Things have come to a head at the office. Due to a number of security requirements and organizational changes, our company’s IT department has had to set things up in such a way that my colleagues and I find ourselves juggling as many as four different VPNs simultaneously: one for email and corporate intranet, another for our quality management and ticketing systems, another for our production systems, and finally, if we need to work on a customer’s systems, we usually need a VPN tunnel there too. Each one of these has its own set of credentials that expire and/or get locked out regularly and independently of each other. To top it all off, our IT team is also in the process of moving us to both new wired and new Wifi networks! There seems to be no end to the problems that all of this is causing, both for them, and for us.
Needless to say, employee morale is being affected. It seems like nobody can get any work done, and the poor IT team is the innocent target of plenty of hostility.
Once the water-cooler gossip reached the IT director, he very boldly launched a message board to solicit feedback from the rest of the company. He called it “IT Support Pains” and sent out an email asking us to post our complaints. At first, I decided I was going to ignore this request. After all, Dale Carnegie’s first principal, “Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain” is the most fundamental of all of his teachings. Once I reached a point where I could no longer do my own work however, my boss essentially ordered me to report my problems via this board. In the end, I’m glad this happened, because figuring out how to do this without being a complete jerk reminded me of some important concepts, and helped me put together a road map to providing constructive feedback without criticism.
Here’s what I discovered:
Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view
This is essential to our credibility. We don’t even have to communicate anything directly as a result of this exercise. It is simply vital that we give some thought to why things are the way they are before we start putting our problems into words. If asked, we need to be able to illustrate that we really do understand the necessity for whatever the root cause of our issues is. In this story, it is important to show respect for the security issues and massive work effort involved.
Be as anonymous as possible
People don’t listen when they feel threatened. In my case, I’m addressing an entire team, so I can easily avoid mentioning any individuals by name. It really wouldn’t do me any good to mention the people involved anyway, since no one is at fault. When addressing a team of one, talk about events, and avoid mentioning the person. For example, instead of, “Bob broke it,” try, “It became inoperable.”
Stick to the technical details of the problem
This is really just another way of looking at step 2. We can diffuse a situation by omitting emotion and making the problem impersonal. We do this by focusing on the facts of the outcome rather than the how, why, what (or who) the cause was, or how we feel about it. At the end of the day, no one can argue with what actually happened. Whatever “it” was, “it” really did become inoperable. That’s all that matters.
Use evidence to offer a solution to the subject matter expert
Unless we have specific experience in the problem at hand that we can draw from, we should rely on the experts to come up with solutions. Making suggestions without specific evidence behind them can be viewed as arrogant, and we risk losing credibility.
If we follow the steps above, we have an opportunity to lead by example, and help others learn to sympathize with us, their clients. We can turn criticism and complaints into constructive, actionable feedback.. When we see things from the other person’s point of view, and give them the information they really need, we empower them to do their jobs so that we can get back to doing ours!