Have you ever noticed how some people feel the need to sell you on their request, even after you’ve already told them that you’ll do it? Let’s say you work in IT support. This is the type of person that will ask you for a mouse because their old one is not working although it was fine a couple days ago. They need the mouse in order to click icons, which they use to open applications, and inevitably they end up explaining how all this will affect their deadline to manage the office fantasy baseball league. It always affects the fantasy baseball league. These things are usually small requests. They’ll take less than a day - probably even less than an hour. So the question is - why do they feel the need to overcommunicate their needs and is there anything we can do to help?
I have noticed that the length of the explanation for why they need it done is proportional to how long they’ve spent trying to resolve their problem before coming to see me. If they knew who to talk to in the first place, they would be less likely to try to sell you on their request. In the case of the hypothetical mouse requestor, perhaps they tried cleaning their old mouse, or trying to go through the paperwork to have one ordered only to find out that it’ll take a week to arrive. Perhaps they’ve even rigged up some clever system where a colleague will remote terminal to their machine in order to click the icons for them, and they’ve been trying to get by with just the keyboard. Instead of using complex work-arounds, they could have resolved the issue in five minutes by asking IT support for a new mouse. They have a box of them right over there. Why doesn’t this hypothetical person know this, don’t they get emails from the IT department about the proper procedures for procuring parts?
What this represents is a failure in communicating to people what we are able to do for the company. This person lost a fair bit of time trying to figure out the solution, which in turn costs the company money. If they’re new to the job, it’s understandable. However, I have noticed that the problem is found more often with people who have worked in one place for a while. They’ve seen many changes, so they’re not sure who to contact to resolve a type of problem. I’ve been in my current position for 5 years, and I don’t know exactly where I would go to resolve many types of problems in my office. So how do we help?
With this in mind, we can help educate people on what types of problems we and our teams can resolve. My instinct is to just tell them to stop talking because I know everything I need to help and the last thing I’d want to do is to throw more fuel on the conversation, lest it turn into a discussion about a TV show I don’t watch. It’s always a TV show I don’t watch. Instead, if we take a few minutes to educate this person, someone else might ask them about a similar problem and then be educated in turn. Teaching people one at a time and building working relationships is the best way to communicate how we can help them. Official emails broadcasted from anonymous mailboxes get ignored. We don’t have to sit with each person, but as long as we have one in each work group they’ll tell the rest. Users will then be less frustrated when they get to you, and will be less likely to explain how you need to help them since the fate of the office pot luck lunch depends on it. After all, the pot luck lunch always depends on it.