OpinionIt happens again and again. Unsolicited pieces of advice from our non-IT colleagues.

Whether it was about a cloud platform they feel we should use. Or how the BYOD policy seems unfair. Or just some undefined statement about the possibilities of “Big Data” that we were missing. Whatever it is, every non-IT pro seems to have an opinion about how IT should do its job.

You might think its basic human nature but I’m not sure that’s the case.

You don’t see your colleagues reaching out to other departments such as finance to tell them how to better allocate cash resources, or to marketing to explain what CPC advertising platform they should use. But now that tech has entered every corner of the organization and everyone and their mother (literally) carries a high-powered computer in their pocket, more people than ever feel they have an informed position on the subject.

So when they choose to share that opinion with you, what’s the correct response?

If you selected ANY of these answers you are dead wrong. The CORRECT answer is:

Sure it’s tempting to be irritated by the busybodiness of it all, but beneath this surface “advice” lies a treasure-trove of valuable insights. Your colleagues are just too IT-inarticulate to effectively convey what they are experiencing, or to notice what is actually driving them to tell you how to do your job. It’s your responsibility to tease it out of them.

What Might Be the REAL Issue Here?

For example, let’s break down a colleague’s complaints about your restrictive BYOD policy. Are they really just upset they can’t use the organization’s bandwidth to stream Pandora from their iPhone while they’re at the office? Or could it be:

When you break down your colleagues’ statements you no longer need to ignore them, or dismiss them, or just implement their ideas to close the issue. When you learn to uncover what your colleagues are actually saying, it suddenly becomes much easier to address their true needs and concerns with relevant discussions and workable systems.

Adopt a System to Uncover Underlying Problems

This skill doesn’t always come naturally to IT folks. Most of us weren’t taught empathy or critical listening in our computer science classes. We were taught systems. We’re comfortable with systems. So here’s a system to implement the next time one of your non-IT colleagues comes to you with a suggestion:

No matter how many rounds of Q&A it takes, you just have to keep going through this process until you arrive at answers you can use. It will feel frustrating at times. But you can’t expect your colleagues to be able to just figure it out on their own. You can’t assume they will clearly articulate their IT-related feelings into actionable statements and workable systems for you.

Good thing too. If they could, why would they need you?

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