As IT people, we work with people in nearly every part of an organization. That means we may have to support and work with people in positions of great authority such as police officers, executives, physicians, or attorneys. Sometimes, that can be uncomfortable or even intimidating. Many of the actions to use when dealing with authority figures are the same as when dealing with any customer. Here are 11 tips you can use the next time you have to deal with someone in a position of authority.

Listen carefully.

Careful and attentive listening is one of the most important skills anyone can develop. Think about how frustrating it was for you the last time you spoke with customer service, explained a problem, and the agent obviously wasn’t paying attention. I’ve even called, given my name, and had an agent immediately ask for my name. Pay attention to your customer. It’s rude and disrespectful and will undermine the relationship when you don’t listen carefully to your customer.

Maintain your self-confidence.

Remember that the other person needs your skills. He or she needs your unique knowledge, skills, and experience to help them do their job better. You’re bringing something of great value to the relationship with the other person.

Use empathy with authority figures.

Consider the issue from the other person’s point-of-view. Put yourself in the customer’s position and consider how you would feel if the roles were reversed. Think about what you would want and expect if you were in a position of authority, trying to do your job, and needed assistance yourself.

Work to understand the business objectives.

A big part of listening is gaining an understanding of the underlying business objectives that your customer is trying to accomplish. When you understand that, you’re in a better position to offer alternative IT solutions which the customer may not even be aware of.

Mind your manners.

Say please and thank you, you’re welcome, yes sir and yes ma’am, no sir and no ma’am.

Apologize when appropriate.

Accept blame if it’s your fault or the fault of your department. Say “I’m sorry that happened and I’m going to take care of it.” Take personal responsibility for fixing what went wrong or, if you can’t fix it yourself, ensuring that it gets fixed.

Don’t take it personally.

When people are dealing with a problem or some other issue that affects their ability to do their work, they sometimes direct their anger and frustration at others. I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s right for them to do that, but it happens. Don’t take it personally, which is often easier said than done. Still, it’s important to let that sort of thing slide off your back.

Show respect.

As with all customers, show respect to the authority figure. This is even more important with authority figures. Remember, you must treat people with dignity and respect, regardless of how you might feel about them. Even when you’re being treated disrespectfully, you can maintain your sense of self-respect by moderating your behavior and not letting yourself get dragged down to the level of the person who’s treating you disrespectfully. When you’re able to do that, you’ll often gain the respect of the other person. Again, this is often easier said than done.

Check your posture.

When dealing with a person in a position of authority, stand up or sit up straight. Slumping can be perceived as a sign of weakness. Look the other person in the eye, but don’t get into a staring contest with them.

Control your nerves.

There’s a saying, “Never let ’em see you sweat.” I once watched a negotiation between two business people. One had all the power in the negotiation. The other had none. The person with no power was obviously nervous and intimidated. That was obvious to the person with the power who then walked all over him in the negotiation. Take a deep breath (or several deep breaths) and try to slow your breathing while dealing with the authority figure. If possible, rehearse what you’re going to say beforehand or even consider doing a role play with someone else acting like the person in authority. As with sports and music, practice allows you to hone your skills and to be better prepared for the unexpected.

Avoid defensiveness.

It’s easy to get defensive in these types of situations, but doing so can cause you to lose credibility with the other person. Being overly defensive can make the other person think you’re guilty or hiding something. You don’t have to defend everything. Use your listening skills to take in the information the other person is giving you, evaluate it, take a breath, and respond slowly, sticking to the issues without being unnecessarily defensive.

In our work in IT, we deal with all types of people, including authority figures. Remember that people in authority positions need you. They need your knowledge, training, and experience in order to do their jobs more productively, efficiently, and creatively. Approach your work with authority figures with confidence, knowing that you have something of great value to offer them. When you show confidence and self-respect, you’ll gain their confidence and respect as well.

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