The Beginnings of a Conference Talk
I am not one to generally want to get up and speak in front of others. Claiming to be an expert on something is hard for me, as I have a background in the arts.
Being an artist, you tend to worry deeply that people are going to see your work, not like it and see you for the fraud you really are. I know imposter syndrome exists in all walks of life, but I feel like it's especially a pervasive sentiment in the arts. We want to show things off that we're proud of, but if you're too loud, you'll get called out for being full of yourself, bragging, or whatever negative name you're thinking in your head whenever you press send on that post.
I'll leave imposter syndrome for another post for now, but just know I'm not one to generally say, “Yes, I would like to talk to people about a focused subject for 75 minutes!” But that was about to change when I went to Seattle for a Mac Admins meet up. I was speaking to another admin, a very nice metalhead named Jesse (as an aside I've never met a metalhead dude who wasn't the sweetest teddy bear person in the world) and we got to talking after a few drinks about subjects for Mac Admins conferences.
I mentioned how I would never be able to give a talk like the ones he's working on. I'm not a highly technical person. I like to think of myself as smart, but at the end of the day, I'm still just a guy who got the smartest job at an Apple Retail store who couldn't sling two lines of code together into something useful.
Jesse brought up that he would much rather listen to a talk about developing “soft skills” like the ones I learned at Apple. He encouraged me to put together a talk. I've been mulling it over ever since. After learning a bit more about the process from another admin on Slack, I'm jumping in!
First, some background about me to fill in why I think I can put together an insightful talk on applying Genius skills to the world of IT support. I started working for Apple as a Specialist (retail sales associate) in 2009 a few months after graduating college. During that time I did sales, but also learned how to teach training sessions for teaching how to use Macs or various iLife and iWork apps. After the launch of the iPhone 4, I transitioned to what was then called Family Room Specialist (what is now known more simply as Technical Specialist), which shifted my focus from sales to mobile device support (iPhone, iPod, and, later, iPad after it launched) as well as continuing to do training sessions. After around three years in that role I was promoted to Genius where I became Mac certified and stayed in that role for 4 years until I left for another company to do IT support.
The idea her is that I'll use the blog to throw down some ideas or enumerate on one of the subjects I'll cover in the talk
Today I'll talk about:
Empathy and sympathy are often confused. And while there is definitely some overlap, the main tenet of empathy is feeling what a person is feeling whereas sympathy is more akin to acknowledging how someone feels, but not necessarily feeling it at the same time.
Conveying empathy is important to have a good relationship with your customers, be they part of your company or external. Which can in-turn, foster a good relationship with their technology. When they aren't scared to ask questions, they aren't scared of their machines anymore and may even be able to support themselves more one day. On top of that, if your reputation is good, it helps with vertical advancement as well.
What we tried to always convey at Apple was feeling empathetic to the situation. That's a really hard skill to make someone feel like not only do you understand their situation, but that you're walking with them to the solution.
Now truly to get through your day at a retail store, you can't go just feeling all the things that another person is feeling, and true empathy in those situations is impossible, but what Apple is getting at here is validation.
I want you to know that I have understanding of the situation you're in when you come to me for help. I want you to know that it's okay to feel the frustration, anxiety, sadness, or anger you're feeling. I want you to know that I'm here to help and not to be a blocker to overcoming those raw emotions.
More often than not at the Genius Bar, you're not just fixing a person's tech, you're fixing them a little too. I have had to more than once (probably a hundred times after seven plus years) had to tell a person that their hard drive data is gone without a backup. Donezo. Finito. It has become an ex-parrot. This includes, wedding photos, photos of your dead grandmother, photos of your first child, the dissertation you've been writing for two hard fought years, any number of impossible to recreate moments or pieces of information.
It's one of the hardest things to teach, and, really I don't know if it can be truly taught. I and many other Genii have said, I can teach anyone to fix a computer, I can't teach you how to fix a person. But I'll do my best to break it down using the tools Apple gave me, and add in as best I can my take from actually doing this for many years.
Apple's toolbox for empathy is referred to as the Three A's:
- Acknowledge: Recognize the issue, but not just to yourself but stating it back to your customer (I use customer her because it's easier to slip back into Apple mode that way, also Thomas Limoncelli calls them that in his books, so I feel justified). Do your best to think about a time that you were in a similar situation, this will help feed into the next part as well.
As an example:
“I see that you're having an issue with your hard drive, I'm sorry to see that.”
Be careful as that sometimes reads as sympathy, keep track of your tone as best you can.
- Align: Alignment is a bit weird, but really comes down to making sure that the customer sees you as being on their side while also validating their feelings. It helps to sit or stand next to them and not across from them or with a barrier between the two of you.
To further our example:
“I see you're having an issue with your hard drive, I'm sorry to see that. I know if must be frustrating to have to deal with this kind of issue with a device we rely on.”
I will mention, it's hard to come up with these on the fly while typing and I'm using muscle memory to write them. I'll solicit feedback from other ex-Genii to get a better example. Either way, monitor your tone to make sure you aren't slipping into a pattern of speech, this can read as insincerity.
- Assure: Assurance is really just that, letting your customer know that they are going to be taken care of. This also helps you further ingratiate yourself as being on the same team against this issue, rather than you standing as a blocker between the customer and their work.
And finally to complete the example:
“I see you're having an issue with your hard drive, I'm sorry to see that. I know if must be frustrating to have to deal with this kind of issue with a device we rely on. If it's okay with you, I'm going to run some tests and I'm sure we can find out what's going on and how we can fix it.”
It's important to bring the customer along with you on this journey using inclusive pronouns like “we” as well as to always talk about the device having the issue, and make sure that the user doesn't see it as something they did.
This is just a start to any number of techniques for empathy to be conveyed, but this is just a start for this talk and I will dive into more depth when I've had some more time to sit and think about this.
But I hope this at least gets you started in your journey towards a more welcoming IT team.