Acknowledging problems versus solving problems

People want their problems acknowledged more than they want them solved, at least at first. That’s one of the points from Thomas Limoncelli’s book Time Management for System Administrators.

Suppose two system administrators get an email about similar problems. The first starts working on the problem right away and replies to the email a couple hours later saying the problem is fixed. The second replies immediately to say he understands the problem and will resolve it first thing tomorrow. The second system administrator will be more popular.

Of course people want their problems solved, and sooner is better than later. But first they want to know someone is listening. Sometimes that’s all they want.

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8 thoughts on “Acknowledging problems versus solving problems

  1. Basically people don’t like uncertainty. The first sys-admin kept his users for several hours in a state of uncertainty, the second one kept them at that state for a few seconds. People will go great length to avoid uncertainty, and I am sure that IT problems are not really considered as a “great length”

  2. As a grad student this is what I propose:

    The system admin should send an email right away saying he is super busy but will solve the problem the first thing in the morning. Then start solving the problem and get it fixed in a couple of hours but don’t announce it. Then he set’s up a Cron job that sends an email 4 in the morning saying he spent his night solving the problem and is happy to report that it is fixed (at that point the sys admin is well asleep but the email will make others think that he has been working)

  3. “Then he set’s up a Cron job that sends an email 4 in the morning saying he spent his night solving the problem and is happy to report that it is fixed (at that point the sys admin is well asleep but the email will make others think that he has been working)”

    All the good work to earn the label “deceitful”? Besides, have we reach such a degree corporate servitude that spending a night to solve a technical problem should be a badge of honor?

    Acknowledging the problem and solving it within a reasonable deadline is enough, baring in mind there will be thousands of similar occasions in a career.

  4. Along these lines, I am reading Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink and in it he references medical studies that looked at associations between types doctors and malpractice suits. What the studies found was that the experience and pedigree of the doctors had no correlation with how often they had been sued. What was correlated was whether the doctor had a good bedside manner. Doctors who were seen by patients as good listeners and caring were much less likely to have been sued, regardless of their experience or outcomes in practice.

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