I often encounter people who have been forced to work with new technology that they have little faith in and even less desire to embrace. Unfortunately, they possess a mind-set that does not welcome change, and instead, they prefer to plod along with what is familiar.

Ten years ago, these people were happy with paper files and did not appreciate the intrusion of great, gray boxes into their workspace. Now, it’s likely that they’ve grown attached to the great, gray boxes and see the newer, faster equipment as the intrusion. But that doesn’t have to be the case. In this article, I’ll explain three ways that you can make these fearful users more comfortable with their new equipment and make your job easier in the process.

1. Praise the new without criticizing the old
I often experience resistance from users who cut their teeth on WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS and now lament its passing. When these users were first introduced to the PC, many were fully trained on how to use it and WordPerfect. But when subsequent upgrades arrived, there was little training, if any, making new software and new systems seem even more daunting.

These people will argue that the old ways are best. Don’t fall into the trap of arguing with them. Instead, empathize with them and make comments about the good features of their current system and then try to illustrate how those features have been improved in the newer version.

Users with the old WordPerfect, who are accustomed to reveal codes and funny blue screens, have earned their wings the hard way. Do not belittle their achievements. What they had then was, in its day, as cutting edge as anything we have now. Only by showing them an easier way of working will we ever get them to embrace the new technology.

2. Associate new technology with other familiar devices
How often have you heard users complain, “I don’t understand how they work!” when confronted with a computer system that is unfamiliar? I always counter this by saying, “You used a car to come to work today. Do you fully understand how that works, or do you just get in and drive?”

Try to liken new technology to common machines that people use frequently but don’t fully understand, such as cars, vacuum cleaners, toasters, microwave ovens, and VCRs. Users normally feel comfortable about these devices because, while they may be complex in design, they are simple to use. If I encountered office software that truly was hard to use, then I wouldn’t expect it to remain in use for very long. Anyone who could learn WordPerfect or Lotus123 can become proficient with any modern office suite product.

3. Minimize the use of jargon
The computer industry helps to reinforce the myths about its products by the awful language used by the major players. Our systems don’t just go wrong or lock up, they “perform illegal operations,” which always brings to my mind an image of back-alley abortionists—not the most positive of images. The corresponding information presented to the end user is of even less help. Throwing a hex dump at them muddies the water even further.

We as IT professionals must not forget that the phraseology we take for granted must be learned. While working in IT support at a local college, a student approached my desk, wanting advice on transferring information from one document file to another.

Without thinking, I suggested that she simply “cut and paste” the desired text. I looked up a while later to see her busy around the printer. Thinking she had dealt with the query, I put the incident out of my mind and continued with the more immediate task of getting past the aliens near the reactor core in Descent.

She approached my desk again and asked if she could borrow scissors and some glue. Realizing I had failed in my dual quests of educating the student and of removing the scourge of the solar system, I allowed my ship to crash into the mine wall and turned my attention to the less interesting, but much more important, issue. After a quick explanation, the light of understanding popped on in the student’s eyes and she was able to finish her work with no trouble. If I hadn’t incorrectly assumed that the student understood a term I take for granted, I could have saved her a little time and my department a little paper.
Do your users fear new technology? How do you encourage your users to embrace new systems? Post a comment or write to Jeff Dray and share your knowledge.