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How to Handle Difficult Users in the IT Industry

Many areas of information technology deal with users of a system one way or another. If you’re in a support role, it may be through a help desk where they call and report problems. If you’re a business analyst, you may be dealing with stakeholders that want a new system to do a certain thing. Not everyone you come across will be friendly – you’ll get some people who are hard to deal with and are quite angry. I’ve come up with a few tips on how to deal with these people.

Why Are They Angry?

First of all, it’s important to know why the user is angry in the first place. There are a few main reasons why an end user could be frustrated:

  • Lack of control about a certain situation or certain system
  • The feeling that nobody understands what they’re trying to do and why it’s important
  • The feeling that nobody is playing them attention and trying to help them.

These causes apply to many things in life – anger at your car for not starting, anger at your waiter for your food being late at a restaurant, anger at your friends for some argument. However, we’re focusing on the IT workplace, and these tips aim to identify and work with these causes.

1. Keep Calm and Professional

It’s important to remain calm and act professional when dealing with a customer or user. Their frustration or anger is almost always with a system or process or project or whatever your work involves, and not at you personally. Keeping calm means not swearing, getting frustrated in return, being rude or insulting them.

Once the user has calmed down at the end, they will remember that you have remained calm and professional throughout their situation and will remember you for it. It’ll also put them in a better mood, and may even help your career as they’ll be saying what a great job you did helping them.

2. Listen to Their Problem

Taking some time to listen to the issue they are having and understand it will go a long way to keeping them calm. A lot of the time their frustration comes along because previous ways have not worked. They may be asking for something to be added to the system and nobody has listened, which has turned their calmness into frustration.

Listen to their problem, write notes if you have to. Repeat their problem back to them in different words to confirm your understanding of it. Ask questions if you need to. Just make sure you’re doing everything you can do understand and listen to their issue.

3. Provide an Explanation

If the problem is one that needs to be explained to them, then provide them with an explanation. This, of course, will depend on your job role and the nature of their problem. If you’re working on an IT help desk and they call about an issue, then this will need an explanation. If you’re developing a system and a user wants “just one more thing” added, then you’ll need to explain to them the reason why this can or can’t be done.

Doing this will let the user know that you understand their problem, even if you can’t accommodate it. Explaining that adding an extra feature isn’t possible because it will take a lot of extra time and the project is on a tight schedule will help them understand why it can’t be done.

Try to explain it in terms that they can understand. I don’t know a lot about cars, but I appreciate mechanics who try to explain the problem to me in basic terms. This is especially relevant for technical IT workers who work with non-technical users.

4. Tell Them What You Can Do About It

A final step, and possibly the most important, is giving the user information on what you intend to do about it. This is effective for any kind of problem – whether it’s a technical issue with a system, a feature request for a piece of software, an email that went out that didn’t consider their questions, or any others. Users like to know that action is being taken, even if your answer is not what they want to hear.

For example, if a user asks for a new feature to a system that’s being developed, and you tell them it can’t be added, you could tell them it will be noted down and added for a second release or a patch. This way they feel that their requests are being listened to and not forgotten or dismissed. If a user is unable to fix a computer problem, tell them you can send someone to their desk to assist them with resolving it the next day (or whenever is possible) and provide a workaround if there is one.