Tech Manager—Developing a Thick Skin

Getting frustrated by technology happens all the time. Everyone has troubles, but not every trouble is related to the technology we use. But tech sometimes gets blamed for problems and delays. It is so easy to blame technology that everyone does it. If you are late for a meeting, “My calendar did not remind me.” If you are uninformed on the progress of a project, “I did not get the email.” If you fail to submit on time, “My system crashed and lost the file.” While all of these may be legit, many times I hear people blame technology for their woes.  The system is not working. The files are corrupt. The menus are not created right. The standards are getting in our way. The thing is just not working. I can’t log in. My network drive is not mapped. I cannot print. On and on…

As a tech manager when you hear these things, you tend to take it as an affront. The underlying sentiment behind many of these statements seems to say that “YOU” are not doing your job right, or maybe not doing it at all. Or at least you feel like it is about you. You feel the weight of the comments and you are frustrated by them. But you are doing your job, usually with limited time and resources to make great impacts. How can they blame you, or blame the machines, or the configs, or the setup, or the customization? The comments and critique goes on forever.

You feel bad. You feel frustrated. You feel angry. You feel defeated. You want to do the best you can and be appreciated. You are doing so much for the firm. They never see what you bring to the table. Your mind is racing down the road of anger and bitterness (if this has been happening for a while).

You need to have thicker skin. Having thick skin means you are not easily insulted, hurt, or upset. It means that you don’t easily anger. You are not easily offended by the comments of others.

Just Push Pause

As your inner temperature rises at these comments, you need to push pause. Slow it down. Take it in stride. This is not easy for some. You may need to verbally ask others to slow down. Don’t let the comments just keep rolling on or just keep quiet until they are done. You may need to step away from the situation. If your blood is starting to boil, then exit the scene. Just tell them you will be right back. Tell them you need to go check on something related to the issue. Just get out of the area any way you can. Better to bail out than to boil over.

Think It Through

First – don’t take things personally. Most likely no one is out to get you. It might feel like it, but it probably is not true. Their comments are generated by frustration with things going wrong. They just want things to work. They have pressures and deadlines that cannot slip. They need things to go as planned and when they don’t, they look for something (or someone) to shift that pressure. As they shift some of the pressure, look at it with the perspective that you are assisting to relieve that pressure and avoid piling on more. Say something like, “Things may not be going as we planned, but I think we can get past this if we look at it together.” Purposely take a team attitude and use “we” and “together” in your response.

If the person really is attacking you personally, like hinting at or saying “You do not know how to do your job,” then you should still try to manage your attitude. Don’t fight back—that escalates the problems. Saying something akin to “It may not be working well right now, but others have not seen this trouble. Things successfully worked in the past, there must be something new going on.”

Second – see it through their eyes. You may not know the whole story. There may be unseen pressures and compounded failures that are making the current situation even more stressful. They may be having a bad day in the office or have come to work to escape the pressures at home. They may be exhausted, fearful, overworked, stretched to the limit, or just need to get past this issue so they can move on to bigger ones. Think about others first. They actually need help. You should be there to help.

Third – move past it, at least in your head. Don’t stew on it. Having thick skin means things can bounce off of you. Don’t let it fester. Don’t go into the “fix it” mode with snarling teeth. You don’t want to grumble during the repair phase, either. Even after you weather the storm of troubles, don’t keeping thinking about it or making snide comments about the person. Change the subject in your head. Move on to another topic. Don’t keep replaying the incident and ratcheting up your bitterness toward the person. Talk to someone outside the organization if you need to vent.

Move Toward a Solution

Ready to make progress? Remember: people are not perfect—you or them. When criticism comes your way, admit when you are wrong. Just say, “Well, that did not work like I thought it would.” Do not force blame onto them. They may have done some crazy wrong stuff, but they thought it would work. They may not know how to use a specific tool the right way, but they just need more guidance or training. Ask them if they might be open to suggestions on how to try another method.

After the Storm Passes

Don’t worry about how you look. You have a track record of success—one or two negative comments will not derail your career. People on staff know that you get things done. They know you make good decisions. They are convinced by your past record of wins that you are the “go to” person. A few bumps can be forgiven. Don’t worry too much about complaints.  It’s not a big deal.

Take away the gold nuggets. Try to address the items of truth mixed in with the rants. Hints at troubles come under the breath. Listen to murmuring and you can avoid the shouting. There is always some area to improve on. Some area to review again. Some tech that has languished too long. Look at the choppy water as an opportunity to tune your navigation skills. Learn from it. Get stronger. Thicken your skin.

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