June 3, 2005
** Listen to this column
on your computer, iPod or other audio player **
Ask the typical computer user to describe a tech support
or IT worker and you will hear the same response
repeatedly. “Whenever you asked him or her
a question, they would make an exasperated sigh and then reluctantly tell
you what to do.” Beyond any lack of fashion sense or social skills,
the exasperated sigh is the hallmark of the tech geek. So much so that Saturday
Night Live once had an on-going sketch in which tech staffers took the sigh
to ludicrous heights. What some tech workers don’t know, though, is
that a simple sigh could be a major pothole in their career. No one likes
to be treated like an idiot, but sometimes this is exactly what high-tech
Stories I hear
This topic came to mind as I started work for a new client, a small office
of about six people. This first meeting was to discuss their on-going
needs and some major upgrade projects for the future. During our conversation,
I heard, several times, somewhat disparaging comments about my predecessor.
They even referred to him as “the person you’re replacing.”
When one person mentioned the exasperated sigh that often greeted their
questions, all the others nodded in agreement. What a legacy to leave
The truth is, though, I often hear these stories when I start working
with new clients. With client after client I hear how another high-tech
worker has lost a client, or put themselves out of a job, with a simple
sigh. I hear it so often is seems to be an epidemic. How could so many
people be so out of touch with their clients?
While people might remember the sigh as the least endearing trait of a
high-tech worker, other issues probably contributed to their replacement.
Lack of service, lack of knowledge or lack of availability are the usual
contributing factors, but even then, it is the sigh that former clients
Banish the sigh
I must admit, there were times in my past where I had developed a pretty
good exasperated sigh. This was early in my career and I was just coming
to understand the repetitive nature of high-tech work, answering the same
questions over and over. Frustration breeds contempt and I was well on
my way to a bad ending. Luckily, I had a co-worker who was smart enough
and kind enough to point out the problem before it got any worse. Sometimes
you need a gentle reminder to get you back on the right track. If someone
has commented on your demeanor, take the time to fix it now. Failure to
do so can effect the remainder of your high-tech career.
This is not to say that I don’t, occasionally, fall victim to frustration,
though. If I am tired or feeling harried, I can feel the tension begin
to creep into my answers. Now, though, I am able to spot the problem and
head it off. This can be done by taking a few deep breathes, standing
up to stretch out your body or taking a short break to gather your thoughts.
The trick is to address it immediately before your client begins to notice.
If they feel they need to point out your prickliness it is already too
late and you will have to spend time doing damage control. In some cases,
you simply need to end the call as quickly as possible and schedule another
appointment. We all have our difficulties and trying to force ourselves
to be perfect every day will only lead to further frustration.
One additional thought. If a client is having difficulty understanding
a technical concept, it is often because we have not explained it clearly
enough or in a way the client can understand. One of the most important
parts of a high-tech career is finding ways to convey complex concepts
to people who may have only limited experience with technology. Your clients
are not stupid; they are only lacking the complete picture. Your job is
to fill in that picture, like adding pieces to a puzzle, until they can
see the complete scene.
The exasperated sigh is probably the most visible sign of disdain that
high-tech workers can develop for their clients. It is an obvious affront
to a client’s sensibilities and can undermine an entire career.
Be on the lookout for this bad trait and banish it from your life. Failure
to do so can leave you hopping from client to client, not really knowing
why your business relationships don’t last. Until you stop sighing
and work more diligently to retain your clients, your high-tech career
is sure to suffer.