Tech is Great, but the Feels are Important Too

I work with anywhere between 5 and 10 different customers per week in my position as a SolarWinds integrator. The technology I work with changes, of course, but much more slowly than the rate at which I need to navigate personalities.

michael stump asked a question that I get often:

My thoughts immediately went to things like the Tiobe index (a tracker of programming language popularity), the OSI model (the Rosetta stone of troubleshooting), and basic networking (a la the CCNA). But if I take a mental inventory of my colleagues, what quality sets the truly effective apart from the multitude that can do enough with the tech to get the job done?

SQLRockstar hit the nail on the head:

The dictionary defines “empathy” as the capacity to understand another person’s point of view or the result of such understanding.

I do a lot of teaching and I love it. But, I believe that no one learns simply for the sake of learning. Deep down, there’s some reason that a person decides that they need to learn something new. That reason may be simple curiosity but more often it’s in avoidance of pain.

The pain can take different forms:

  • The anxiety caused by trying to work on a project without understanding a particular concept.
  • The heartache from the 3 AM outage that could have been avoided had monitoring been set up properly.
  • The embarrassment felt while trying to explain a concept to someone else rife with um’s and uh’s and “I think that’s how it works, anyway.”

Nothing builds confidence like knowledge, but without understanding what the person’s motivation is for gaining that knowledge — empathizing with them — it’s difficult to know when you’ve achieved the purpose of the interaction.

I start every engagement the same way whether I’m working through a statement of work (laundry list of things to accomplish) or a quick 4-hour training session:

What do you want to accomplish from our time together? What are your aches and pains? What are your goals? If you walked away completely understanding one thing, what would be the most valuable to you?

The answers to these questions give me a glimpse into their motivation: the “why” behind the “what” that I’ve already been given. Once I have that it’s easier to take stock of their progress as we move through the work or material.

What’s your motivation to learn new things? What are some of the motivations of the people around you?

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