We’ve all been trained to diagnose and fix technical problems but, unfortunately, not every computer-related problem can be resolved with a purely technical approach. In an effort to maintain a healthy relationship between our end users and their computers, we have all done our fair share of babysitting, psychological counseling, mediating, and political maneuvering. Though we often receive technical training, when it comes to dealing with the human aspect of computer support, most of us have nothing more to rely upon than basic common sense and intuition.

That’s why I am excited to announce a new regular feature to Support Republic. This feature will be a forum for sharing your knowledge and experience in dealing with the softer side of computer support.

Every two weeks, under the title “What would you do?,” we’ll present a new user/computer support situation requiring more than a purely technical solution. Each situation presented 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.

The rest is up to you
After reading each 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 have ever encountered a similar situation, we’re particularly interested in hearing what steps you took to achieve a resolution.

You can submit your ideas two ways, either by e-mail, or by posting a discussion item at the end of each column. One week after the publication of a scenario we’ll pull together the most interesting solutions and most common themes, and present these and the actual outcome of the situation 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. So without further ado, here is the first scenario for your consideration.

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.

Caught in an intradepartmental conflict
Joan in the sales department calls the help desk to report that she hasn’t been receiving all the e-mails sent to the Sales distribution list. The support tech first determines that Joan is indeed a member of the Sales distribution list. Next, the tech sends several test messages to the list. Everyone on the list receives all the test messages, including Joan. The tech then asks Joan if she happens to know who the sender(s) of the missing messages is (are). It turns out that Mary, who is also in the Sales department, sent all the missing messages. The tech checks Mary’s Contacts to ensure that she doesn’t have a customized Sales distribution list with Joan omitted from it. Mary does not.

Next, the tech examines Mary’s Sent Items folder and notices something very peculiar. The missing messages were never sent to the Sales distribution list; instead they were individually sent to each member of the distribution list except Joan. Despite the physical evidence, Mary denies this, and is supported by another member of the distribution list, Martha, who claims that she too sometimes doesn’t receive messages sent to the distribution list. By this time, the tech realizes that this probably isn’t a technical problem.

The tech has prior knowledge of an intradepartmental rivalry between Joan and Martha. In fact, the tech suspects that Martha and Mary have been collaborating to make Joan look bad in the eyes of their boss for not acting on Sales department messages. What should the tech do?

The tech’s personal knowledge, gathered through the office grapevine, cannot be substantiated by any legitimate means without creating a very difficult situation. Meanwhile, the head of the sales department is now putting pressure on the help desk to resolve the problem because he cannot have his staff miss important e-mails critical to performing their jobs.

What would you do?
Please e-mail your solutions or post a discussion item below. Remember, you’ll need to respond with your suggestions within a week to be considered for the follow-up column.