Developing Your Deskside Manner

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Hello! I build IT teams and design IT Systems for startups and nonprofits. I consistently encounter the same problems, so I set out to create a series of guides to help others navigate the IT Ecosystem. You can learn more about my philosphies via my website dave-bour.com or via my weekly newsletter.

There’s a concept in the medical community of bedside manner, which is a doctor’s attitude or approach towards a patient. As COVID becomes a preventable disease, health care professionals are reporting on their frustration as hospitals see a rise in patients with unnecessary cases.

I can imagine how that frustration plays a role in a patient outcome, but also in the longevity of health care careers. Please consider what it feels like to treat someone who is consuming resources (time, medicine) because they follow Ted Cruz on Twitter and refuse to get a vaccine. Consider trying to help someone who dismisses your recommendation that is based on years of experience and education, in order to subscribe to theories of vaccines as mind-control devices. You can report back to their family that a machine is breathing for them — but not in person, they refuse to be vaccinated, too. Does this feel productive or frustrating?

In a less serious circumstance, could you imagine being a vehicle mechanic and recommending a complicated part replacement, to which the customer replies that they watched a YouTube video and can do it themselves or one in which the author claims the necessary part is a scam. Left with little recourse, arguing seems unlikely to convince them and you can’t force your solution, so you toss up your hands and say OK, have it your way, knowing their vehicle will soon break down.

On the other hand, it is reasonable to expect some doctors will overprescribe medicine or misdiagnose a patient and some mechanics will ‘fix’ problems that aren’t there. While certainly not the norm, it is understandable that a customer or patient is staring into a black box and has trust issues with you telling them what is inside of it. Worse, they’ve been burned before and are cautious from personal experience. They feel like you’re potentially taking advantage of them or taking them for a ride.

I would wager that being able to maintain a high degree of composure as you repeatedly encounter this situation comes from the benefit of years of industry experience and an ability to separate personal beliefs from a commitment to improving the condition of another, regardless of the circumstance. In a way, this demeanor comes through the conscious development of a professional skill.

While I would like to believe this to be analogous to all IT roles, it is likely that everyone in a specialized or formally-trained position will have to garner the respect or trust necessary to achieve desireable outcomes. It seems as though we can port the medical profession’s term to an office environment with just a slight modification.

Deskside Manner: trust garnered through an approachable, professional, non-judgmental attitude.

Let’s break this down.

Becoming Approachable

Deskside Manner: trust garnered through an approachable, professional, non-judgmental attitude

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There is an IT stereotype of a back-office System Administrator who lacks social skills but through her technical prowess, keeps the entire company’s infrastructure running. While technically adept, she’s not the individual who others will seek out for help. A car mechanic probably just wanted to work on cars, but they have to work with people, too. The same applies to IT.

Who is someone you would characterize as approachable? They probably give you their full attention, listen to what you have to say, and have a kind demeanor. In addition to embodying these traits, consider developing your active listening skillset.

Collecting Respect

Deskside Manner: trust garnered through an approachable, professional, non-judgmental attitude

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Garnered means to gather or collect, which implies to store. The idea is that you’re creating a reputation — not for being right, but for being accessible. You’re accessible because you empathize with your customer’s IT problem, reserve judgement, and treat their concerns with respect. Sometimes, you may slip up and some of the approachability and trust that you’ve garnered will be lost, but it is unlikely to be permanent.

Reserving Judgement

Deskside Manner: trust garnered through an approachable, professional, non-judgmental attitude

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Non-judgmental is specifically chosen over unbiased to show that even in circumstances where you have a biased opinion, you’ll reserve no judgment of your colleague or customer’s needs. This will be frustrating at times, but if you keep your focus on the long-term objective — achieving a desireable outcome — than preserving the customer’s opportunity to freely provide information will only improve the odds of it.

Consider this — an individual has come to you for advice regarding a circumstance where their identity has been stolen. Instead of figuring out what to do, they are trying to figure out how it happened. Early in the story, you chastise them for giving their credit card out over the phone during a purchase and all it takes is this one time to withold a lot of relevant information from you. For instance, if they feel judged from this, do you think they will tell you their password to their bank account was “password1234”?

There is one component that seems to be lacking — solution accuracy. Much like bedside manner does not include diagnosis accuracy, I don’t the means to an end is the path to follow here. The difficulty, as with most professions, is navigating the human and egoic interactions. The goal we’re achieving here is to clearly see a problem by removing obstacles such as misinformation, emotions, and lack of trust.

Severity aside, the similarities between a doctor, mechanic, and IT are many. Fundamentally, there is a figure of authority on a topic and a non-authority seeking knowledge. Imagine if you had to prostrate to Google every time you wanted to search for something?

If you develop your deskside manner, there is no question you will become a great IT (or any!) professional.

Reach out!

These recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organizational technology postures. Please reach out to me at dave-bour.com to discuss more or sign up for my newsletter — davebour.substack.com.

Building IT infrastructure and teams where there was none before. Fitness, wellness, and adventure enthusiast. Consulting + more at dave-bour.com