In last week's column, we discussed the 'us against them' attitude a trap that many IT pros fall into, which can not only cause them a world of unnecessary psychic grief but can adversely affect their careers as well.
In last week's column, we discussed the "us against them" attitude
- a trap that many IT pros fall into, which can not only cause them a world of
unnecessary psychic grief but can adversely affect their careers as well.
A chief source of this feeling that those outside IT are "the
enemy" is the experience all of us have had at one time or another, dealing
with the occasional user who always seems to go out of his/her way to make our
lives more difficult (whether inadvertently or by design). This week we will
look at a few common "problem child" types, and what we can do keep
them from having a negative impact on the operation of the network (and driving
us crazy in the process).
You will need develop different tactics for dealing with each of these types.
Let's look at some examples.
The first "difficult user" type we'll discuss will be on page 2.
Ida is the user who, completely devoid
of any malevolent intent, can utterly devastate her computer and/or the network
faster than a speeding bullet. She means well, and tries hard to follow your
instructors, but it's as though her body chemistry emanates some unseen force
that is lethal to computer hardware and software. She can do every step by the
book, and still the system crashes.
At first you may think poor Ida just happened to inherit bad hardware. But
moving her to a different machine or giving her a brand new one doesn't cure the
problem; each system she touches suddenly begins to exhibit strange behavior and
unusual errors, even though she swears on a stack of Bibles (and you believe
her) that she did nothing to provoke such a reaction. You can even stand there
and watch her, verifying that she didn't nothing out of the ordinary, and
the system merrily crashes or the network disappears for no apparent reason.
Most admins have encountered at least one or two Idas in their careers. In
many ways, she is the most frustrating of the problem user types, because you
can't really get mad at her. She's a victim of the technology that, to all
appearances, just doesn't like her. She apologizes profusely each time she has
to call you. Although you may be skeptical at first, you're likely to eventually
give up trying to explain the phenomenon and agree with her own assessment of
the situation: when it comes to computers, she's cursed.
Dealing with Ida requires a lot of patience and a cultivated bedside manner.
Showing your frustration will only make her feel worse - which may result in
her being hesitant to let you know the next time there's a problem (and thus,
making the problem that much worse by the time you do discover it). Ida requires
a little handholding, a lot of reassurance, and, if you can swing it, maybe an
exorcist to purge the demons that inhabit every system with which she comes in
It's much easier to feel sorry for Ida than for her fellow "problem
child, Sally Secretkeeper.
Ida may keep her computer problems secret if you yell at her or make her feel
even stupider than she already feels, but otherwise she will usually try her
best to answer your questions and tell you what you need to know. Sally
Secretkeeper, on the other hand, is a different type. She deliberately withholds
information. Trying to find out what she was doing when the connection was lost
or what error message appeared on her screen as the system went down is like
Sally's reasons for remaining incommunicado can be a mystery. Maybe she
figures you get paid the big bucks to diagnose and fix the IT problems so she's
going to make sure you earn every penny of it with no help from her. Maybe she's
afraid she won't remember correctly and will give you bad information. Or maybe
she's just watched too many cop shows on TV and has decided that she has the
right to remain silent. Whatever her motive, Sally can make your job more
difficult unless you learn how to handle her "silent treatment."
If the user who's having computer or network problems is a secretkeeper,
you'll need to approach her carefully. Normal questioning techniques won't
elicit much information, and if you start demanding answers, she's likely to
shut up even tighter. The key to drawing the information out of Sally's type is
to take a roundabout path. See if you can get her engaged in conversation about
something that interests her (hint: take a look at her desk and office walls.
What do you see? Pictures of kids/dogs/spouse? Movie posters? Company golf team
trophies?). Bring the topic around to her computer problems slowly. You'll have
to gain her confidence before she'll spill the beans.
You say you don't have time to play these games? The sad fact is: if you don't
use these "stealth maneuvers" with Sally, you may spend (waste)
far more time trying to determine what the problem is without her input.
Network admin/tech support is a people-oriented position. People means politics.
And politics means you'll have to learn to be a politician now and then, whether
you like it or not.
Sally's antics can be maddening, but at least they aren't deliberately
destructive. The same cannot always be said for the next "trouble
Harry is probably the most notorious of our problem user types. This category
can actually be broken down into several "sub-Harries." If he's the
genuine article, Harry Hacker probably knows a lot more about computers and
networking than you do. Looking at it from his point of view, it's either a
little annoying or a little amusing to him that you're making rules and telling
him what he can and can't do with his computer.
From your point of view, Harry has the power to really wreak havoc on your
network. Coming on strong and making an enemy of Harry may not be the smartest
thing to do. You don't have to like him, but you'd best respect his abilities.
Depending on his personality, the best tactic may be assimilation - that is,
take him into the fold. Let him know you admire his skills. Ask his advice on
how to secure the network against those other, irresponsible users. Of course,
if Harry is a destructive type and can't be turned into an ally, your only
option may be reporting his transgressions to his superiors. Before you choose
that road, make sure you have everything important backed up, and expect
retaliation. Hell hath no fury like a hacker scorned.
Luckily, there are far more "pseudo-Harries" out there than the
real thing. Hacker Wannabes who know just enough to be dangerous. With these
folks, tightening up your security is the first step. If you can, enlist a
genuine Harry to help you thwart their experimentations.
A good auditing/monitoring program will alert you to the presence of a Harry
in your organization. Another plus is that the wannabes, especially, usually
like to brag about their awesome hacking skills.
In general, Harry likes to keep a low profile and stay out of your way.
You'll have to ferret him out. This is in direct contrast to our next
"problem child, Demanding Demetrius.
Demanding Demetrius is the user who always insists that his (or her)
computer/network problems take precedence over everything else. If his sound
card goes out, it must be fixed, and it must be fixed right now. Never
mind that the entire accounting department is without connectivity.
Demetrius is often a middle level manager, who is impressed with his own
self-importance. He is usually the excitable type, and rant and rave and
threaten to "have your job" if you don't make his problem your first
priority. The most important factor in dealing with Demetrius is to stay calm,
and not let him provoke you. The more agitated he gets, the calmer you should
become. Explain politely that you are following policy and/or instructions from
upper management in prioritizing the order in which you address IT problems.
Refer him to someone above him in the organization if he has a complaint.
Maintain a completely professional demeanor in the face of his tantrums.
It's unlikely that Demetrius will ever reform, and even if he goes away there
always seems to be another Demetrius to take his place. But you can protect
yourself against his crazy-making behavior by ensuring that clearcut written
policies are in place establishing your job priorities, and by not getting drawn
into his maelstrom of upset. That is, don't take it personally. Deep down,
Demetrius is probably really raging against his own private inner frustrations
with his job and his life - things that have nothing to do with you or the
computer/network. You're just the closest handy target. Wear a bullet-proof
smile and attend to your business. The Demetriuses of the world deserve more
pity than anger.
Aside from his poorly concealed rage, Demetrius has a lot in common with the
next user type on our list,Dora Discourteous.
Dora, like all the other problem user types, actually comes in both genders.
Her (or his) distinguishing characteristic is blatant and sometimes almost
unbelievable lack of consideration for everyone else. Although she can
definitely be demanding, she differs from Demetrius in that most often, she's
not angry - she just completely fails to comprehend why her selfish behavior
Dora doesn't understand that participating on a network (or simply using
company computer equipment) involves activities that impact others, and that
others have needs that may conflict with her own. Dora may be a disk hog, who
feels it's her prerogative to use up 19GB of the 20GB of disk space allocated on
the server for the entire department's user data. She may be a Distraction
Master, who sees nothing wrong with setting the volume on her system to high and
playing loud "training session" .avi files that boom throughout the
office and prevent those near her from getting any work done. She may be a
Bandwidth Backbreaker, who clogs the network by sending enormous, unzipped files
or downloading half the Internet during the busiest time of the day.
Dealing with Dora requires a bit of psychology on your part. Appealing to her
humanitarian side doesn't work because she doesn't have one. She's like a
spoiled child who's used to getting (or taking) whatever she wants, and she is
genuinely bewildered that her activities would cause a problem. After all, she's
just trying to do a better job and be more productive in her work, and she will
assure you that she needs the disk space, high volume or network
Logic and reasoning don't work with Dora. Even if she promises to be more
considerate and restrict her activities, that promise won't be kept for long.
She's simply incapable of considering others' needs, and she'll be this way in
all her dealings with her co-workers, not just those related to IT.
The best solution if you have a Dora on the network is to implement
administrative controls that will prevent her from hogging the disk space or
bandwidth or disrupting her co-workers. Impose disk quotas, restrict her
Internet access, even take drastic measures such as removing her sound card or
moving her to an isolated area. Of course, some of these responses may require
the approval of those higher up in the organization. The key is to make them
understand that while Dora may indeed be a competent, productive employee, she
is having a negative affect on the productivity of others, and since she can't
control herself, it's imperative that someone else take steps to curb her
At least Dora probably won't blame you for her problems (since she doesn't
even know she has a problem). Unlike our next, and last unruly user, Fred
Fred, like Ida, always seems to be plagued with more than his share of
computer/network problems. Unlike Ida, who blames herself, Fred never accepts
any of the responsibility. He always has to have someone else at whom he can
point the finger.
If his network card is unplugged, it must have been the janitor who did it.
If he "accidentally" wiped out all his TCP/IP settings, it's the fault
of the software vendor for making them so easily accessible. If he deletes the
wrong file as you walk him through the process of installing a new driver, and
renders the machine unbootable, it's your fault because your instructions
weren't clear enough. Fred is never to blame for anything - at least,
from his point of view.
The urge to lay out the evidence and make him admit his culpability can be
overwhelming - but it's counterproductive. Confrontation only puts him on the
defensive, and he'll be all the more adamant that you, or the co-worker next to
him, or an act of God, is to blame.
Dealing with Fred requires the ability to just tune out his accusations. Take
this tactic: "it doesn't really matter who caused the problem.
What's important is to figure out what the problem is, and fix it."
That will take the wind out of his sails quickly, and defuse all his
protestations (which are really based on his underlying belief that he is
the source of all the problems, even though he would never, ever admit that to
Adding it all Up
Ida, Sally, Harry, Demetrius, Dora and Fred are only a sampling of the
difficult user types that you may encounter as a net admin or tech support
professional. Each type has its own characteristics, and you may have to adopt
different techniques for dealing with each.
You'll notice a common thread that runs through this advice, however. The key
to learning to live with the "problem children" on your network, as in
the rest of life, is to not let their problem personalities become your
problem. Remember that your job is to maintain the network and/or computer
systems to the best of your ability. Don't let the problem users get you down.
These same personality types exist in every "people-oriented"
occupation. They can drive you nuts - if you let them. Or they can be a source
of secret amusement, even provide some valuable lessons that may lead you to
examine and modify your own behavior in dealing with others.
This article was originally published on Monday Sep 18th 2000