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10 Serious Phrase-Crimes Committed Against Your IT Person

What’s a “phrase-crime”? I just made that up to describe a group of grating words that IT people hate hearing. You’ve heard it before, the phrases are like “It’s Urgent” when the user wants a screensaver disabled. It’s that user that has spent no time thinking about a problem, but still asks “When will it be fixed?”. For all those who may not be sure when they’re actually doing this; I present a simple guide to 10 of the worst phrase-crimes.

Briefly: Let me help keep you out of IT prison. I offer 10 phrases you shouldn’t be saying to your (or any IT person. You’re welcome.

1. Don’t say “Quick question”
Signalling the beginning of a question that is most definitely not “quick”, this phrase may be the worst way to start a phone conversation [1]. If you have a question, don’t try to determine its quickness, just ask it. That will show a great deal of respect to your IT person and the time he or she takes to look into what’s being asked. A close cousin to this one would be “I have a stupid question”.

2. Don’t say “I have this weird problem”
Every single problem without a known or unknown solution may appear “weird” at the outset. The first impulse may be to express this but try to be more constructive and add something to the solution by understanding how your issue arrived. It can get quite annoying when everyone has that “one weird problem”.

3. Don’t say “Can you fix it remotely?”
Sometimes this is a legitimate question. Other times, this is code for “Will you work for free? “. If you can’t ask your IT person to work for free, don’t ask it with mysterious phrases. If you can, then you probably don’t need to ask. In every case, your IT person will be looking for a remote solution if possible, so you don’t need to ask.

4. Don’t say “I’m not a technical person”
For those that start a conversation with this phrase, you should know that your IT person dreads talking to you. In life, no one is a technical person; they are human persons. In fact, there is absolutely no time when this phrase is appropriate. If you don’t know, just say “I don’t know”. If you’re self-conscious about your blossoming IT knowledge, have that conversation with your therapist. Your IT person just wants to help you and move on.

5. Don’t ask “When will you be done?”
For some, they never grow out of the childish need to ask “Are we there yet?”. For others, they want to continually try and quantify a thing, that may not yet be measurable. If your IT person is deeply involved in a difficult problem, let her deal with it knowing she wants to spend as little time as possible working on it. Another, more evil version of this phrase is walking in on your IT person and saying “It’s fixed, right?”.

6. Don’t say “This is urgent”
The overt misattribution of priority is a serious crime to your IT person. In the world of IT problems, the statistical likelihood that a user accurately assessing the priority of a systems problem is insignificantly low. Do you know what a user says when there is a high priority problem like a server failure? They say “The server is down”. Let your IT person asses this and take appropriate action. Just like pressing an elevator button doesn’t make it move faster, this is not the way to a faster solution. For an extra annoyed IT person, sign off all your emails with “Fix this, ASAP” [2].

7. Don’t say “I have this problem at home”
At the office, your IT person is probably more than happy to talk about how you installed several different flavours if the newest virus. Many users try to save money by asking the IT person about personal computer issues on company time. Your IT person is unlikely to say no to a request like this because she knows how expensive it can be. But, if you respect what she does, and the money your company pays for the IT person’s time, ask her to come by and look at it.

8. Don’t say “My last office had that”
The conflict between integrating components into a system and features that exist (or may soon exist) never ends. While your mail server at the previous company may have had all the groupware features under the sun, don’t expect all this to exist where you are now. The process of building and integrating features for a particular company is immensely complicated. Instead of being a dick about it, why not show respect and ask “What would it take to get this feature in our system?”

9. Don’t say “Please advise”
For some, it’s a reflex to treat everyone like an idiot. When you sign off on an email with “Please advise”, you’re treating your IT person like an imbecile. Whether he or she is actually an idiot, I can’t say. Instead, show an uncanny awareness that your IT person is capable of understanding that “advising” you is part of the process. Adding please to this phrase is kind of like sprinkling sparkles on poop. It’s still poop. In fact, poor IT is more than smart enough to not waste your time when no contact is necessary at all.

10. Don’t say “But I didn’t do anything”
In the great and glorious history of human problem solving, no one improved on a situation by proclaiming a lack of action. If you did do something, it may be very useful to your IT person, so say it. If you don’t know what caused the problem, please avoid interjecting with your innocence. In this case, almost anything at all is better than this phrase.

Are you guilty of these? If you are, there’s still time to stop and gain the endless gratitude of your beleaguered IT person. If you catch yourself saying one of these, stop, drop, roll on the ground. Yes, you’ll look like an idiot, but it will pass.

1. A close second would be “I’ll do it myself”
2. It means “as soon as possible”, but as ASAP it sounds like “urgent”