Communication: a Two-Way Street

Written by Pam Lefkowitz on March 10, 2022

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You’re an excellent tech. You know AllTheThings™ it takes to fix your users’ systems. You’ve got certifications from Microsoft, from Apple, from Cisco, the Wi-Fi Alliance, Fortinet, CompTIA, CompTIA+, CompTIA Network +, CompTIA Server+…the list goes on. You close all the tickets, you solve problems quickly, you meet all your KPIs.

But you’re still not getting the respect you feel like you deserve. Why? What could you do differently to make yourself stand out and earn raises and promotions? In this article, we’ll explore some of the more nuanced skills required to create a successful career.

Listen Up

You’re in a meeting and someone outside your head is talking. Are you listening? I know you hear them speaking, but are you actually listening to WHAT they’re saying? Or are you busy thinking about what you’re going to say next? 

I don’t think I’m tipping my hand when I tell you that for those of us who have a lot to say, or who have an interruption problem, this is a ridiculously difficult skill to master. But once mastered, it might be the single most important tool in your kit. 

People want to be listened to. Your customers, your users, your boss… they all want you to listen to them. But listening isn’t just about being there to be talked AT. It’s about hearing what someone else is saying, it’s about hearing what is between the words, it’s about understanding rather than being literal. When your users tell you their problem, the hardest part of your job isn’t knowing what the solution is or solving the problem. The hardest part of your job is, let’s be honest, listening to them tell you about the problem. 

The Secret Sauce

But here’s a secret nobody ever tells you: when you listen to someone, when you simply let them talk, they will tell you everything you need to know without you ever having to ask a question. 

And while your job is to solve the problem effectively and efficiently, it’s also to walk that fine line of making the user feel respected and valued. So let them talk. Listen to them completely… without forming your followup response. Take notes when they talk if you must. And when they’re done, take a breath and let there be silence for a couple of beats. If they don’t start up again, then go ahead and take your turn.

Ridiculously difficult for some of us. Ridiculously profitable if you can do it successfully.

Upon Further Reflection

Once you have listened thoroughly to your customer, you’re going to respond back with a solution right? Because there is no way you misunderstood anything they told you, right? And there is no way they got  any of the details wrong, amirite?

Uh huh.

We know that our customers are busy. Everyone is busy. We know that they hate filling out tickets — who doesn’t? And we know that when they finally hear from us they’re feeling one of two things:

  1. Grateful to hear from us — you might be greeted with, “THANK you for getting back to me,” or with, “Thank you for FINALLY getting back to me.”
  2. Upset because it took “so long” for us to get to them. In this case “so long” is equivalent to the time it takes for the light to turn green and the person in back of you to honk their horn. Also, it could be any time over an hour from when they first experienced the problem (which is not necessarily the same time as when they put in the ticket).
  3. Both a and b (yeah yeah, that’s three things — just go with it).

In their present state of mind, they’re likely to leave out details that would otherwise not be perceived as important by anyone but an IT Admin. No fault, it’s not their job to know what’s important. It’s our job to get the proper information from them. We do that by reflecting back what they told us using phrasing such as:

“What I hear you saying is….”

“You mentioned that…”

“Correct me if I’m wrong. When you ‘x’, then ‘y’ happened.”

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but sometimes I have to call my cable company’s tech support and tell them my issue in excruciating detail (because I *do* know what’s important). Invariably, when they read their script… er, repeat the problem back to me… they get it wrong. And I end up having to repeat my soliloquy again in the hopes that they get it right. 

So if you’ve gone through that process, you know that you have to end your reflection with, “Did I hear that right?” If the client agrees, we move forward. If not, we go back to step 1 and practice listening again.

KISS

When you and the user agree on the problem, you can then begin solving it. To do that, you’re going to have to transfer your brilliance back to the user. Let the user know what you’re going to do. Not the intricate details, but the general scope. Users want to know that their problem is going to be fixed, when it’s going to be fixed, and that it will stay fixed. 

Tell them up front that you are going to fix their problem. Literally, “I am going to fix your problem.” Tell them what you need from them in order to fix it, even if you don’t need anything: “I am going to fix your problem and you don’t have to do a thing.” Let them know when you’re going to start and — roughly — how long you think it will take: “What I have to do will take some time, so let’s schedule this for when you can be computer-free for 2 hours,” or whatever the situation is.

What they don’t need is a detail of HOW you’re going to work your magic. Keep it simple. This is one of those cases where under-promising and over-delivering can have a direct impact on your career. Promise very little, deliver white glove service. 

The Benefit

You want to advance in your career or you want to grow your MSP customer list. You want those post-ticket surveys to be all 5-star reviews. You want your customers to recommend you to new customers so you can grow your business.

Imagine, if you will, your next review when your boss looks at your closed ticket numbers and then looks at your survey scores and sees glowing comments about how you really listened to the user and how you took the time to explain what you were doing and how you delivered more than they were expecting. Imagine your career trajectory when your manager (and their manager) sees how happy the users are and how committed you are to showing the value of IT. As Vidal Sasoon said, “When you look good, we look good.”

A great IT Admin also keeps their eye out for tools that increase productivity and efficiency. You can #MakeWorkHappen by signing up for an account with JumpCloud. It’s free for 10-users and 10 devices and comes complete with 24×7 live support for the first ten days. 

Pam Lefkowitz

Pam is an IT Columnist at JumpCloud where she uses her experience as a consultant and MSP to write about IT admin life and tech. Outside of (remote) work hours, she spends her time with her dog, visiting her kids across the country, and being creative with fiber.

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