One of the worst feelings in the world is the sense that you’re all alone and there’s no one who can or will help you. That’s close to how some people feel when they approach one of us in IT with a problem. They may be embarrassed or feel ignorant because of the type of problem they’re having, they may be frustrated because it’s an ongoing problem, they may be scared or angry because they’re under an important deadline. Now, suppose that the particular problem they’re having doesn’t really involve you or your department. It’s tempting and very reasonable to say something like, “Sorry, that’s not my problem.” or “Sorry, that’s not my department.” or similar words. And who could blame you for saying such things?

Here’s the “but”.

Within an organization, if one person is having a problem, it’s potentially a problem for the entire organization. Assume the person asking for help is a customer, an end user, or a colleague in your organization. Ultimately, you’re both responsible for the success of the organization, so even if the request doesn’t involve your job or department, you may have knowledge of who could help or a possible pathway to the right person. Instead of immediately saying, “Not my problem” or “Not my job”, stop for a moment and consider if there’s a way you can help. It may not be the ultimate solution, it might just be a matter of pointing the person in the right direction, but it’s important to find a way to let the person feel like you care.

Small problems, un-addressed, can quickly mushroom into big problems. There are often hidden issues for which small problems are merely symptoms or warning signs. By dealing with small problems, even when they’re outside of your responsibility, you can often head off bigger problems down the road.

There is an important caveat to this.

We have to balance our desire to be helpful with our job responsibilities. I’ve worked with organizations where certain individuals were known for always being helpful to others at the expense of not getting their own work done. It’s not always necessary, nor desirable, to, for example, get up from your desk and walk the person to another department when a quick phone call could do the trick.

Remember, each of us in IT represents all of us in IT.

How people perceive us individually can become how they perceive our entire department or organization. A single bad experience with one person can taint the reputation of an entire department, organization, or even a profession.

Be a friendly professional.

Aim for being seen as a friendly professional who wants to help. Ask yourself if you’re easy to work with.

As usual, the idea is pretty simple, remember that in everything we do, we want to achieve a positive outcome for the four stakeholders: the customer or end user, the organization, our colleagues, and ourselves. Instead of just saying, “Not my department”, try something like this: “That’s not handled in my department, but let me see if I can find the right person to take care of this for you.” Put yourself in the customers or end users position and think about what you would want in a similar situation.

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

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