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Working in IT? Simple steps to get users on your side

IT pros can get a bad rap from stereotypes (we mean you, Nick Burns), but there are steps you can take when working in IT to get users on your side.

Most stereotypes exist for a reason, but there are hardly any more truthful than those associated with IT. There are egos. There are attitudes. Those old Nick Burns skits from Saturday Night Live underscore it all. Not everyone working in IT fits the mold, but I certainly did when I started out. I think it's safe to say that these truths are fairly pervasive in our industry.

One of the hardest things about working in IT is realizing that it's more about your users than you. In fact, the experience your users have working with technology is a direct reflection of how you and your team are doing in IT. I learned this reluctantly, over the years, and have grown to realize that if your users aren't happy, nobody's happy. Negative experiences and problem areas between users and IT at the seemingly lowest levels of the organization tend to quickly work their way up the food chain. Once management gets involved, they want something done about it -- not necessarily to make things easier on the user, but to get it off their plates.

I'm not saying you must kowtow to your users and try to solve everyone's problems. You'll never please everyone all the time. But if you come across as a genuinely concerned and competent person, you're eventually going to get your users on your side. The people who work in IT who say they can't be concerned with the menial problems of others are the ones who'll get nowhere in this field.

The most important thing you can remember to get your users on your side is that it's all about the relationship. Everything else being equal, users will listen to you and be influenced by you if you're a person they like and trust. No matter what you ask of them, they'll want to see you succeed if they believe you're on their side.

One of the best things you can do is ask specific questions that show your users that you care, such as the following:

  • What can we do while working in IT to make your job easier?
  • What do you enjoy the least (and most) about gaining network and application access?
  • Could anything be tweaked with your mobile computing experience that would make your life easier?

The possibilities are endless. Imagine the information you can get back from such questions! In fact, the feedback and ideas you receive might just be what's needed to get management on board with supporting and funding for your IT initiatives.

By asking your users questions like these, you not only get to know them better, but you also show you're interested in them. One of the best credibility builders you have is showing people you care about the positions they're in and the obstacles they face, and it doesn't cost a thing. All you need to do is make the decision to act this way toward your fellow employees.

Keep in mind that, real or not, perception is everything. Work on building your credibility and your influence will grow. If your users believe you have influence in the organization, the more they'll be on your side. Focus on your positioning as well. What people think of you and say about you when you're not around are ultimately how you'll be positioned in your organization. This, in turn, will largely dictate what you're able to accomplish in IT.

Success can be easy in IT if you work at it daily. Simply being a polite and helpful IT professional can go a long way. But neglect is easy, too. Being a know-it-all who's better than everyone else is a surefire way to hold yourself back. It's important to keep success and neglect on your radar and ensure you're doing everything you can to grow the success side of the equation. At the end of the day, everything you do counts when interacting with your users. As people who have experience working in IT learn, it's usually the little things that mean the most.

About the author
Kevin Beaver has worked for himself for more than 11 years as an information security consultant, expert witness and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. He specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around information risk management and is the author and co-author of many books, including The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance and Hacking for Dummies.

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"One of the hardest things about working in IT is realizing that it's more about your users than you."
Well, I guess, there are still exemplars like that. But there's been huge progress done in the last decade. I still remember "RTFM" used by many developers as a cool joke. Now it'd be rightfully perceived as completely inappropriate and unprofessional.