment you got the help request. You have people skills—and if you don’t, get some! This is part of your job.”

Get even
On a lighter note, some members offered rather creative suggestions for exacting revenge on the users for attempting to undermine the integrity of the help desk by embroiling them in their interdepartmental feud. “I would use my admin powers to make the other two’s lives miserable,” wrote SimonMorley. “But maybe I’m watching too much of the Sopranos!” JerrDude simply suggests that we “throw ’em under the bus!”

So what really happened?
After taking the preliminary steps outlined in the scenario, the tech made himself a member of the Sales distribution list and an alternative recipient for all mail sent to each individual on the list. Moments later, Martha, one of the feuding users, walked into the tech’s office very upset, as she had just received a phone call from a friend who had received a delivery confirmation from the tech for an e-mail she sent to Martha.

Martha explained that the message was personal; she was angry that the tech had received a copy of the e-mail. At this point, the tech realized that he should have informed the users involved of his troubleshooting plans. The tech apologized to Martha for not warning her that he would be receiving copies of her e-mail and then proceeded to remind her of the company policy regarding personal e-mail—although employees were permitted to use the company e-mail system for limited personal use, there was no guarantee of privacy.

After a very disgruntled Martha left his office, the tech sent an e-mail to all the users involved explaining the steps he was taking to resolve their problem. The message stated that if, at the end of one week, all messages sent to the Sales distribution list were also received by each member of the list, he would close the work order.

At the end of the week, when no discrepancies had occurred, the tech sent out a message announcing that the work order would be closed at the end of that day if everyone agreed that the problem was resolved. The tech received no messages and proceeded to close the work order with a documentation of the steps taken, without making any personal references. The tech then sent his documentation to the Sales distribution list, including the sales manager, and the IT department manager. So far, the issue has not been mentioned again.

Although this solution might not have been ideal, the tech was able to use his personal knowledge of the interpersonal dynamics that caused the apparent technical problem to design an appropriate solution that satisfied everyone involved. Support techs should certainly strive for political neutrality; however, when users choose to involve the help desk in their interpersonal disputes, such an approach won’t always produce a satisfactory resolution. In the words of Dlw6, politics are “the ninth layer of the network.”

Captain, we have a saboteur on board
Now that you’ve had a chance to see how our “What would you do?” column works, I hope you will take the time to comment on this week’s scenario. It’s a doozy.

Update: So what really happened?

To learn the outcome of the scenario outlined below and get a recap of the comments and suggestions given by TechRepublic members, click here.

A new IT manager, Raymond, noticed that numerous .dll files and spreadsheets were disappearing across the network. Also, users were randomly locked out of accounts, applications often became inactive, and files mysteriously moved. He was baffled. He changed the old administrator passwords, started every log available, but could find nothing wrong.

Then one day he found the former IT manager, Lauren, on the network with a veiled account that had administrative rights. Raymond was suspicious of this account because he’d recently replaced Lauren as the IT manager when she announced that she was leaving the company and moving out of state. But Lauren ended up not moving; she had been vying to get her old IT manager position back, and hadn’t had much luck in doing so.

However, Raymond doesn’t feel like he can report his findings to the CEO because she has a personal relationship with Lauren.

What would you do?
After reading this scenario, if you have ideas about how a satisfactory resolution might be achieved, send them to us. Don’t hold back, and don’t be afraid to be creative. And if you’ve ever encountered a similar situation, we’re particularly interested in hearing the steps you took to achieve a resolution.

You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of each column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we’ll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation’s actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario’s publication.