Times are difficult, and polarized silos exist. It is more important than ever, for differing cultures to understand and accept one another.
For IT providers and IT consumers, wide gulfs of misunderstanding create false impressions of antagonism. These stumbling blocks are easily remedied with sensitive, mutual understanding, and some basics in vocabulary building.
Follows, a primer in what to say and think in order to enhance collaborative confidence building.
For the IT consumer:
1. They explain what they do, but not in a language you understand.
2. They relate to other people in ways not familiar to you.
3. They think we see them as unable to explain what they do or relate to other people.
4. Do not offend them by showing what you think of them; they already know what you think.
5. For them, thinking what you think of them is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
6. Do not flatter them too much, since they will think you are trying to beguile or get special favors.
7. Do not insult them by saying directly what you need.
8. You need not try not to offend them, since they already believe that you think badly of them.
9. Do not think of them as “the others,” since this will create misunderstanding.
10. Somehow let them know you appreciate what they do, since no one else ever does.
11. Do not actually say you appreciate them, since they will see this with suspicion as an effort to undermine their expertise.
12. Understand that their area of authority is circumscribed, and may not apply to other aspects of life.
13. Never let them think that you see their area of expertise as circumscribed, since they will be offended.
14. Do not try to understand them, since they will take that as an act of aggression.
15. It’s complicated.
For the IT provider:
1. Be patient with the uneven backgrounds of your clients. Some have no aptitude for the tools they so fundamentally need. These will quickly make themselves known.
2. The ones who intensify their pleas show themselves thereby to be unteachable. If you are a Calvinist, turn your attention to someone more worthy.
3. Know that they see your knowledge as an assertion of power over them. They are very insecure individuals.
4. Never answer a question the first time.
5. Never answer a question that was not asked with the correct vocabulary. Pretending not to understand will advance the learning process.
6. Beware of clients seeming to be cordial toward you, they do so only from desperation.
7. Do not be misled by flattery, it comes with hidden agendas.
8. Hidden agendas become clear when the clients are under stress.
9. Do not accept rudeness as a consequence of urgency.
10. Dignitatus super omnium et inter alia.
11. Remind the clients of their dependencies. With humility (for them) will come wisdom.
12. Do not seek to humiliate them, for they will resent you.
13. Do not stand in their way when they humiliate themselves. Karma will lead them to where they should be.
14. To their stress, respond only with serenity.
15. If they are ungrateful and arrogant, their path to self-fragmentation is established without extra efforts on your part.
16. Do not mistake their gestures of kindness as anything other than desperation.
17. Know they are saying things behind your back. Do not descend to their level.
18. At all times demonstrate your devotion to service. Seek nothing in return.
19. If an IT program should not work, blame it on the hardware.
Dan Whitman teaches Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.
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