If you’ve ever had to deal with pushback, you know how challenging it can be. Jack Wallen has some advice for you.

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How many times have you, an IT professional, had to deal with pushback? Probably more than you’d even like to admit. It happens constantly. In fact, of every position found in the world of business, systems and network administrators probably receive more pushback than anyone. How do you deal with it–without losing your job? That’s a good question, and it’s one that I’m going to dive into now.

What is pushback?

Before we actually get into the advice, let’s define pushback. You probably already know what it is, by way of experiencing it day in and day out. What is it, exactly? There are two ways to look at pushback:

  1. Defined as opposition or resistance to an idea, plan, or strategy.
  2. Defined as the act of forcing someone to withdraw an opinion or idea, or (literally) cause them to physically withdraw. 

In other words, pushback is when you take the idea of containerizing your application to a manager, who immediately shoots you down, without having bothered to hear you out or research the possibilities. Pushback is when you attempt to help an end user with a problem, and they really don’t want you removing that coupon bar they installed in Chrome.

How do you handle this? It depends on who you’re dealing with. 

SEE: Return to work: What the new normal will look like post-pandemic (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Handling pushback from superiors

If there’s one language that management understands, it’s money. Cost savings. Anything they can do to save the company a buck will shine a golden light on them and make upper management so pleased they hand over the coveted “Popped Collar of the Year” award to the manager who best bolsters the bottom line.

Instead of having to ever deal with pushback from those above you, come at the idea with how it can save the company money–it really is as simple as that. For every idea you have, consider how it will make the company more profitable. If the idea is capable of delivering on such a promise, bring it to the attention of your manager. If, on the other hand, the idea isn’t capable of cost savings, reconsider it.

That cost savings can be direct or indirect. Think about how security upgrades can, over time, save a company considerable money. Containerizing applications can have serious ramifications for cost savings, especially if you’re scaling up and down applications on a third-party cloud host. 

Remember: Those above you–especially upper management–really don’t care about how something works, how reliable it might be, or how one platform is more secure and scalable than another might be. They care about profit and ways to make themselves look good to the CEO. That’s a bit of harsh truth, but we’ve all experienced how the food chain works in business.

Use it to your advantage. Lead with cost savings and you’ll avoid more pushback than you can imagine.

When profit fails, build a consensus. What I mean by this is you belong to a team of IT pros. That team is responsible for keeping the business supply chains humming along. When you come up with something that could make those processes run more smoothly or with more agility, discuss it with your team first and build a consensus that the idea is sound.

When you come at your superiors saying, “I have an idea,” chances are pretty good you’ll experience pushback. If, however, you go to that same superior saying, “The team has an idea,” those above you will be more willing to hear you out without pushing back.

Finally, when dealing with pushback from superiors, the last thing you should do is push back on their pushback. Don’t fight them, you’ll lose every time. If you get pushback on an idea, regroup. Leave that office and speak with your team. Do research on your proposal. Once you’re armed with fact (especially fact regarding cost savings), return to the scene of your previous crime and approach the superior by saying something to the tune of, “I understand why you’re hesitant on this, but hear me out.”

The fact that you’ve done your research will go a long way to garner respect from that superior. In the end, they might still reject the idea, but you’ve gained their respect. From that point on, every time you bring an idea to the table it’ll be better heard, so the likelihood you’ll receive pushback will be less.

Handling pushback from end users

One of the most frustrating forms of pushback comes from end users. These are the people that should simply do what you suggest and not balk at your instructions. Unfortunately, they do. When that happens, what’s your best approach?

First off, make sure the end user knows you’ve heard them. When they push back on not removing that coupon bar, tell them you get it, but it’s company policy. That “P” word will go a long way to preventing end users from pushing back on you.

It’s also very important, with end users, that you really listen to them. Don’t blow into their office, tell them you have to do something, and fail to hear their complaints. They may have a major deadline they’re working on and you being there could prevent them from succeeding to make said deadline.

Keep in mind that end users have a job to do as well. You might not think their job is as important as yours, but they probably think the same thing. In the end, you and that end user serve the same people, so it’s in your best interests to work together. When you have to deal with an end user, have a dialogue, not a monologue. Let them know their issues (and their jobs) are just as important as yours. 

This should go without saying, but be respectful. I’ve witnessed too many situations where IT pros treat end users as though they were second-class citizens, barely intelligent enough to tie their shoes. If there’s one sure-fire way to receive pushback from an end user, it’s to not treat them with respect. When you do have something to say to those end users, make sure it’s constructive. If a user says, “I don’t want to remove that coupon bar from Chrome,” come back at them with why it’s dangerous having it installed (malware, spyware, etc.). 

Keep calm and carry on

In the end, one of the most important things you can do is always go calmly into that good meeting. Do whatever you have to do to relax before you step foot into an office. If you approach either a superior or an end user with a calm and cool head, you’ll find you are more capable of dealing with pushback. When you are better able to deal with these situations, they won’t come back to haunt you.

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